If you’re like most people, you feel really motivated when you start paying down your debt. You set up your debt repayment plan, and you start making some monthly payments. The debt total starts to drop, you feel excited about where you’re headed.
Unfortunately that’s where most personal finance stories stop. People talk about how much they wanted to be debt-free, how they started making the payments, and how meeting the goal has changed their lives. Not much is said about how much people struggled between the starting and finish lines except maybe a few words like, “It was difficult, but…”
Paying off debt is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to go through the same things that many marathon runners experience, like fatigue, boredom, unexpected roadblocks, and insufficient resources. The people who meet their goals are the ones who push through these difficulties. No matter how tired you are or how long the journey seems, you can keep yourself motivated while you’re paying down your debt.
Stage 1: When There’s a Long Way to Go
If you’re paying off tens of thousands of dollars in debt, your obligations aren’t going to disappear overnight. You’re on a journey that’s going to take months (if you’re lucky) or even years to complete (if you’re like most people).
If you have a five-year plan to pay off your debts, things can get tiring when you hit the Two-Year Slump. You get tired of saying “no” when you want something, tired of driving an old car, and tired of living somewhere that you don’t like because you’re trying to save money.
The biggest temptation at this point is to start telling yourself that you can carry your debts now. They’re better. They’re manageable. You’ve done good work. You begin to ask yourself whether it’s worth it to keep on denying these things to yourself. The problem is that if you give up your plan in midstream, you’re denying yourself the power of victory. You haven’t shown yourself that you’ve overcome the bad habits and shaky decision-making that got you into debt in the first place.
Stage 2: Sticking With It
If you’re in a slump when it comes to your debt repayment plan, try some of these tricks to refuel your motivation:
- Find something to do. Set aside some money to take a class. For example, if you’ve thought about getting your MBA, start with a single online course. You can significantly increase your skill set and your income by furthering your education, even if you do it just a little bit at a time.
- Join a group. Look around your community or your church for a group of people who, like yourself, are on a journey to becoming debt-free.
- Go public. If you’ve been working your debt repayment plan in secret, start telling people about it. If you have a family blog or website, install a counter, such as Donation Thermometer, that shows how much debt you have left to repay. Update it every time you make some progress.
- Anticipate problems. A sudden job loss or medical bill however could completely derail your plans. Make sure you’ve socked away some savings to deal with potential unemployment, and take a look at your insurance to make sure you have sufficient coverage for emergencies. Lower your deductible for a little while until your debts are paid off.
- Speed it up. Like a marathoner who slurps down an energy drink to gain a burst of speed, you might need to increase your income to speed up your debt repayment. Start freelancing, or look for a part-time or seasonal job. Put all of the proceeds toward your repayment plan.
Stage 3: Almost There? Remind Yourself That It’s Worth It
When you’re debt-free, you no longer owe money for purchases that stopped giving you pleasure ages ago. Instead of watching your debt obligations drain away a chunk of your resources, you can use your resources to fund vacations, savings accounts, retirement funds, investment ventures, charitable donations, or anything else you desire. When you become debt-free, your money is your own. You can make occasional impulse purchases. You can fund your family’s dreams.
For now, hang in there, and make yourself get to the finish line. Then, go back and help other people who are struggling along the path to financial freedom.
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