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Staying Motivated When Paying Off Debt

By Caroline Banton · November 21, 2022 · 9 minute read

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Staying Motivated When Paying Off Debt

Debt: It’s something many of us live with, but it can really bog down our finances and prevent us from meeting our money goals.

Paying off debt is a long-term commitment that requires discipline, and staying motivated until your debts are paid off can be a major challenge. Consider these examples:

•   If you have a student loan of around $43,000, it can take almost eight years to pay off with monthly payments of around $450, according to the Education Data Initiative.

•   If you have $10,000 of credit card debt at an 18% interest rate and want to pay it off in three years, you’ll have to pay $362 every month.

It may sound daunting, but here’s a pep talk: The advantages of paying off debt are well worth the effort. You will have a higher credit rating and qualify for better loans in the future. And with more money to spend each month, you can invest and build a nest egg toward retirement or simply save for luxuries like vacations.

To help you buckle down and say goodbye to your debt, read on to learn how to stay motivated while paying off your debt.

Why It’s Hard to Stay Motivated When Paying Off Debt

How to stay motivated while paying off debt can be tough. It can seem like an uphill, almost endless battle. Depending on how much you have to pay off, the process may seem as if it requires some uncomfortable (and even unfair) sacrifices you’d rather not make.

However, with some smart strategies to change your money mindset, you’ll find that paying down debt becomes easier as you learn better money management.

If you are ready to get rid of debt, read on to learn 15 ways to stay motivated.

15 Ways to Help You Stay Motivated When Paying Off Debt

Here are 15 tips to help setting yourself up for success. They’ll give you a boost as you consider how to stay motivated while paying off debt.

1. Remember the “Why”

Why have you decided to pay off your debt? Are you tired of never having as much spending money as you’d like and watching the debt pile up? Do you hate the idea of dollars flying out of your bank account to pay for interest?
Do you have financial goals that are falling ever further out of reach?

Whatever your reasons, remind yourself regularly why you are working so hard and monitor your progress so that you can see the results.

2. Get Organized

Achieving a goal is easier if you have a plan. Your strategies to become debt free might include consolidating your debt with a lower-interest loan, or you might decide to get a roommate and save on rent.

Whatever your method, plan a budget that you can live with and set up automatic payments each month so that you don’t have to think about your bills daily. (This will also help you avoid late fees.) Then, be disciplined, stick to your budget, and watch your debt diminish.

Quick Money Tip:Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts will pay you a bit and help your money grow. An online bank account is more likely than brick-and-mortar to offer you the best rates.

3. Have an Accountability Partner

Telling someone you are working on paying down debt can help motivate you. Called an accountability partner, this person could be your spouse, a friend, or a financial advisor. If you worry about telling your accountability partner that you fell off the proverbial wagon, remember that nobody’s perfect. Don’t beat yourself up. Just get right back on track with some encouraging words from your partner.

4. Put Yourself in an Uncomfortable Situation

Achieving a goal often takes acknowledging the difficulty saving money can present and then pushing through it. Paying down debt will require making changes to your lifestyle so that you can live more economically.

That might mean going out less with friends, not spending so much on clothes, or moving in with parents temporarily. Feeling uncomfortable is not a bad thing; it can be a powerful motivator. You will power through any feelings of deprivation to get on better financial footing going forward.

5. Track Your Progress

When you initially decide to tackle accumulated debt, it can seem overwhelming. By tracking your payments and your diminishing debt, you will see progress. This in turn can give you confidence and enhance your saving motivation as you stick with your plan.

6. Have a Vision Board

How to stay motivated while paying off debt can involve having a vision of what you will do once you are debt free. Use that as a motivator, not just in your mind but in your home. Perhaps you want to take a vacation to London once you better understand your credit score and then boost it by cutting down your debt. (As you lower your debt ratio versus your credit limit, for instance, your score will likely rise.)

If you want to reward yourself with travel, post your goal where you can see it so you are reminded each day of your intention. You might want to create a vision board with photos of your goal to help spur you on. Whether it’s photos of the West End theaters or teatime at a posh hotel, those photos can be motivating.

7. Celebrate the Small Wins

Find ways to reward yourself as you gradually pay down your debt. These special treats should be inexpensive (so as not to blow your budget) but meaningful. It could be reading the latest book by your favorite author, a meal out with friends, or buying yourself new running shoes. Build room into your budget for rewards.

