6 Ways to Stay Motivated While Eliminating Debt

How to Stay Motivated While You Eliminate Debt | www.TheHeavyPurse.comMost people don’t plan to go into debt. We tell ourselves that we’ll pay our credit card bill in full every month and do so. Until one month, the bill comes and we can’t afford it. We resolve to pay it off next month, but life happens and we creep a little bit further into debt. The descent into debt isn’t always one big mindless or frivolous expense. It is often times lots of little things that we justify until we get to the point where we slide our credit card without a second thought.

Debt is one of the greatest illusions. This small, innocuous plastic card gives us the ability to enjoy things we couldn’t otherwise afford. We think it gives us freedom. Until one day, something shifts. Maybe we maxed out all of our credit cards or the minimum payments we once so easily made are now becoming increasingly hard to pay. Or perhaps, someone we know got out of debt and their story made us take a hard look at our own situation.

Now that you have the motivation to eliminate debt, you need to also find a way to keep your resolve when obstacles present themselves. Because whether your debt is big or small, there will also be speed bumps and temptation in your journey to financial freedom.

How to Stay Motivated in Your Journey to Financial Freedom

I’m going to share 6 steps that will help you stay focused and keep your eye on the prize as you eliminate your debt.

#1: Start by Congratulating Yourself

This may sound strange but you should feel proud. Facing your debt and deciding to eliminate it is a huge step and one not every person has the courage to face. So start by acknowledging you made a mistake getting into consumer debt and are grateful to have the chance to undo it and move forward in control of your financial life.

You will likely feel a variety of emotions about debt — fear, anger, shame, guilt and frustration — but do not begin the journey with those negative emotions as your guiding light or the basis of how you make decisions. Let gratitude be your beacon, so you can start from a place of power.

Tip: When you find those other emotions bubbling up (and they will) find your gratitude. Be grateful that you are diligently chipping away at your debt, rather than continuing to create more debt. Be grateful that a life of financial freedom is within your grasp.

#2: Define What Financial Freedom Means to You

There is no magic pill that miraculously eliminates debt overnight. It will take time. Some days will be easy and others will be hard. You will want to throw in the towel and give up. Simply knowing this gives the bad days less power. To combat those days, you need a clear picture of what financial freedom means. Why does it matter so much to you?

Do not skip this step. Slow down and outline what life will look like when you have financial freedom. When you can truly afford to do the things that matter most. What will those things be? Make that picture vivid and crystal clear for the whole family.

Tip: Create a Family Financial Freedom Motto or mission statement together. Keep it to one or two sentences and have everyone memorize it. Create a vision board based on your motto or mission statement with all of the things you plan to do when your debt is gone. Regularly update it to keep everyone focused and motivated.

#3: Break Debt Repayment Goals into Bite-Size Pieces

It doesn’t matter if your debt is a few thousand dollars or $100k+, it will likely feel overwhelming and impossible to eliminate. While you can’t lose sight of the big picture, make it feel more manageable by setting small goals to benchmark your progress, rather than one humongous goal.

Your overall goal may be to eliminate $25,000 in consumer debt, but you might break it down by credit card and/or set a debt repayment goal for every 6 months. Ultimately, you still reach your overall goal, but it becomes less intimidating. Too big of goals can often paralyze people, so if you find yourself unsure or constantly doubting yourself, creating smaller, more obtainable goals can help you move forward.

#4: Recognize Your Achievements and Celebrate Success

One common trait I notice among people working towards financial freedom is that they rarely give themselves enough credit. They tend to put themselves down and compare their debt repayment journey to others. Please don’t. Those are two big barriers to reaching your goal and ones created by you.

While you do need to take responsibility for it, debt does not make you a bad person. Don’t allow it to play head games with you. Instead, recognize how far you’ve come. Once upon a time, you wouldn’t have given a second thought about how you spent your money and now you are making mindful choices to create your best life. Be proud of your growth.

And finally, don’t compare your debt payoff to others. Everyone has different financial circumstances and different pain thresholds, meaning one person may be willing to sell everything and eat ramen noodles every meal in order to pay off their debt as fast as possible. While another may prefer to keep their home and eat a more varied diet. Let their success motivate you, but focus on taking the steps you need to make and celebrate your successes.

#5: Budget Fun into Your Life

There are a multitude of reasons why people choose to remain in debt and having to tell friends and family “no” when they always said “yes” before is one reason that holds many back. Well, I’m here to tell you that fun isn’t completely off the menu.

You just need to reframe fun. No, you can’t spend thousands of dollars on vacations and entertainment, etc. But you can still have fun. You just need to get inventive and look for low-cost and no-cost options. Most importantly, give yourself permission to have fun, to smile and to laugh as you work towards financial freedom. If you make it all doom and gloom, it will actually be much harder to stay motivated and achieve success.

