Paying off debt can often take months and even years to do. Due to that it is easy to get discouraged or sidetracked and lose interest if you hit a roadblock which is guaranteed. The best way to keep yourself on track is to find new motivation continually. This was something we did frequently while paying off $107K in 33 months and we would love to share what we learned. Here are 14 easy ways to stay motivated during debt payoff.
14 easy ways to stay motivated during debt payoff
These methods we are recommending are things that we do to this day. Some of these are things that we have picked up since our debt payoff and we wish we had then. We continue to seek new ways to improve our behavior and discipline even though we are debt free.
1. Listen to Podcasts
The number 1 way for me to stay motivated and continually learn is to listen to podcasts. Ironically, it wasn’t until we were debt free that I sought out podcasts as a tool. I did so at the time to better understand investing which was new to me. What I learned is that any subject you are interested in has a podcast to learn from. This includes debt payoff and more broadly, personal finance.
Some financial podcasts I recommend listening to include:
Each of these podcasts are very different so if you don’t like one try another. Find time to listen to them on your way to work or when doing mundane tasks. This includes the time you spend doing yard work, cleaning the house or doing dishes. It really makes them more enjoyable and after hearing certain ideas repeatedly it will change how you think.
2. Listen to Other Success Stories
To dig down with the podcasts find all the success stories you can. The His and Her Money show focuses on these types of stories the most. If you are listening to story after story about success with debt it will eventually become the norm for you.
The trick is to get away from the typical message from society that debt is a part of life and there is no way around that. Surround yourself with success and you will be successful.
Initially I was resentful of the success others had with money. Maybe you can’t relate to that but by consistently hearing success stories it eventually made me believe that being debt free was a possibility. At a certain point I realized that we were writing our own success story. I want the same for you.
3. Read Finance Books
If you are like me reading is not something that comes natural to you. It does take focus but in addition to learning it is fun to see yourself progress through a book.
If you are also like me you will have a hard time fitting it in your schedule. Don’t let this deter you. Get an audio copy through your local library using the app Libby. You can also use Audible but if you are getting out of debt use the free resources of your local library. The Hoopla App is another app that allows you to listen to audio books through your local library.
Use the same trick as the podcasts and listen while driving into work. You can also read before you go to bed. Let that positive information sink it while at work or sleeping.
Some books I recommend are:
- Total Money Make Over by Dave Ramsey
- Debt Free Living by Larry Burkett
- The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
- The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin
If you know anything about these books you might recognize that there could be conflicting ideas but the main point is to inform yourself and surround yourself with positive money influences. Between the books and podcasts they become your new source of knowledge for handling money.
4. Join A Facebook Finance Group
While I think Facebook can be a negative influence on you there are a lot of positives. The best part is the Facebook groups. You can find a group for anything it seems. There are lots of personal finance groups dedicated to debt freedom and I encourage you to join some. Additionally, lots of podcasts have a Facebook group so you can dig deeper into the community they have created.
You get the opportunity to get or share advice on any question you might have. If you find yourself getting sucked into drama than find another group but most groups are very informative or helpful.
5. Get an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner is just that. It is someone who will listen to you and honestly keep you accountable for your progress and decisions. It needs to be someone that you trust and will be honest with you.
If you have a big money decision or purchase to make you should be able to go straight to them to talk it through. The great thing about them is that you not only get to share your questions with them but you get to share your successes with them. They can root you on and maybe you can dig down each month to have better news to share with them than you would otherwise.
Now, find someone who makes good decisions with money themselves. Don’t undo all the positives you are getting from the podcasts or books you are now reading.
6. Public Proclamation
If not letting people down or breaking promises is motivating then do this. Tell people your plan to pay off debt by stating specific goals. You don’t have to give all the messy details but if you plan to save $500 this month or pay off the final balance on a small loan then mention that while declining drinks out after work. Next time you see that person if they ask you how it went you will be able to tell them you achieved your goal. Then you can share your next goal with them.
By stating your goals like this it reinforces your decisions as well as gives you more motivation to not give up. While not everyone will understand your decision to cut your budget they will be excited and inspired when you have good news to share.
7. Track Your Progress with a Debt Thermometer
This was big for us. We tracked our overall progress by coloring a debt thermometer every time we paid off $3,000 of principal. It is such a simple task but can be very rewarding each time you color since you visual see your progress.
Even though it has been 3 years we still have our debt thermometer (signed by Dave Ramsey) and have made other thermometers to track savings goals.
Click here to learn more about the free customizable debt thermometer we offer. You can also subscribe below for immediate access.
8. Analyze Your Progress
In addition to using a debt thermometer there are other ways to see your progress. We personally used an excel spreadsheet to create charts and graphs that dug deeper into specific aspects of our progress. I found it exciting to update the charts every month.
If that is less than appealing then being on a site such as Mint.com will do a good job of tracking trends related to your spending. Pick some categories that you hope to improve in and try to beat them next month. Then sit back and look at that progress visually.
9. Set Financial Goals Each Month
At the beginning of each month establish a goal that you think is possible to achieve. Look at your budget to see what is possible and compare that to your status of your loans. Push yourself with each goal but be realistic. Don’t count on a windfall to achieve your goal.
