Enough is enough.
You’ve decided to get out of debt.
You’ve set out your long term goals, put yourself on a strict budget, and cut down your expenses to the bone.
Your motivation begins to dwindle.
You’re making progress, but it seems slow.
You wonder—what’s the point?
It’s normal to feel this way. Getting out of debt is like running a marathon. You can’t expect to run at the same pace throughout.
Marathoners experience a dip in their momentum in the middle of the race. The secret to finishing strong is surviving this dip.
To help you regain your momentum, we’ve listed seven ways you can overcome debt-fatigue and finish your race to a debt-free life.
Seven ways to stay motivated when paying off your debt
1. Set Smaller Goals
Don’t underestimate the power of small wins.
A recent study on business teams who work on complex projects found that the most productive members of a team were those who achieved a small win every day.
These people set small goals they can achieve each day and pursue them aggressively.
Getting out of debt is not that different from a complex business project. There are many moving parts–we often want to save and invest at the same time–and setbacks are common.
Without seeing quick progress, you will become disheartened.
Setting smaller goals that you can reach easily helps you see progress sooner.
For example, if you have $10,000 in student loans, set a goal to pay $1,000. Focus your full energy and resources on reaching this milestone. When you do, celebrate.
You can put yourself on a timeline to accelerate things.
But be realistic.
We all love inspiring stories of people who pay off huge amounts of debts at lightning speed. But they are the exception.
For most people, getting out of debt take years—and that’s okay.
A realistic timeline gives you the patience to accumulate your small wins until you’re finally debt-free.
2. Reward Yourself
Contrary to what you may think, rewarding yourself is not frivolous.
It might even be necessary to stay on track with your goals.
A reward is a source of positive reinforcement.
The brain’s limbic system—our center of motivation—lights up when we receive positive reinforcement.
To illustrate this, a study was done in a Hospital in NewYork.
In an attempt to convince the medical staff to sanitize their hands more frequently, the hospital installed cameras to monitor the sinks.
They also reminded the staff of the diseases that can spread from dirty hands.
The result? Only 10% of the medical staff sanitized their hands more.
To add incentive, the hospital placed an electronic board in the hallway.
The board congratulated employees with words like “good job” each time they used the hand sanitizer.
Within a month, almost 90% of the medical staff sanitized their hands frequently.
This shows that restriction and guilt are not good motivational factors-at least compared to reward even if it’s something as simple as verbal praise.
Tap into the motivational power of positive reinforcement by rewarding yourself each time you reach one of your goals.
The reward should be something you enjoy and don’t do often.
Some good examples:
Take friends or family out for lunch
Go to the beach
Take a day or an afternoon off work
Enjoy a spa day
Take a drive
Go to a carnival or festival
Take a weekend vacation with friends
Go to the dog park
Buy yourself a gift – under $50
3. Give Yourself an Allowance
Many people think getting out of debt forces you to live frugally.
You stop going out, start cooking your meals and cancel all your subscriptions.
The problem with this is it’s unsustainable.
What’s the joy of working hard for money if you can’t even spend a little on yourself?
It might sound counterintuitive but giving yourself an allowance to spend guilt-free makes sticking to a frugal life bearable.
An allowance allows you to:
Spend guilt-free: You no longer scold yourself for eating out. Or argue if you can afford a pair of jeans or not. You simply use your allowance money.
Stop overspending: An allowance puts a ceiling on your purchases. If you want to make a big purchase, save up.
Argue less with your partner over money: No more fights on how much they spent last week. Each of you has an allowance that you can use for personal expenses.
That said, an allowance can derail your financial goals if you overspend. To get the most from an allowance stick to a few rules.
Take your allowance in cash: A credit or debit card makes it easy to spend more than you budgeted.
Keep your allowance separate: I suggest using an envelope cash system or a separate checking account.
Don’t track how you spend your allowance: otherwise it becomes another financial chore.
4. Use a Visual Tracking Tool
In posture training, you’re asked to sit in front of the mirror while adjusting your posture.
This provides what is known as visual feedback.
Positive visual feedback—seeing yourself sitting correctly in the mirror—encourages you to continue training.