Tip: Involve the family on deciding how to use the entertainment budget. Beforehand, you and your spouse should determine the total annual entertainment budget (for fun, excluding gifts, etc). Now give your kids some options. You could plan one big outing that uses the entire budget or split it up for monthly or quarterly outings. Give them ideas on how the money could spent and ask them for suggestions.

#6: Find a Supportive Community to Hold You Accountable

As I mentioned earlier, debt brings out many emotions and most are not positive. It can feel incredibly lonely as you work towards financial freedom. The good news it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a huge online community of people working towards or who have achieved financial freedom. They are ready and willing to rally around you on the bad days and celebrate your victories. You still have to do the work but surrounding yourself with like-minded people makes it easier.

Additionally, if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, do not be afraid to seek help. From debt counselors to financial advisors, there are people who can help you create a debt repayment program and help you stay on track too.

Remember Why You Are Doing This

Never forget why financial freedom matters to you. I can’t promise you that it will be pain-free and easy, but I do know it’s worth it. Being in the driver’s seat of your financial life is an incredibly powerful and exhilarating feeling and one I wish for all of you.


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October 13, 2014  •  39 Comments  •  Debt

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  1. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I think these are great tips! I break our debt into smaller pieces by following the debt snowball method. I like the behavior aspect of it. I also make room for fun because this journey will take us a few years and I don't want to burn out!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Great attitude, Brandy! Making your debt manageable by breaking into smaller pieces is so important. Otherwise when you just seem that lump-sum, it really can be overwhelming and scary. But small goals are achievable, plus give you something to celebrate and increase your desire to continue paying off your debt. I'm glad you make room for mindful, planned fun because debt repayment can last years and years of no fun sounds quite miserable.
  2. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I need to congratulate myself more. My student loans are overwhelming but I should remember that I've already paid off $50k, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      It's a HUGE accomplishment, Natalie! I am very proud of you and you should be proud of you too!
  3. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    Great post, Shannon! I like the idea of breaking it up into mini-goals. It's a lot more satisfying to accomplish things more frequently.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Thanks, Holly! Yes, mini-goals are definitely more satisfying. And the easier something seems, the more likely we will stick with it!
  4. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    As someone who worked their way out of debt, I completely agree with this list Shannon as a plan of attack. Paying off debt is not only a financial challenge but even more so a mental one and people need to prepare themselves to sustain their efforts and have a sound purpose for doing so.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Thanks, Kassandra! It is often more of a mental challenge, because our minds will conjure up various reasons why we shouldn't get out of debt or make us feel like we're failing because it's taking us longer than we anticipated, etc. It's those head games that you have to watch out for and have some defense ready to combat them.
  5. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    Great tips Shannon! Paying off debt is hard and the process can be exasperating, but that zero balance is worth it! :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      The zero balance is definitely worth it, Mackenzie!
  6. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    It is really easy to get overwhelmed and give up on paying off debt. I agree that it's very important to look at debt in small chunks rather than a huge amount and to give yourself rewards along the way. Anything that holds motivation is worth spending a small bit of money of if it keeps you on track for the duration.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      It is very easy to get overwhelmed, especially in the beginning. You feel the most uncertain and it may seem impossible to repay your debt. Small goals can definitely make the difference between success and quitting.
  7. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I know there are schools of thought that if you are in debt you can't have fun and enjoy life; however, I think it is critical to have fun and enjoy the journey. It doesn't mean that you have to go overboard; however, my clients who reward themselves along the way tend to have better success overall with their debt repayment because of the rewards. It keeps them motivated and energized for the long journey.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Exactly, Shannon! It needs to planned, mindful fun, but debt repayment for most people takes some time and years of no fun sounds quite awful. I think some people feel they deserve/need to be punished or banish fun to show how serious they are. Fun doesn't have to expensive. It can be as simple as a family board game night or a picnic in the park.
  8. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I love the budget fun part. Some folks make life so utterly miserable by living and dying by each penny and it's okay to budget good things as well. Doesn't mean you over do it, but you have to have balance in life or you will likely fail living by extremes. There are reasons they are extreme because not many people can do it. Yes some folks can pay off ten's of thousands in a few years, but most people take more time. Both groups accomplished the goal so that is what matters.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Absolutely, it's about balance and budgeting in some mindful fun. Like you said, in most instances, it will take years to repay debt and not being able to have fun would make anyone question whether it's worth it. Financial freedom is a very worthy goal and the road there doesn't need to be all doom and gloom.
