Staying Motivated While Getting out of Debt

For many of us, the battle to get out of debt is a long one, taking many months or years. I’m 15 months into my journey now, and I have about four more months to go.

Right now I’m having a harder time than I have before staying on task. The remaining debt is the biggest “snowball” and is a hefty $10k. It’s also been hanging around like a member of the family for so long it’s become nearly invisible (the balance has been roughly this size for about four or five years years). Waking up every morning and staring that thing down and saying “you’re next sucker” isn’t working because I can practically hear it shouting back to me “yeah right kiddo… just try…”

We’ve covered maintaining the motivation several times (links below) but today I want to focus on immediate and right now ways to get your eye back on the goal.

In our house, we’ve found ourselves beginning to stray now and then—eating out more frequently saying “well, we’ll be debt-free in four months, so let’s celebrate now” or slipping up and beginning to add lifestyle extras. Now that we’ve noticed this—here’s how we’re tackling it.

This isn’t the home stretch—it’s crunch time! We’ve enrolled our oldest daughter as the “traffic cop” to help us all stay accountable on this. Kids notice everything, may as well reward them for pointing out things like this. Besides, when your kid calls you on “bad behavior” you have no choice to but to shape up. There’s no rationalizing to children.

That last snowball is intimidating, so break it down. We used to budget $1,300 to $2,500 for our snowball payments. It got broken up into several places but now we’re down to writing one gigantic check to the last debt every month. I’ll admit it, I’m a wimp. It’s psychologically difficult for me to write one gigantic check—part of me wants to hang on to the money “just in case” something comes up. Instead, I’ve started writing weekly payments to break the big payment into smaller ones that don’t hurt so much to write and maintains some cash flow security. If you are doing this with a credit card account make sure they accept multiple payments in a month as some charge an extra fee for doing this.

Amp it up! Amp up the energy. Talk about your progress to goal every week, or every day. Make a chart or keep a list—whatever energizes you.

Surround yourself by those who’ve done it. One of my favorite things to do is to download the Friday Dave Ramsey podcasts. Every Friday, he invites listeners to call up and scream “I’m Debt Free!” Then he interviews them about the hardest parts, the best parts, and how much they paid off in how much time. I always find myself energized after listening to these, and sometimes listen to them more than once!

Re-focus on the why. I recently realized that I had completely lost track of this. I cannot remember why we were getting out of debt. It took me some thinking to remember what prompted our conversion to the debt-free lifestyle and I realized that one of the motivators wasn’t a factor any longer. (We were attempting to adopt two kids who I met on my travels to Ethiopia, but they’ve since found another family, which is truly OK by us, but I had to step back and re-evaluate my reasons for continuing on this debt-free journey. Additional freedom, reduced need for income, and security for the kids we already have at home proved to be sufficient motivators for me). A few minutes of fantasizing what would happen to us if my husband lost his job (and excellent health insurance) was enough to get me back on the wagon. Take a minute and remind yourself WHY you’re getting out of debt. Make a list of what being debt-free will allow you to do and put it on your checkbook, or your bathroom mirror, or your forehead.

Next up: Motivational reading and soundtrack ideas for maintaining the focus.

In case you’d like to look back at some of our other motivation posts, the links are below.

Motivating yourself when you want to spend

Feeling derailed

Some techniques to keep yourself on task

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