I have seen so many articles out there with different claims like, “How I paid off a billion dollars in 30 minutes”. Obviously that’s an exaggeration but seriously, there are all kinds of articles out there about paying off tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in a year or less.
When we were first started really working on getting out of debt, I binge-read these articles. But honestly, they were really kind of discouraging. The truth is, most people just don’t have that kind of money after bills and necessities to pay off their debt. If you do have that kind of money, way to go! Get to work paying off all that debt and enjoy your hard work! If you don’t, keep reading for some (hopefully) helpful hints and encouragement.
If you’re anything like us, it’s all about continuing to stay motivated when it feels like you’re not making any headway. We live on a very small income, and because of that, we don’t always have much extra each month. We’ve also added two more kids, moved and taken jobs making less money, and had some unexpected expenses come up (resulting in having to rebuild our emergency fund a couple times) over the last three years.
Even with all that, we’ve paid off 40% of our debt and we should be done within two years. That may not seem very encouraging, but I’ve been reminding myself that we are set to pay off everything early and that IS a big accomplishment.
If you are stuck in the trenches and are having trouble staying motivated, here are some ways to help:
- Figure out your motivation! If you’re having trouble staying focused, it always helps to remember why you’re working so hard to get out of debt in the first place. I talk more on that here. For us, it’s our kids. We want to be able to provide for them not just everything they need, but also provide some wants along the way. Maybe you have dreams of traveling, owning your home, or just crave the relief that comes with being completely out of debt! Whatever it is, find a way to keep your mind on it!
- Keep track of exactly how much you owe. We’ve done this a couple ways over the years. About two and a half years ago, I made a giant “debt thermometer” out of butcher paper. It was too big and really thin, so it got worn out pretty quick. Then we had one of our unexpected expenses and I ended up tossing it out in a fit of frustration (I do not recommend this, lol! apparently, it was just one of those days). Anway, now we have a cool little chart that I found here, and because of how small the lines are, I basically get to color a new section every month, which keeps my mind on the fact that we are progressing. I also keep a chart at the bottom of our monthly budget that has what we owe for each different debt. I update it each month and it is encouraging to update even the totals that we just paid the minimum payments on. I would also recommend using a site like undebt.it to keep track of it all. You plug in all your debts, amounts, interest rates, and minimum payments and you can choose your payoff plan (snowball method, avalanche method, or you can customize your payoff order). It will give you a timeline of how long it should take to be done! It’s free, and it helped us a lot when we were first getting started. Seeing an actual finish date was really helpful. Now, I’ve used Excel to create my own payoff plan where I can incorporate things like tax returns and extra money each month. I’ll talk more about that in a future post, though.
- Cut yourself some slack! You will mess up. Sometimes, you’ll make bad decisions with your money and end up having to charge something. Or something will come up and you’ll get behind again. Don’t fall back into those bad habits, but if you mess up here and there, don’t beat yourself up for it. Live and learn. Nobody does this perfectly!
I promise, even when it feels like it’s taking forever, it will happen if you just keep at it! Cut out all your extras and throw all your extra money at that debt! What do you do to keep yourself focused?