We established 3 types of monthly goals and aimed to hit at least one of these during any given month.
- Pay off a loan – We had 15 loans we were working on so closing out each one felt amazing and caused us to push a little harder.
- Hit a milestone – Reach a little further to get below $100K or from over $50K to under. Every little bit made a huge difference overall so that extra effort to pass a $10K threshold added up.
- Color the Debt Thermometer – As previously mentioned we colored every $3,000. While maybe not as exciting as the other goals we found it highly rewarding and motivating.
10. Set Non-Financial Goals Each Month
It is one thing to try to save $1000 to put towards debt but it is another thing to change your behavior to hit that goal. Look at your budget and track your spending to identify the tough categories. This will most likely include eating out or entertainment but it is different for everyone.
Set up a goal that challenges you to do without that item for the month or significantly reduces that behavior. Most likely it will have a positive effect on your financial life. It may not always be straight forward such as spending less on food but it might impact your time.
If you are thinking you don’t have much time to read a book then look at how much TV you watch or time you spend on the internet? If you can switch those behaviors over to positive ones then you will see a cumulative impact.
This idea of goal setting is so important it is one of the features of the blog. Click here to see the past goals we have established. We may not succeed every month but we are better off for challenging ourselves each month.
11. Reward Yourself During the Process
When setting a goal, it is worth rewarding yourself when you do hit a goal. Now, let’s keep this in perspective. It could be as simple as going to a nice (budgeted) dinner when you hit your monthly goal or if you hit a bigger milestone then maybe it is a vacation.
The trick is to not reward yourself if you haven’t reached that goal yet. Keep that carrot dangling in front of you until you do. Also, don’t go into further debt to reward yourself. Budget and Cash flow whatever you decide to do and if you have to wait a bit to do it then that is fine. Also make sure to not let these rewards derail you and your larger goals.
Some possible rewards include:
- Eat at a favorite restaurant
- Go to a movie
- Take a daytrip
- Go on vacation
- Buy something fun
Delaying gratification is a key tenant of this concept. If you can do that you will be very successful with your finances in general.
12. See How Much Money You Are Saving in Interest
An eye-opening moment for me early on was seeing how much money we were paying in interest each month and over the life of the loan. Yeah, we had $107K of debt but I saw that we would pay another $50K in interest over 20 years if we kept paying the minimum payment. By paying our loans off early we saved $40K!
That was shocking and it provided a huge dose of momentum to fuel our debt payoff.
The best way to see how much interest you are paying is to input your data into an amortization schedule. Click here to learn more about amortization schedules and download one to see how much you can save.
13. Create List of Reasons to Get Out of Debt – Know Your Why
We all agree that it is nice to be out of debt but why do you want to be out of debt? Create a list of things that being debt free will allow you to do. Keep those items at the forefront of your mind and think about them when making financial decisions.
Our big why was to live off one income so that my wife could stay home with the kids. It took us 5 years to get to that point but we did it and earned every bit of it. We also saved for a house during that time and that included paying off all our debt.
14. List your successes!
For every goal you achieve and with every extra payment you make you are making progress. Write those down and after a few months you’ll look back and realize what you have achieved. It is easy to forget past wins when dealing with current frustrations.
Take this list and put it on your fridge next to your list of reasons to get out of debt and your debt thermometer. It will become very clear as to why you are doing what you are doing and that you are well on your way to success.
Where to Begin
There are lots of suggestions here so just pick one or two to start with and add them in as you go.
If you are just starting out I encourage you to check out our 6 simple steps to getting out of debt. That will expand on some items such as figuring out your why and give you practical ways to pay off debt.
Good luck and let us know what you do to stay motivated!
I think another thing that helps is talking about real numbers, maybe not publicly on a blog, though some people’s family/work situations totally allow for that, but with close friends or family. It allows for honest discussions and applicable advice.
For number 6: Our goal this year is to pay off our very last student loan ever!:-)
Nice! I am certainly rooting for you to get rid of that loan this year! Always good to have concrete goals! I couldn’t agree more with using real numbers when talking about debt. Often I find it easy to sugarcoat reality or make it worse. When looking at the real numbers you can put things in perspective but you have to know that number first and many don’t unfortunately.
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Yes yes yes yes yes. I love the idea of writing down your successes and rewarding yourself with little kudos. I’ve found free ways to treat myself, like a nice hot bath, to reward myself for a job well-done.
I like those rewards. It is funny you mention free rewards because I almost added ‘free’ to the title of the post but got lazy and didn’t want to rewrite the section on rewards. All other items I list though are free and I love that you have found small simple things that are free that you enjoy. A funny thing I have started doing is wearing fun socks on the weekends. I call them ‘weekend socks’. Sometime I wear them on Friday when I am being wild;-) It is kind of goofy but it a simple way to make something more fun. That isn’t related but through our journey of financial independence I have learned to really appreciate the small things in life while finding happiness in what I do have.
Reward yourself along the way:)
Lots of great tips on your list Kevin!