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Debt-fatigue is real! Paying off debt month after month gets old, but it’s necessary to attain financial freedom. Ain’t nothing wrong with reciting affirmations (I love it) and reading books (I almost love this more than chocolate). But we already know how awesome those practices are for believing in and educating ourselves. Here are 12 other tips for staying motivated along the debt-free journey.
1. Imagine your life with no debt and huge savings.
Really. Just imagine that. Think about what your life would be like without sending $400 to your alma mater each month for that 10-year-old degree. Think about the vacations you’ll take with your family and the memories you’ll make. Think about the smile on your kid’s face when you watch her soccer game instead of moonlighting at the coffee shop. Think of putting all of that credit card interest in your Roth IRA. Better yet, go to a retirement calculator and type in what you pay in interest every month as the monthly contribution to see the what your money could be doing. If none of these scenarios motivate you, then I don’t know what will. Always remember why you’re paying off debt in the first place to stay focused.
2. Repeat: “Budgets are my friend. Budgets are my friend.”
Is that an affirmation?! Ha ha! Anyhoo, some of us think budgets suck. But nah! They don’t deprive you of anything. Think more positively. Budgets (a.k.a. spending plans or financial freedom maps) help you achieve your goals quicker and easier. When you direct where your money goes, you don’t wonder where it went at the end of the month or whether you’ll reach your credit card payoff goal. You’ll know that you’ll achieve your goal in three months by paying $200 each month. You become the boss of your money.
3. Nickname accounts according to your goals.
“Savings x5678” doesn’t provide much motivation or clarity as to why you’re saving in that account. Put some respeck on that name! Change it to “Summer Disney Trip” or “Dream Home Down Payment” to keep your goals top of mind. When you remember why you’re saving, you’ll be less likely to dip into that account for jeans. Got a credit card balance you want to crush? Go to your online dashboard and change the name from “Visa x1234” to “Pay off by July.” Feel free to change your passwords to reflect your goals, too. How about $lashD3btby2020? I love the fact that Capital One 360 lets me open up multiple savings accounts and name them for each goal. Each account earns 1.0% APY with no monthly fees.
TIP: If you use the Bank of America app, follow these instructions. Sign in > Click on the name of the account (i.e. Bank of America Gold Visa x1234) > Click “Edit” next to the account name > Type in your awesome, new, goal-oriented nickname. > Press “Done.”
4. Write an “I Did It” list to celebrate goals you met or action steps you took.
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we need to do that we forget about what we have done. Did you read an investment book? Did you pay down an extra $100 on a loan? Celebrate your small wins from this month, this past quarter or even the last year to see how awesome you are. It’ll give you a boost in confidence and momentum to keep going.
5. Put fun in your budget—literally.
You can’t completely deprive yourself. Think in terms of balance and moderation. You want a debt-busting budget, not a spirit-breaking budget. Please designate some cash for the fun stuff, so you don’t rebel and throw your goals off track. Create a line item that reads “FUN!” This money belongs to you, not Sallie Mae or MasterCard. Enjoy spending it on things that make your heart smile.
6. Practice gratitude often to focus on what you have—not what you lack.
“If you don’t appreciate what you’ve got, you won’t get any more and you don’t need anymore,” writes T. Harv Eker. Set a reminder on your phone or have a cue for expressing gratitude every day or every week, like keeping your journal or planner by the bed. Write three things you’re grateful for. If you prefer typing, then jot down your list in an app like Evernote, Notes or Google Drive. This practice helps you be content and stop comparing yourself to others, and therefore, be less prone to spending money or MasterCard’s money on things you don’t need.
7. Celebrate when you reach a quarter or half of your goal.
Every since we were little, we’ve been rewarded for behaving well, getting good grades or doing chores. I’m a teacher. Kids will lose their minds over some stickers. Adults should reward themselves for good behavior, too.
If you plan to knock out four credit card balances, why not celebrate with a Gotta Have It! bowl of Cold Stone ice cream or a matinee each time you hit a zero balance? If you don’t celebrate until you slash all four debts, then you might lose motivation and resent the process. Have free or cheap celebrations along the journey to enjoy the journey.
8. Gamify your savings or debt payoff.
Find your inner child and create a competition amongst friends to see who can save the most or pay off the most debt by a certain period. This makes personal finance much more fun.
Apps also reward you for making good money moves. You can link up your student loans, mortgages, credit card accounts, savings accounts and 401(k) accounts to SaveUp. Then you earn rewards point for each dollar you pay toward reaching your financial goals. Play games with your points to win cash, cars and other prizes of real monetary value. Sounds like a good deal!
9. Make sure your phone screensaver includes a goal, quote or affirmation.
We’re addicted to our phones. A study that tracked Android users showed that average users type, tap or swipe the screen 76 times per day. A separate study said Apple iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times each day. During every waking hour (16, if you get 8 hours of sleep), you look at your screen about 5 times per hour on average. Each time you look at your screen, you could be reading “Savings goal: $1,000 by June 1” or “My actions create constant prosperity.” (That’s my May screensaver.) Do that 80 times a day and watch your mindset change. The more you see the goal, the more your mind will believe it and devise plans to achieve it.
10. Keep physical goal trackers in your car, home or office.
A former co-worker decorated her cubicle with colorful paper clips. They hung from a pushpin on the wall.
“Janet, what’s up with the paper clips?” I asked.
“Oh, I use them to track my weight loss,” she replied. “Every time I lose a pound, I add a clip to the chain.”
Genius! She spent most of her time in the office, so she kept a constant reminder of her goal and her progress. This visual reminder was a great talking point. It brought us along on her journey, so we knew not to bring chocolate cake around her. And it probably inspired other people to get in shape, too.
Do whatever you have to do to keep your goals in mind. Keep a paper clip chain in which each paper clip represents $100 paid toward debt. Color in goal trackers. Keep post-it notes in your car or the bathroom mirror. Create a vision board of your debt-free lifestyle so you can almost taste and smell how your new life will be. See yourself crossing the finish line.
11. Listen to debt-free stories.
My mindset did a 180 when I discovered the His & Her Money Show with power couple Taalat and Tai McNeely. Their podcast guests knock out tens of thousands of dollars in debt in a year. When the credits roll after each podcast, my spirit soars. Listen to a podcast or audiobook, or read debt-free stories on personal finance blogs to remind yourself: “If they can do it, I can do it, too.” Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get you over the next hump.
12. Join the #debtfreecommunity or get an accountability partner.
“For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group,” writes The Power of Habit author, Charles H. Duhigg. “Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.”
This explains why alcoholics need AA, why religious groups gather each week, and why debt slayers need a support group. You can’t achieve great goals on your own. The debt-free journey, especially, is tough. You need to be around people who are meal-planning, side-hustling and budgeting so you can keep meal-planning, side-hustling and budgeting.
If you share your goals with one other person or the world, then you’ll work hard to avoid looking silly for messing up. We all want to impress others. When you make a public statement, you’ll want to reach that goal so you don’t let yourself and others down.
If you can’t talk to someone in person, then join an online community like the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram or mastermind groups on Facebook. The people you hang around the most influence your life tremendously. Make sure your friends—real or virtual— are pushing you in the right direction.