It’s no secret that paying off debt isn’t fun. Rather than spending our hard-earned paychecks to pay someone else, we’d rather be enjoying ourselves and spending our money how we would choose. The problem, however, is that you’ve already spent your paycheck — and then some. And now, unfortunately, that debt has come due and it’s time to pay off those credit cards, auto loans, student loans, and mortgages.
Really, the secret to staying motivated, or practically any mundane task, is to stay fresh, and reinvigorate yourself. Unless you have that strong boost of energy helping push you through the tough times, it’s going to be easy to falter.
Here are 7 steps to help maintain that boost of motivation until you can finally, once and for all, say goodbye to your debt.
1. Focus on your Goal
How often have you heard the old adage, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.”? The reason we hear it so often is because it’s true. In any life goal, it’s not necessarily the end result that makes us happy, but more the things we’ve learned along the way and the experiences that we’ve had.
While all of us want to be, and strive to be, debt free at some point, that may not be the ultimate goal to keep in mind. Being debt free is more of a journey, because we learn to correct the mistakes that we made in the first place, which put us into debt. We learn to curve our appetites, reduce impulse buys, and only purchase items for which we have the money readily available.
We also want freedom. We want to quit being tied down by our debts, causing us to have to work and be so dependent on jobs and work that we hate. We want to be self-sufficient. And we want peace of mind, knowing that should we need to switch jobs or have a sudden life emergency, we could rest easy knowing all would be well.
When you want to quit and give up, it’s the freedom and peace of mind that helps us continue pushing forward.
2. Physical Exercise
I truly believe that to be your best self, you need to be well-balanced in all aspects of life. That means mentally, spiritually, financially, and physically.
I’ll be honest — I’ve recently jumped on the workout train. Each day after work, I head straight to the gym and spend at least an hour there. Let me be honest about one more thing — I hate it. At the end of a long day, the very last thing I feel like doing is exercising. I want to go home, lay on the couch, and vedge for a few hours watching TV.
Now, having said that, it feels great as I walk out those doors at the end of a great workout. I’ve been going strong for close to a year now, and it truly helps with all other aspects of life. It’s helped in my relationships with others, as it helps me to decompress. Rather than coming home and being stressed, taking my frustrations out on others, I now come home relaxed, energized, and ready to go.
This release frees you of other worries, and helps translate into other areas — such as finance. I’ve noticed a considerable difference in my financial well-being since beginning to exercise. Many wouldn’t believe that those two would be correlated, but it’s undeniable. Being physically energized also gives me the energy I need to be excited about finances and pay off debt that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
3. Congratulate Yourself on the Small Wins
Dave Ramsey’s debt-snowball is one of the best in the business. He preaches paying off your smallest balances first, regardless of interest rate. While mathematically, this might not be the most sound advice, in practicality, it’s genius.
Let’s say we have $600 on a credit card, $14,000 on an auto loan, and $37,000 in student loans. Many people attempt attacking the largest debt first. The problem with this, however, is that paying off $37,000 is such a daunting task, that it truly feels like attempting to climb Mount Everest. Instead, we need to celebrate the small wins. Start paying off the $600 debt first. As soon as that’s paid off in a month or two, you’ll feel great! You’ll feel like you can accomplish anything.
With this added motivation, you’ll have just re-energized your batteries enough to give you the strength to tackle to your next debt. Once that’s done, you’ll tackle the next, and the next, until you are completely debt-free.
Each time you pay off a debt, treat yourself (within reason, of course). Go out to dinner with your spouse, or whatever it is you do that feels like a treat.
4. Quit Striving For Perfection
From one of my favorite books, “The Gift of Imperfection”, comes this quote:
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
I believe that whole-heartedly. Striving to be perfect is great, but when you hold yourself to such a high standard that it can’t be achieved, you’re simply setting yourself up for failure. Be realistic about your goals, and realize that your debt cannot be paid off overnight. You’ll have setbacks, and you’ll make mistakes. But accepting that allows you to be much more productive in the end.
5. Track Your Progress
I remember as a kid (or maybe you have kids that have done this) making paper chains to count down the number of days until Christmas. We would alternate the colors with red and green. At the end of each day, we would tear off a link, signifying one more day had been completed. As a child, we loved doing this. It was the best part of our day, knowing that Christmas was one day closer.
Having a visual reminder for yourself always helps keep you motivated and on track. Do something similar, but instead of tracking days until Christmas, track the amount of debt you’d paid off. Each link can represent $100, or maybe $1,000 depending on the debt. But each time you rip up a link, you’ll be able to see how much closer you’ve come to being free of your debt once and for all.
When you’re accountable to someone, we generally want to do everything in our power to prevent disappointing them. We can use this to our advantage when it comes to paying off debt. Find someone who is in a similar financial situation as you — maybe a close friend or a relative — and agree to let them know whenever you pay off $1,000.
Not only does this help you stay excited to pay off debt, it also encourages them to do the same.
Hearing about another person’s success isn’t requesting compliments on your behalf — it’s a simple reassurance that you’re actually making it!
7. Good Company
I once heard a story about a couple walking along a beach. As they walked along the beach, they approached an older gentleman, picking up crabs, and throwing them into a bucket. They were surprised at the number of crabs sitting in the relatively small bucket. They asked the man, “Aren’t you worried about the craps escaping?” The man replied, “Nope. Whenever any of the crabs try to escape, the others will grab a hold of it, and drag it back down with them.”
I love that story, as it accurately illustrates how sometimes, even when we have the best of intentions, there are people who we surround ourselves with that just want to keep you in the same circumstances that they are. “Misery loves company.” Unfortunately, if you’re looking to succeed, you might be forced to let go of some of the people around you. They may criticize you and ask, “Why are you trying to pay off your debt?” Or even if they’re not that explicit, they may try to pressure you into going out drinking with them, or go on an expensive vacation for which you don’t have the money. Surround yourself with those that will support you, rather than dragging you down.
Jim Rohn, an incredible Network Marketer, said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend time with most.” Now, feel free to interpret that however you’d like, but in my mind, if I’m spending most of my life with people who are only averaging $25,000/yr, I’m not going to be too far off from that. But on the flip side, if I’m already making $40,000/yr, but I’m spending most of my time with people who average $100,000/yr, I’m going to strive to be like that.
Similarly with debt, you need to surround yourself with those who are debt-free. They’ll encourage you to be too.
Have you finally broken the chains of debt? What are some of your tips that kept you going?