  9. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    These are definitely great tips. Recognizing that you've made a mistake and taking steps to remedy that mistake deserves praise or at least pat in the back. People should also understand that it will take time; it's easy to get into debt but it's hard to get out of debt. And like you said, budget for some fun things. Keep enjoying life, just not by spending all your money on things that don't bring any value to your life.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Thanks, Aldo! People tend to be so harsh on themselves once they realize their mistake. And as important as it is to own your mistake and understand why you lived beyond your means, you are not a bad person. You just made a mistake and are taking appropriate action to fix it. That is something to proud of! Life is meant to be enjoyed and it can still be enjoyed, even as you pay off debt.
  10. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    Great list, Shannon, and I agree making incremental goals is helpful during the process - heck, with any long-term goal! I also agree about looking at the positive - there might be some burnout days (or weeks), but I think thinking of it as a mission/goal versus a chore/obligation really sets the tone in accomplishing it with a positive versus negative attitude.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Thanks, Anna! Yes, breaking down any long-term goal into smaller goals makes it so much easier. Cars may be able to go from 0 to 60 in seconds, but we can't. :) The people who tend to quit or fail do view debt repayment as more of an obligation versus a journey to creating their best life. You need something to keep you strong on those rough days and having that clear vision of the life you want for yourself and your family can help you keep your resolve, instead of sliding your credit card.
  11. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I love saving and trying to stay out of debt! But there are times I do feel like giving up But your right acknowleding that a person has made progress no matter how small would go a long way in motivating them to continue
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      We all have days where we want to give up! And I think sometimes just acknowledging that fact makes it easier to keep going. :) Acknowledging progress is huge because when you do that, it makes it so much harder for you to quit and put all your hard work to waste.
  12. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I think the first one IS a big one because there are so many people I know currently who are in so much denial. I don't think they want to face up to just what they have done to get into a lot of debt in the first place, but to see it get worse is hard to watch. :(
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Denial is a tough one. Everyone goes through it but it can be so hard to watch we people love and care about refuse to open their eyes to situation. And let it get worse. To me, that's why it's so important when people finally do step up to the plate and take action that they recognize the very achievement of moving past denial into positive action. Because, sadly, some people never do.
  13. Monday, October 13th, 2014
    I think budgeting fun into your life is essential. When you're in debt it's easy to scrutinize every single purchase and think about how you could have put it towards debt.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      It is very easy to scrutinize the fun right out of your life when you're paying off debt. And I understand why people do, but there is nothing wrong with a little planned, mindful fun. It's not spending thousands on a vacation, but having a picnic at the park, attending a free outside concert, going sledding with your kids and having hot chocolate afterwards. Small things that keep you happy and positive have a surprising affect on your debt attitude and ability to pay it off.
  14. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    Awesome tips, Shannon. #3 and #4 have been huge in keeping us motivated. Those bite-sized goals really help us to feel the victory even though our overall pile of debt is huge.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Thanks, Laurie! Debt, no matter what size, always feels huge to the owner. And breaking it down so it doesn't so intimidating and experiencing regular victories is what keeps people going. You can do it, my friend!
  15. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    I think celebrating goals along the way is important. It's too easy to get caught up in living in the future and failing to see how great life is in the present.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Great point, Mrs. Frugalwoods! As much as we need to keep our eye on the prize, so to speak, we need to see how great life is in the present. Definitely don't throw away years of your life now because that is completely unnecessary. Financial freedom is a very worthy goal, but the journey there can be great too.
  16. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    Budgeting fun into our lives, and not forgetting to enjoy life, was one of the key things that helped get us through nearly 5 years of debt repayment. If you totally deprive yourself, resentment will build very quickly....
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
      Absolutely, Travis! Resentment builds very quickly, which completely derails the whole the process. Couples blame one another, kids blame parents. It can get ugly fast. You and Vonnie did it. You both worked hard to make it happen and never stopped enjoying your life either.
  17. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    Great tips! These are all things I've done (or am trying to do) to help me get out of debt. It's working, though slowly at times. The main thing is that I'm making progress and learning things along the way.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, October 16th, 2014
      You got it, Kayla! What matters is that keep moving forward and learning as you go. You're doing great, and you'll get there, my friend!
  18. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
    Finding a supportive community is very important and it can be a combination of some on-line support and a friend or two. You would be surprised how many people are dealing with this and don't feel comfortable talking about it. Wouldn't it be nice to lift the veil of secrecy if you could confide in someone about your struggles and accomplishments? I think having a friend or neighbour you can go for a walk with once a week or so and do a check-in would be ideal.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Thursday, October 16th, 2014
      A supportive community can make or break it for some people. There is so much secrecy and shame around debt, which just makes the problem worse. So many people are blissfully unaware of the risk until the reach that tipping point. It shouldn't be that way. Debt isn't good but having debt definitely does not make you a bad person. Being able to share your setbacks and triumphs with people is huge.
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