Crush Debt Fast (While Staying Motivated)

Happy Monday All! In keeping with the spirit of pushing through for a fourth quarter blitz on our 2019 goals, I wanted to discuss a positive article about staying on track with the goal of paying off debt. This week’s article is from NPR, entitled, “Crush Debt Fast (While Staying Motivated)”. As a bonus, this article is linked to a ~23 minute podcast episode following a young couple’s, the Gardners, journey to pay off their debts by age 30. It intersperses their stories

Staying with a goal, especially a long term goal, like paying off debt, can be much harder than expected. You take the time, go through all of your bills, decide on a bi-weekly or monthly budget and create your debt payoff plan. You plan that it will take say 3 years to get out of debt. Now, you have to stick to it. The further you get away from the proud moment where you made your plan, the less motivation you have to keep to it.

In this article, NPR reviews 6 ways to stay on track and motivated on the debt payoff journey.

Set a Goal, and Make it Specific

In many industries, the idea of making goals SMART is fairly prevalent.

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Attainable
  • R: Relevant
  • T: Time-Bound

Using this acronym keeps the goals simple, easy to be know if you’ve accomplished it, related to your overall plan for the rest of your life and ensures that there is a certain amount of time in which you plan to have it completed.

In the example of this couple, they wanted to pay off their debt, but they didn’t just say “We want to pay it off”. They said:

  • Specific: We want to pay off debt by 30
  • Measurable: How will we know we’ve achieved it? We will no longer have debtors to pay.
  • Attainable: Can we do it? Yes, we will pay X amount each month to achieve this.
  • Relevant: How does this fit in with the big picture? We want to create options for our lives. Having debt prevents us from doing this.
  • Time-Bound: Completing this goal by the time we reach age 30.

The point of doing this is if you sent a SMART goal versus just “I want to pay off debt.” you are far more likely to make that happen. It gives you a concrete deadline to work towards. Otherwise, it’s really more of a wish than a goal.

Make a Plan to Resist Temptations

The further you are from that epiphany where you make your plan, the harder maintaining motivation will be. A long day at work will make take out look even more appealing. A streak of boredom will find you on Amazon looking at new kitchen gadgets you could try.

While there will always be something to tempt you from your goal, you CAN do something about it. You know yourself better than anyone. What tempts you the most? If you know that you have a weakness for getting take out, pick the longest day you have coming up over the next couple of weeks and plan that you will get take out that day and no other. Additionally, having some freezer meals at the ready can also offset the need to buy food when the energy to cook just isn’t there.

So, whatever temptations you the may have, and it may be multiple; create the narrative now that you will tell yourself to mitigate falling into their trap.

Make the Challenge Fun

There are ways to game-ify the debt payoff journey that work for a lot of folks. I don’t particularly find that way to be the most motivational for me, but if that’s your thing. Go for it!

More important than whether or not you make an actual game out of the debt payoff is not to eliminate fun along the way. I cannot emphasize this enough:

Being debt free is not worth it if you sit alone in a room with one light bulb eating ramen noodles and spam.

Life doesn’t have to be put on hold to pay off debts. There are a ton of activities that are free or cheap that can fully enrich your life.

For example, a couple of week’s ago, my wife and I had a “date night in” where we built a fort and watched a movie. It was so much fun and the total cost for the drinks and movie theater sized candy she got for us was maybe $20. Not everything needs to be a strain on the wallet in order to be fun.

Furbabies had to crash our fort movie date, but that’s okay.

You’ll Need Social Support

No matter what your goal is, pay off debt, raise children, start a business, they’re all made easier with a community of support. If you involve them in your goals, you’re more likely to succeed and have fun in the process.

  • When you feel yourself faltering, talk to a friend who knows your goal for a pep talk
  • Involve your friends in your free/cheap fun activities like hiking, camping, pot luck get-togethers, etc.

Divide the Bigger Challenge into Smaller Goals

Looking at a total debt of say, $60,000 in student loans (approximately what my student loans were) can be extremely intimidating. However, for me, these loans were made up of 11 much smaller loans. Each of these became an individual goal to be paid off and achieved.

If you do have one big loan that will take a long time to pay off, break it down into chunks. Celebrate when it’s down to $15,000, then $10,000, then $5,000, until you can celebrate the win of paying it off completely.

Breaking these goals down will also keep you on track. Like a school project that you have all semester to complete. Figure out what needs to be done each month, week, day in order to get the best result. Waiting until the last couple of weeks and pulling all-nighters doesn’t work in finance.

Reward Yourself

This is something that my wife helps me to remember. I’m always of the thought process of “Great. What’s next?” when we hit a goal. Kayla always wants to take a break and celebrate. When we were paying off debt, there were smaller loans that would allow us to pay something off every couple of months. Whenever we paid something off, we’d toast it over dinner.

This small moment to recognize that we were one step closer to where we wanted our lives to be made all the difference. The key here is not to celebrate having one less payment to make by going on an extravagant night out that costs several hundred dollars and adds to the credit card debts. Keep your rewards small, yet meaningful to recognize what you (and your team) were able to accomplish together.

Even better is if your reward is something that helps you towards your goal. For the Gardners, this was giving themselves a little bit of spending money every month. If your goal was related to fitness, maybe you get yourselves some new running sneakers. Keeping yourself on track and even furthering your success is key with any reward.

Wrap It Up!

Tips like the ones above can make the difference between keeping your goal and dropping it. Each individual aspect may look completely different, but the result of maintaining progress will be the same. Find what works for you. Just make sure that you:

  • Make your goals SMART.
  • Plan out how you will resist temptations.
  • Keep fun and adventure in your life!
  • Maintain a strong support system.
  • Take it one day at a time.
  • Reward yourself (responsibly) when you reach a milestone of your own choosing.

How have you kept yourself on track with your goals? Share your techniques in the comments below!