Since it's been nearly five years since I originally paid off the $10k in credit card debt I racked up in college, I think I'd forgotten just how difficult it is to pay off debt. After revealing that I was still in debt, and posting two great progress updates (See January and February), a handful of readers have written to ask if I had any advice, including a great question about tips for ways to stay motivated while paying off debt.
Even though I've chosen to pay off my debt in a relatively short amount of time (just 90 days!), I've still had to put forth more determination and focus than I've spent on anything (save for this blog) in a very long time. Here are 5 of my own suggestions for how you can inspire yourself and stay motivated on your own debt journey, whether you've chosen a more short-term aggressive approach or a slow and steady pace.
5 Ways to Stay Motivated While Paying Off Debt
#1 – Make a Vision Board
I mentioned on the Martinis and Your Money podcast that I've been employing the use of a vision board during my second debt payoff journey. Being an incredibly self-motivated person, I used to think I had no need for a vision board, and honestly thought they were a little too “airy, fairy woo woo” for me, but I was wrong. They work; maybe not in the huge, life-altering way, but there is nothing wrong with having a visual, daily reminder of your priorities in life.
Here's a great tutorial on how to create a vision board of your own.
#2 – Keep a Gratitude Journal
If there is one thing I say on this site, and say often, it is how much doing a gratitude project changed my life. I now practice daily gratitude by writing down three things I'm grateful for, which helps me keep life in perspective. Practicing gratitude is also a great way to curb overspending, as I'm reminded daily that I already have everything I'll ever need and want in terms of material items, reasons to be thankful, and love!
#3 – Select Tangible, Concrete Rewards BEFORE You Start
Every time in 2014 when I started to pay down the debt from my 2013 home renovation, I would hit a small pay off milestone, and attempt to reward myself but nothing “ever” stuck. As I vowed to do it differently this time in 2015, (and get rid of my debt once and for all) I set up three reward “check points” along the way.
The main difference between now and then was that I picked them out ahead of time, and I put pictures of the items on my vision board to serve as daily reminders of what I'm working toward.
There's more about this in my course, The Debt Master Plan. and spaces for you to write down your rewards in the free debt tracker spreadsheet.(Download below!)
The #1 Key to Staying Motivated While Paying Off Debt…
#4 – Visualizing a Very Active Fantasy For Your Life After Debt
This is so powerful and SO important. Ever since January, when I paid off over half of my debt, I started to allow myself to feel hopeful in addition to feeling incredibly determined. This is actually going to happen, I thought. My favorite thing to think about? What my life is going to be like after I finish paying off my debt.
One of the biggest things I thought about was what I'd be able to accomplish in my career if I didn't have to make minimum payments or worry about paying all that money back. So I visualized about working for myself, having more time to devote to my blog, and living a location independent lifestyle became my favorite fantasy. I set a goal and I stuck with it.
Honestly, paying off debt is hard, hard, work. Like most things, there will come a time (or two, or three) where you feel like the rewards you have in place just don't feel worth the frustration or the long way you have to go. This is why having an ultimate fantasy to imagine in those rough moments will go along way.
And yes, your life after debt will be much better than the life you currently are living now. I promise.
#5 – Try Incorporating Other Challenges as Well
I know many who embark on a debt journey, especially one that spans several months (or years) and they choose to solely focus on paying off the debt. I don't agree with this, as I think only focusing on the debt makes it easier to experience debt fatigue, or to get burned out.
I'd like to recommend using the energy you have for your debt journey to try and simplify other aspects of your life as well. In early January, I started a 30 day de-clutter challenge and I've been trying to eat better. I know it probably seems like a lot to put on your plate, but overhauling the other aspects of my life reminds me that I'm making my life better in every way and that paying off my debt is just one small part of it.