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How to Make Debt Payoff Exciting

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Debt Payoff

Debt payoff – exciting? Practical, yes. Functional, yes. Necessary, yes. Soul crushing at times, yes. But exciting? Why yes, debt payoff can be exciting when you track your progress. When you’re working your way out of an extreme amount of debt like we are, it can be a bit discouraging to track your debt payoff. Watching those debt numbers go down ever-so-slowly can be painstaking, to say the least.  In order to encourage ourselves as we work on our goals, we’ve figured out a few other ways to track debt payoff that might help you to be a bit more optimistic during your debt payoff journey and help you stay excited about reaching your goal.

Track Your Net Worth

This has been huge for us.  Once we started tracking our net worth, we found ourselves focusing on the positive points of our debt payoff journey.  Instead of just seeing the large number we had left to pay off, we got to see our net worth go up.  Focusing on this positive number of net worth instead of the negative number of debt owed has helped us to be more encouraged during this journey, and more eager to do everything we can to stay on track with our goals.

Liven Up Debt Payoff by Dividing it Up

Another way to track your debt payoff is to divide it up into bite-sized chunks.  Make a chart or a graph that represents $100, $500, $1,000 or $5,000 increments leading up to the total amount of your debt.  Use whatever dollar amount motivates you, and determine a frugal method of celebration for when you reach one of those milestones.  It might be a movie/popcorn night at home with the family, or treating yourself to a rare latte’ purchase at the coffee shop.  Just like working toward a weight loss goal, breaking your milestones up into smaller increments will help you to recognize the smaller victories you achieve on your way to the finish line.

Focus on One Thing at a Time

This is another way to track your debt payoff that can be very motivating.  Take one debt, monitor and focus on that amount, and lock the other debts in a safe somewhere, ignoring their existence save for that minimum monthly payment you make.  By focusing on one debt at a time, you’re fooling yourself a bit that the pile isn’t as big as it really is.  It seems much less daunting, and is easier to get motivated paying off, say, a $4,000 debt than a $40,000 one.  By just focusing on this one debt, you’ll feel less outnumbered and more empowered.  Once that first debt you’re focusing on is gone, you take another one out of the “safe.”

If you’ve been reading personal finance blogs like this one for any amount of time at all, you likely know that the psychological part of a debt payoff journey is, by far, the biggest mountain you’ll need to conquer on your journey to debt freedom and/or financial independence.  By using the above tactics to fool your psyche into thinking you’re doing better than you are, you can actually do better, as the perceived victories will likely motivate you to work harder to reach your monetary goals faster.  Try the above techniques and see if they work for you.

 

What keeps you motivated as you pay down debt? Do you have a different or favorite way to track your debt payoff progress?

 

Photo courtesy of: Wonderlane

 

 

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

61 Comments

  • Tracking net worth has been a huge one for us. It makes us feel a lot better about sending a chunk of our hard-earned money toward debt repayment now that we are more cognizant of the fact that it is really a payment toward our bottom line! Every cent we throw at our debt increases our net worth by that same amount, which is pretty cool and extra motivating!

  • That was a wonderful post because I’ve never seen a way to payoff debt by making yourself cool. Debt always come up with hell lot of stress and goes by making so much efforts. Few years ago, I was also in debt and I know it is very tough to get out of it. The best way is to plan your finances and track down all your income & expenses, so that you can save a handsome amount from there to kill the devil of debt.

    • Great comment, Jason! I think it’s so important to lift yourself up and look at your journey in a positive light, due to how easy it is for discouragement to come up. When we look at what we’re achieving (net worth) instead of what we’ve got to conquer (debt), we look at the positive part of the whole thing. Thanks, Jason!

  • I have a lot of student loans but I’m not really that motivated to pay them down. I’m more focused on increasing my income and cash flow each month. With that being said, I think tracking your net worth can be motivating if your goal is to aggressively pay down debt.