The same goes for debt.
Seeing your debt go down month to month is motivating.
You can do this with an app, but I prefer a spreadsheet.
According to a survey by Tiller—a company that creates automated spreadsheets for personal finance– spreadsheet users have better financial habits and track their money better.
You can find several free spreadsheet templates online.
But I like the fast reduction debt calculator by Jason Wheeler.
It’s more than a spreadsheet; it helps you work out a strategy for repaying your debt using either the snowball or avalanche method.
It’s also easy to use.
Alternatively, you can create your own spreadsheet on Excel.
Tip: transform your spreadsheet into a line chart for an added dose of visual feedback—watching your debt crash slowly to the bottom.
5. Find a Money Mentor
For most of us, the responsibility of learning about money fell on our parents.
But what if they were bad with money?
My parents weren’t great with money. My dad liked to spend excessively and my mom, although better, didn’t save much.
Unfortunately, they also never learned good financial habits from their parents.
That’s why I advise everyone to get a money mentor.
In a 2014 financial literacy survey, 73% of respondents agreed (20% strongly agreed) that they could benefit from a financial mentor—even though 59% graded themselves an A in managing their personal finances.
A money mentor guides you in money matters. They are usually someone who is financially successful and who can be a good source of encouragement in difficult times because they’ve been through it themselves.
You can hire a money mentor but first, look for someone within your inner circle or online.
Here are a few traits you should look for in a money mentor:
Willingness to help: Are they generous with their knowledge? Do they like to teach? The best mentors are those who have a zeal for helping other people and are eager to teach and nurture anyone who is ready.
Good listener: Good mentors pay attention when you talk. Ask the necessary questions. And tries their best to understand you before giving you any advise.
Matching personality: A money mentor isn’t just someone you go to when you need financial advice. To get the most impact, you need to build a relationship with this person. And that will largely depend on personality. Do you identify with their story? Do you enjoy talking to them? You can’t like their advice if you don’t like them.
Experienced: Trust is the foundation of a good relationship. You need to trust your mentor’s guidance. You also need to believe that they are acting in your best interest. To foster this trust choose a mentor with experience (either personal or professional) in the financial matters you’re dealing with.
6. Join a Community
Getting out of debt feels like walking a lonely, dark road. You’re scared most of the time and don’t know what lies ahead.
Fortunately—or rather unfortunate—you’re not alone. 8 in 10 Americans are in debt.
That’s a lot of people also walking down the same road.
Don’t ignore them.
Just like you, these people seek financial freedom. They struggle to pay debts while trying to save and invest for the future.
Thanks to the internet, it’s much easier to meet and talk to these fellow travelers.
For example, the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram is a great community where people tell stories of their progress, successes, and failures.
Debt blogger Veronika used the community to propel herself to pay off six figures in student loan. You can read her guide on successfully using the #debtfreecommunity here.
Reddit also has a lot of financial forums where you can ask questions and connect with like-minded people.
7. Keep Being Social
Nearly 40% of millennial respondents in a credit karma survey are in debt because of their social life.
So it makes sense to cut back on social activities if you want to spend responsibly.
That said, isolating yourself because you want to save money will make you miserable.
What we often fail to realize—until we’re in debt—is you don’t need to spend tons of money to have a social life.
Check out this article on the lost art of cheap recreation. It might give you a different perspective and a few ideas of cheap ways to have fun with friends.
Here are five tips I also give to anyone who wants to balance frugality with fun.
Tell your friends you’re on a budget: 73% of the survey respondents who overspent kept their financial situation a secret from their friends.
Give yourself an allowance – it’s worth repeating
Spend on experiences.
Learn to say NO.
Don’t go out with your card. Only take the cash you want to spend.
Don’t give up. Remember that you’re making a short term sacrifice for a long-term reward.
It’ll hurt. It’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll want to give up most days. But don’t. By doing things like setting smaller goals, finding a money mentor, and joining a community you will be setting yourself up for success.
The joy of finally being in control of your hard-earned money is worth it.
Did we miss any of your favorite budgeting tips? If so, please share them in the comments below.