When you have debt, it can be so easy to feel hopeless or lost. Depending on the amount of debt you have, paying it off can start to feel like an impossibly long road that you will never reach the end of. You don’t simply make a choice to become debt-free and *poof* the debt is gone (unfortunately). Paying off your debt is a long term commitment, and one that you need to continually “choose”. It’s important to keep hope when your debt feels hopeless.
When I first began my debt-free journey I was determined.
Wow, was I determined.
When I got serious about my finances I wanted my debt gone NOW. Or even better: yesterday. I put myself on a very restrictive lifestyle (Pay down debt quickly).
Drastic grocery budget cuts! Sold everything I could think of on Kijiji! Moved into a very cheap (and more than slightly unpleasant) basement suite! Stopped going out with friends! Puppy, you’re getting the cheap kibble now!
Did it help me pay down debt? Of course. But after a few months of only saying “no” to myself I was miserable. And much to my dismay, after a few months of living that way my debt hadn’t vanished yet!
[I’m mostly joking of course. I’m better at math than thinking I can pay off 100k in a couple months. It is disheartening to realize how long it will truly take though (my biggest debt mistakes)]
Once I realized that my debt would take years to pay off I did two things:
- Made a new plan
Paying off your debt is going to be a long-term commitment.
It’s a relationship, not a tinder date. It may not be as exciting as something you can accomplish overnight, but it will be way more fulfilling.
There will be ups and downs for sure. Sometimes you’re going to feel like all your effort will never pay off.
When you lose hope it’s easy to lose motivation. Don’t sell yourself short; you CAN become debt-free.
How to keep hope when your debt feels hopeless:
1) Remember your “why”
You did not decide to start paying down your debt because it’s fun. You have a deeper reason than that.
Maybe you wanted to build a better life for your family.
You wanted to wake up (or fall asleep) without financial stress.
Perhaps you want to owe nothing to anyone so that you can make life choices that aren’t constrained around what you NEED to earn.
Whatever image you envision when you picture being debt free is your “why”.
It’s the thing that can motivate you when the process inevitably gets tough.
You can have your “why”. Write it down and stick it on your fridge or bathroom mirror. Read it when you want to quit.
2) Stop comparing yourself
Or at the very least compare yourself in a healthy way.
It can be so easy to feel down on yourself when you think someone is doing better than you.
When I see someone following the FIRE lifestyle and saving 50+% of their income, I question why I buy myself the “nice things” that only allow me to then save 30%.
When I hear of someone paying off 100k in debt in 2 years, and know with my plan it’ll take me 6 years, I feel crappy. They’re doing it in 1/3 of the time!
When I see someone traveling somewhere internationally every year, I feel sad that I can only afford local trips.
I feel a twinge of inferiority every time someone is “doing better” than me. I hate that I do it, but I do.
The truth is, you have no idea what their situation or finances look like though. Focus on you!!
If I revamp that list:
- I’m saving 30% of my income
- I’ll be debt free in 6 years
- I get to hike and climb locally every year
Those are all AMAZING things! They aren’t lessened because someone is doing “better” in one category of life that I happen to be comparing myself to at that moment.
3) Practice some gratitude
Similarly to #2, change how you look at things.
Are you sitting somewhere safe with wifi reading this?
Have you eaten today?
Do you have somewhere to sleep inside tonight?
You’re already doing better than most of the world!!
When you have debt, it can be easy to see what you DON’T have. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the negative.
However, what about what you do have? What about the amazing luxuries and life moments you’re getting to experience while you’re paying down your debt?
Really stop and feel the things you’re lucky to have.
Train yourself to practice gratitude and start seeing the good stuff. You might start seeing a heck of a lot more of it.
4) Make yourself a visual
Numbers are a funny thing. They have the power to scare us, but not always motivate us.
I also find the bigger the debt number, the less “small changes” seem to have an effect.
When I first graduated I had 100k in debt. I couldn’t actually picture that much money so it felt impossible to pay off.
Since the thought of owing 100k made me feel ill, I stopped thinking of it that way. Instead, I broke my debt down into $50 chunks. I no longer owed 100k, instead I owed $50 2000 times.
I couldn’t fathom 100k. It was a number that I couldn’t visualize or make sense of. It didn’t feel real. But I do know what $50 looks like. I know what $50 feels like in my hand, and what $50 can buy me.
Take your total debt and break it into manageable chunks, then make that plan into a fun visual!
It’s easy to lose sight of where you started and only focus on how far there is left to go. However, noticing progress is a key part in building up faith in your ability to become debt free. That will result in motivation, which results in hope!
If you’re artistic, feel free to design your own visual. I however was not born with that talent (you should see my drawing of a shark!).
I love the ones at Debt Free Charts (in particular the “game of loans”). There are free ones you can print off, or you can use them to inspire your own!
5) Make weekly payments
If you have a chequing account that does not charge for each transaction, consider making weekly rather than monthly payments on your debt.
As I’ve written about numerous times, I put $1150 a month on my debt.
When I first started out I was making one big payment a month. On the last day of each month, I’d get excited to transfer the money and see my total go down. Nerdy as it sounds, I looked forward to that day.
Then I realized something: I could have that feeling multiple times a month!
I now make a payment every week. It motivates me more because I feel like I’m constantly chipping away at the debt. It has more than just mental effects though!
If your debt is one that accumulates interest (like almost all debts are) weekly payments can save you a fair amount of money. As soon as you pay off an amount of your principal, the interest stops accumulating on that portion! Therefore, even though you’re paying the same total amount monthly, you can save thousands in interest by making weekly payments instead.
Weekly payments are good for the mind and wallet!
6) Start a side hustle
I’m a massive fan of having a side hustle (and recognize that by saying that I sound disturbingly “millennial”).
They truly are amazing though. Having an extra income stream, regardless of how small, feels exciting. I remember one day a couple months ago: I got home from my normal job (where I earn a few hundred each day) and checked on my blog earnings that day. I’d earned $17, my biggest blog day yet! I was soooo excited. Yes, it was only a fraction of what my “real job” had paid me that day. But it was extra money, and I was being paid to write (which I love).
If you Google “side hustle” you can find tons of options. However, I’m obviously partial to blogging. This blog is less than 6 months old, and I regularly earn $100-200 a month from it already. I’ve mentioned previously that my goal is for it to eventually earn enough to cover my debt payment ($1150).
If you’re curious about blogging, check out:
Having an extra stream of money coming in each month feels motivating. It’s not money I count on; currently I consider it “bonus” money. But it reinforces that you have options and control when it comes to money.
Don’t give up
Becoming debt free can be a long journey, but it’s a worthwhile one.
In a strange way I’m thankful for my student loans. On the surface, they allowed me to pursue a career I care about. It’s more than that though. Paying off debt has taught me the value of money, and how to develop frugal habits. In a lot of ways, I feel I’ve learned more gratitude and patience by really needing to earn everything in my life. I’ve begun to recognize what is truly important to me, and what can be cut.
[Side note: just in case the “universe” is reading this… I’d still be very happy to win the lottery and have my debt *poof* now! The lessons have been learned; no more classes are necessary]
Try to keep as much hope during your journey as you can. When that runs low, continue to practice good habits and make the debt payments anyways. You will be debt free; its just a matter of time!
For a list of all articles I’ve written, look here