    • I think that’s a great thing, DC, as you’re still increasing your net worth and income sources. We’re working on multiple sources of income and increased cash flow too – big wealth building tools there.

  • I first started to track my net worth when I was trying to get out of debt. It was like a drug to try to get my net worth from negative to a positive. There came a point in time when I needed to get a new car because mine was falling apart. The first thing I did was look at my net worth statement and cringed because I knew that buying a car would drop me back to negative net worth. The point is, doing something as simple as tracking your net worth can help you get out of and stay out of debt.

  • When we were in debt, we made it exciting by working toward small goals and celebrating when we achieved them. I loved watching the balance drop each month!

  • I am all about treats as rewards when I pay off parts of my debt. $20 to blow as I please makes me very happy and usually gets spent at a local restaurant or blown on junk food.

    Money and debt are all about emotion.

  • I think if I were to have debt, I’d start a debt blog. I think blogging makes reaching goals, or working toward them, much more exciting. Plus it would be so rewarding to see the tracker that some bloggers have in their side bars change.

    • Daisy, having a blog about our debt has been huge for us. It keeps us accountable, knowing that we need to report in about our spending each month, and also knowing that we have the potential to encourage others.

  • Kathy says:

    I like that Dave Ramsey lets people who call in with their debt pay off story scream “We’re debt free!
    It seams so cleansing. When my son got out of college, he took over his car payments from us. The loan was in our name, so we paid it and he paid us. I remember he had two payments to go and he proudly handed us a check for the whole payoff amount proclaiming “there, got that creditor off my back”. Some sort of celebration is definitely warranted….even if its just a yoo hoo.

  • I’m not sure if the act of paying off our debt was ever exciting…..the exciting part was watching that finish line get closer and closer!

  • Anything you can do to visualize your progress I think is helpful, if even just mentally. I like your point about focus on one thing at a time. It can be demotivating when all your time is spent focusing on the big number instead of focusing on even the small wins.

  • Dianne says:

    I use the graphs. Red line is debt, blue line is net worth. I celebrated when, after a year, the two lines crossed and my net worth was more than my debt! Great motivator!

  • I am a big fan of tackling debt while also building assets, it is very motivating to see cash build even if debt doesn’t substantially drop. It makes you feel as though you can “breathe” easier when you have money in the bank.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    I stayed motivated by creating celebration milestones. They were small and achievable. it really helped me out.

  • Lauren says:

    When I was paying off my student loans, I would check in on my progress every month. Just writing it down in a notebook helped- seeing how far I’d come, and how far I needed to go. As the number went down, my motivation increased.

    • We do that too, Lauren. It helps a lot, doesn’t it? Also, I will occasionally go back and look at our starting consumer debt number and compare it to our current consumer debt number. Seeing that bigger step of progress helps me to know that we really are changing our financial picture for the better. Thanks for the comment!

  • Deacon Hayes says:

    The only debt we have left is our mortgage and we plan on paying that off in the next 4 years. What keeps me motivated is the freedom that being completely debt free has to offer. We use a Mortgage Tracker on our fridge to keep track of our progress. Can’t wait!

  • I always track progress toward any goal. Making lists I can cross off is very exciting and empowering.

  • I started tracking net worth about 3 years ago. I enjoy seeing it go up as I pay down debt.

  • E.M. says:

    I really like focusing on the little milestones, as it does break up the monotony. I’m currently focusing on my one loan and “ignoring” the other, which happens to be bigger, so it helps make things seem more manageable. Since I’m only paying the minimum the progress isn’t as exciting anyway.

  • There are some things in life that you simply have to make exciting or you’ll go insane and debt payoff is certainly one of them. Nice post Laurie.

  • This is great advice! We created a plan to payoff our mortgage 3.5yrs ago and we followed a lot of this advice. We broke down our plan into quarters. We found it super motivating to make a big lump sum payment each quarter rather than once per year. Now we’re only 2 months away from completing our goal!!!