8. Have Like-Minded Friends

Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to spend less rather than overspend. Friends who like going out to expensive restaurants or shopping at expensive stores are not going to help your cause. There are lots of ways to socialize that do not require spending a boatload of cash. For example, grab a coffee with a friend, or go for a hike. Don’t let keeping up with the Joneses (when the Joneses are big spenders) foil your efforts.

9. Reach out to Others

Knowing that you are not the only one fighting debt is comforting, and hearing success stories will encourage you to continue. Seek support by listening to others.

Podcasts on personal finances and online discussion platforms can provide community and give you ideas on how to manage your debt.

10. Focus on the End Date or End Goal

Have an end date or a final goal, and mark it on your calendar. Plan to reward yourself for your hard work when you reach it. It might be a weekend away or finding a new apartment now that you have freed up some cash in your budget. Looking forward to something will keep you motivated.

11. Listen to Sound Financial Advice

How to stay motivated to pay off debt comes down to making informed decisions that hasten the process. It’s important to make sure the financial advice you listen to comes from reliable sources. Many finance “gurus’ on YouTube and social media platforms may not give out the best advice. Find a financial advisor via recommendations if you are unsure of the steps to take to pay down your debt or need additional guidance.

12. Choose a Repayment Method that Makes Sense

There is more than one way to pay off what you owe, and the debt repayment strategies you choose should suit your particular situation and financial goals. You might choose the debt snowball method, where you pay off your smallest debts first, or you might pay off the debts with the highest interest rates first.

Feel as if you are in too deep of a debt hole? Consulting with a financial advisor or a credit counselor at a nonprofit can help you find the best ways to pay off debt faster.

13. Break Repayment Down to Smaller Goals

It helps to break down your task into smaller goals. For example, the first step might be to meet with a financial advisor for advice on debt consolidation or do your own research on the topic. This can help you lower the interest rate on the money you owe, making it easier to pay off.

The next step might be to arrange a loan with the bank and set up payments. Then, set goals to achieve after six months, 12 months, 18 months, and so on. It can help motivate you to pay off debt to see the individual steps that will get you there.

14. Earn Extra Money

You’ll pay off debt quicker if you can earn extra money. Think of ways to increase your income. Can you do overtime, gig work, or part-time work? You might meet new people and expose yourself to a whole new industry that interests you. Who knows? It could be the start of an entirely new career.

Recommended: 11 Benefits of Having a Side Hustle

15. Gamify Your Debt Repayment

Setting yourself a challenge can add a sense of fun to paying off debt, and it can boost your confidence. For example, set a goal of making an additional $1,000 this month from a side hustle. Or each month vow to briefly give up a typical bit of discretionary spending, such as no take-out coffee for one month. The money saved goes towards debt. Gamifying can help you reach your goals quicker, just make sure your challenge is achievable.

The Takeaway

Paying down debt is a long process, and it is not easy to stay motivated. Some of the ways to stay motivated when paying off debt are to acknowledge exactly how much you owe and then develop a plan, with clear benchmarks, to whittle it down. Reach out to others to learn their experiences, set achievable milestones, and reward yourself when you reach them. These steps will keep you going till you reach that debt free finish line.

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Does paying off debt make you happier?

Paying off debt may be difficult to start with as you adjust to changes in your lifestyle and budget. However, ultimately, being debt free is a huge relief. It can reduce your financial stress, and it frees you to do so much more with your money.

What are the benefits of paying off debt?

When you are debt free, a weight may well be lifted from your shoulders. Paying off debt can teach you to live within your means and not overspend. The money you were paying in interest on your debt can now be invested in a nest egg toward retirement or used for discretionary spending, like vacations. Lastly, taking control of your finances and paying off debt are huge accomplishments that can boost your confidence to tackle other challenges.

Is it worth it to pay off your debt?

Paying down debt avoids paying unnecessary interest over the long term. There are short-term benefits too. If you are actively reducing your debt, your credit score will likely improve. That can improve your ability to qualify for loans with lower interest and fewer fees in the future. You can also free yourself of the mental burden of debt.

Photo credit: iStock/BartekSzewczyk

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