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Finding your true motivation for debt payoff will be difficult unless you’re honest with yourself. You have deeper motivations, beyond just “get out of debt.” You can achieve so much more without the burden of debt weighing you down.
The debt payoff journey can last years. We all know how hard it is to stay motivated for a short challenge like a Whole 30 or no spend month. Now, project that feeling out over months and years. That sounds hard, right?
Staying in the right mindset allows you to overcome that struggle. Use these tips to keep your motivation up when it gets tough.
1. Identify what’s important
Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Sit down by yourself, in a quiet place, and reflect on the three things that are most important to you. Be honest with yourself and dive deep into your life.
These should be things like “my kids,” “job flexibility to spend more time with family,” or “travel in retirement.” Don’t write down vague examples like “work less” or “be happier.” You need to know why these things are important to you.
Working less might be the first step in spending more time with your family OR being happier. With your current expenses, can you work less? I’m going to guess not, since you’re still working at this level.
Reducing the level of debt you’re carrying frees up your time eventually. You will be able to work less, stress less, and enjoy life more just by paying off debt. Lightning the weight of debt improves lives, even if you don’t realize the power of debt freedom
Finding what truly matters to you will guide your next steps and continue to motivate you when moving forward gets hard.
2. Get on the same page
If you’re in a committed relationship where both partners are interested in debt payoff, both of you should list your 3 Most Important Things separately. Then, sit down together to compare.
You and your partner need to end up on the same page eventually. It may take time to get there, but it’s also important to have the same dreams. That may take discussions, compromise, or even a serious reevaluation of your relationship. Don’t live your life crushed by someone else’s mismatched dream.
Honestly, it may even take marriage counseling to iron out the differences between your priorities. I always encourage mental health treatment, but it’s especially important when navigating a serious relationship. Even when things are going well enough, improving your communication is always helpful.
For single people, I recommend finding an accountability partner to help you maintain your motivation for debt payoff. Choose someone you trust enough to share financial information with. Even if you don’t tell them actual numbers, you need to trust them to keep what you do share confidential.
Your accountability partner should also be supportive. You don’t want someone who is constantly encouraging you to spend money, eat out, or go shopping. Find someone who is happy to have a game night at home or go for a walk. Even if you don’t do those activities with your accountability partner, it’s an indicator of the right mindset.
3. Turn your priorities into goals
After you’ve identified your top 3 priorities in life, turn them into goals. These goals are what you’re working toward – what you want your life to look like once you’ve paid off your debt.
Turn your dream into a plan by making goals. Don’t just dream, make headway on achieving it. For bigger goals, you might need to write down actionable steps. Make your goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) so that you know when they’ve been met.
For the “family” priority, your goal could be to take your toddler to preschool every day. Maybe that’s something you can’t currently do because you have to start work early to get overtime. That overtime pay is going toward your debt payments. To achieve your goal, you need to get out of debt first.
4. Remind yourself of your motivation for debt payoff
Put your goals up in a visible place. Make your goals stare you in the face, so you can’t ignore them. Write your goals down & keep them in your wallet or posted on your bathroom mirror.
Keep your motivation in mind too. Something as simple as moving a photo of your child so that it’s visible from the couch where you shop on your phone can be really effective. Put a generic picture of the Alaskan landscape on your fridge so you’re reminded of your retirement travel dreams.
Save a picture of one of your motivating factors to the home screen of your phone. You can download some free phone background images to help rein in your spending through these 5 Quick Questions to Ask Yourself Before Purchasing.
5. Watch the numbers change
Tracking your numbers will help you see the progress you’re making. You can track the balance of your outstanding debts, how much you’re paying toward debt each month, or your net worth (what you own less what you owe).
Debt Free Charts also has a variety of free printable trackers to give you a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished. I keep my trackers on the wall of my office. They’re highly visible to my husband and me, but also not out in front of company.
At the end of each month, I update my debt payoff & net worth spreadsheets. After that, my husband and I update our trackers, together. This simple routine helps us both stay engaged in the process. I like the spreadsheet and he likes the visual, so we’re both happy.
6. Set rewards to keep your motivation for debt payoff
When you create a debt payoff plan, make sure to include milestones & rewards for meeting those milestones. Keep the rewards reasonable; paying off a $500 balance on a credit card doesn’t call for a $100 dinner out. Instead, reward yourself with a latte or something else inexpensive you’ve cut out of your budget.
Save the expensive dinner out to use as the reward for a bigger milestone, like paying off all of your credit cards or paying off a total of $5,000. It’s also important to make sure you have the cash for your reward, so you’re not putting that expense on a credit card.
Even better, choose free or cheap rewards. When you pay off that student loan, go camping for the weekend. Have a homemade pizza & movie night in when you make the final payment on a credit card. Even just buying a cheap bottle of wine can be enough motivation for debt payoff.
7. Celebrate your victories with like-minded people
Find people who understand your desire for debt freedom and share your victories, small & large, with them.
With luck, you’ll be able to find these people in real life. Having in-person friends who are happy with frugal activities and understand how big the process is will also help you stick to your financial plans. I have a friend with a child similar in age to my youngest; we have spent $0 on activities. Instead, we have play dates at each other’s houses and contribute to dinners for both families.
There are also many online options for finding your debt payoff community. You can find a friendly Facebook group, Instagram account, or Reddit forum to help you stay motivated for debt payoff or living frugally.