  • Great tips, Laurie! I think you are spot on, as usual. Debt can seem overwhelming and it’s best to break into bite-size pieces. It may seem slow, especially at first, but every little bit matters as you see you debt decrease, your interest decrease and as you said your net worth increase. It is very important to set and celebrate (frugally, of course!) milestones. People always want to make debt repayment doom and gloom. And I understand. But honestly, it just should be an exciting and yes, happy time. You are working towards something that will you change your life forever.

    • Yeah, it’s really helped us to find ways to break up the monotony. We’re just over a year in, and I feel like the excitement of the beginning is over but we’re still far from the end. Those little tips that help it seem like not such a long journey help a lot. Thanks, Shannon! 🙂

  • I’m a pretty big dork (for the lack of a better term) on paying down my six-figure student loan debt. Since my loans (and my fiance’s for that matter) are not all in one neat payment every month, I like to think about the milestones that we should be hitting – the first lump payment should be made in July (~30k), the next in December (~30k). It will be nice to see less money coming out of our bank accounts on a monthly basis. Seeing our monthly savings rate go up because of this is priceless.

    I keep an entire spreadsheet with our forecasted monthly income/expense and accumulated savings. Like I said, pretty big dork about this stuff.

    • Yeah, I’m a huge spreadsheet fanatic too, Tom. My hubby thinks I’m a little wacko about it, but I guess that’s why opposites do so well together. 🙂 Huge congrats to you guys on kicking it on those student loans – way to go!

  • Pfff.. It’s making my debt SMALLER than it was before. How could that NOT be exciting? 🙂

  • Thank you, Laurie. Your post made me recognize a problem we’re having lately. The debt we’ve been paying off for the last 15 months is a whopper – an $80,800 business debt. Progress has been particularly slow, and when measured against such a big number, it’s discouraging. We need to break this brute of a debt down into smaller, celebration-worthy chunks. As it is, all we can see is the grand total – which is still huge, and nothing to celebrate.

  • It’s small, but for me, tracking my interest paid go down each month is a big motivator on my student loans. I’m hoping that 2014 is the last year I I pay over $500 in student loan interest (2013 was the last year I maxed out my deduction). It feels good to pay less interest!

  • Kim says:

    That last point is exactly how we made it through. I think our lowest balance was something like $1300 so that was the focus and victory when it was paid off. I can remember opening the mail, making the payments and Jim and I high fiving when when we killed a debt. I think if we’d thought of $1300 off of $30,000 we would have given up long before the end. The second best time (paying off the debt for good is the best) was when we got the balances low enough to consolidate into one 0% interest credit card. When you get rid of the interest, that’s when you can really rock and roll.

  • You’re right about tracking your net worth as a way to make debt reduction exciting.
    For me, it was the way I managed to get rid of over $50k in debt last year and make a massive increase in my net worth.

    I know make a net worth update every month and wait all month with my breath held to see how it looks!

  • DEBt DEBs says:

    I have used all of these strategies and they really do work.

    The cool thing about net worth is, as long as you are contributing to retirement at the same time as paying off debt, it moves a lot quicker than your debt does so you see the full picture.

    One thing at a time, yep, the snowball, the mini goals. I’ve got my thermometer chart in excel – oh how I drool … ahem marvel over that work of art.

    Looking back over a longer period of time really gives you a good pick-me-up too! You see the progress and it’s really motivating. That’s why it’s important to track things.

    Look at me.. I’m sounding like a real Finance nerd …. but I don’t care. 😉

  • We try not to focus too much on the month to month debt repayment. It has always felt better to stare at the numbers after a few months because that is when we can really see the dent. We definitely also celebrate our victories, especially when we are able to put drop our tax return or work bonuses on the principal.

  • Lindsay says:

    I like to calculate how much interest we have saved, because the percentage we have paid is depressing at times. We have only been paying our debt off for 8 months, so we are early into our journey.

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