I get questions from readers all the time about all kinds of financial situations they need help dealing with. They run the gamut from simple questions about budgeting to very detailed problems dealing with losing a business, financial infidelity, career problems, and more.
Today I thought I would take the time to answer a reader question from Annie (not her real name) that I’m asked on a frequent basis.
In these changing times, managing family resources can be a challenge. How can you meet the challenge successfully and be debt free? The answer is not necessarily more income. Financial experts say that the answer has to do with having a sense of where the money is coming from and where it is going as well as with being willing to make informed decisions. To do this, you need a budget.
Budgeting, though, is relatively easy to learn. It involves making a list of income and a list of expenses and then keeping the expenses within the income. Actually, making up a budget can be enjoyable, and living by it can be satisfying. Really, managing money and making money call for different skills and most people are not trained to manage money. The problem is that we graduate from high school knowing more about an isosceles triangle than how to save money. So how can you be debt free?
Her question is short and simple:
“I’ve tried more than once to get out of debt and it never seems to work. How do I develop the discipline and stay motivated to get out of debt?”
In the post below I’ll tell you about what I’ve experienced, and I’ll show you 12 tips for staying motivated to get out of debt.
What I’ve Seen
Over the years I’ve seen a lot people get excited about getting out of debt, but they neverfollow through with the process. Most of them are pretty fired up when they first decide to get out of debt and start with the best of intentions. Then they take one or two small steps, and lose their motivation not long after they get started.
I’ve seen plenty of others make significant progress in paying down debt, but for whatever reason, about midway through the process they lose their motivation and gravitate back to their old habits, never finishing their get out of debt journey.
1. Get Mad at Your Debt
Getting out of debt is one situation where getting emotional can be a good thing. You gotta get so mad at your debt that you have a take no prisoners attitude. You have to decide that you’ll do anything it takes to get out of debt, even when the going gets tough.
Maybe you could imagine yourself as a member of Seal Team 6, taking out your debt targets one at a time with precision until the threat is eliminated and you achieve your objective; whatever you need to visualize to keep you motivated.
2. Get Naked
I’ve discovered that a lot of people still use a credit card while they are getting out of debt. Most keep one “just in case” they need it for an emergency.
But here’s the deal. If you have credit available, you’re going to use it.
I tell my followers you gotta get naked.
What I mean is that you should get rid of all the credit cards and go naked with credit. It’s a concept that’s kind of scary. I remember how I felt when Angie and I got rid of our credit cards for good.
It was very weird.
In fact, I think the naked analogy is a good one, because you feel exposed and vulnerable. But if you follow the right steps, you find that you’re actually less vulnerable when you go naked with credit.
3. Get An Accountability Partner
Many times during your get out of debt journey, it can feel like a lonely ride. Getting out of debt can take a while, so if you have someone who can give you moral support throughout your journey, it can be a great help. Share your goal of getting out of debt with a friend or a mentor who’s willing to encourage you.
Preferably you’ll want to find someone who is already out of debt, and understands what it takes to get there. An accountability partner can help you continue to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can assist you when you get stuck and feel like things are going nowhere. A good accountability partner will always keep you moving down the right path.
4. Keep a Journal or a Blog on Your Progress
Writing things down is a good exercise to help you stay focused. When you write about your feelings, struggles, victories, or whatever else you’re experiencing in your debt payoff journey, you’ll discover that it forces you to think about what’s going on.
It helps to keep you engaged in the process and moving forward toward each small goal. Writing about your journey is also great because you can look back at your first entries and see how far you’ve come, which helps motivate you to continue.
Besides, some of the best personal finance blogs around were started by people detailing their journey out of debt, so you might be able to inspire others and maybe even make a little money while you’re at it!
5. Continually Educate Yourself
One of the best things you can do is to constantly educate yourself about money and getting out of debt. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, and read blogs about the subject.
The more you know about what you’re trying to do, the more you understand it. The more you understand it, the more motivated you’ll be to stick with it and see your journey through to the end. The more you learn about how to use your money wisely, the greater control you have over your situation.
I’ve included a list of great resources at the end of the post to get you started.
6. Work On Developing New Habits
Obviously, you can’t get out of debt by doing the same things that got you into debt in the first place. Work on developing new habits such as using cash only (remember going naked?), learning to do a written budget every month, eating out less, taking lunch to work, shopping only when you need something, etc.
Changing your habits actually changes the way your brain works, and can lead to lasting results!
7. Focus On Getting Out Of Debt a Little Bit Every Day
Removing a mountain of debt happens one shovel at a time. Find a way to focus on your get out of debt process every day. Read an article, have a thought for the day, say a prayer, find something new to save money on, or listen to a podcast.
A small effort every day helps you stay engaged in the process and helps to keep up your motivation to continue the journey.
8. Make a List of Income
Let us start by making a list of income. For most of us, this should be easy because it generally involves only a few items – salary, interest from a savings account, and so forth. But, do not count on income that is uncertain, such as that from overtime pay, bonuses, or gifts. Financial consultants warn that planning on uncertain sources of income can get you into debt. If such revenues do materialize, you may choose to use the money to treat yourself and the family, to help others in need, or to contribute to a worthy cause.
9. List Monthly Expenses
You may want to work up a chart and list out your monthly expenses. It is wise to know your actual spending by entering the amount you currently spend for each item on the chart you have drawn. Limit the number of main categories, using headings such as ‘food,’ ‘housing,’ and ‘clothing.’ However, do not omit pertinent subcategories such as eating out. Do not confuse this with ‘food’ or ‘groceries.’ This will proved helpful and will help you to know how much you spend outside your budget. If you enjoy extending hospitality to others, this too can be a subcategory under ‘food.’ The idea is to make the chart reflect your individuality and preferences.
When working up your chart, do not forget quarterly, semiannual, annual, and other periodic expenses, such as payments for insurance and taxes. To include them in the monthly chart, though, you will have to divide the amount by the appropriate number of months.
10. Know What Is Essential
Deciding whether an item is essential and how much money to allow for it can be a challenge. Especially is this so in these changing times when we are bombarded with a continual supply of new products that are advertised as needs. Thinking of each expense in terms of definite need, questionable need, or nice-to-have luxury will help.
If you have been spending more on questionable needs, these expenses may need to be completely eliminated. The idea is to examine each item to see if the expense is worth the enjoyment that the expense brings and to slash accordingly.
11. Cut Back on Debt
Unchecked debt can frustrate your efforts to live within your means. While long-term debt used for financing the purchase of assets such as a home that increases in value can be advantageous, credit-card debts used to finance day-to-day living can prove disastrous. So, no need to pay a penny in card charges.
Staying debt free is possible if you take necessary steps as itemized above.
Getting Out of Debt Is Worth It!
Developing discipline and sticking with a get out of debt plan to the end can be more difficult for some people than for others. But when you’re relentless about overcoming the obstaclesduring the journey, it makes getting out of debt much easier in the long run.
Getting out of debt isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth the journey!
Below you’ll find some great resources I recommend to help you stay motivated and educated when it comes to getting out of debt.
Question: Have you ever become discouraged while trying to pay off debt? Share your thoughts and leave a comment.