I’m a horrible goal-setter. I’m awful at picking out goals and sticking to them. I just don’t have the motivation or brain to do it. So when I set our family on the path to pay off $20,001 of debt in 2016, I was admittedly skeptical. Figuring out how to pay off debt that fast wasn't going to be easy.
In fact, I turned to my husband after the first month and said, “You know, if we don’t make the $20,000 goal, at least we tried. Maybe we’ll even make a small dent in those medical bills.”
Here are some tips for how to pay off debt that helped me stick to and meet my goals:
- Make sure that you're as optimistic as you are realistic.
- Find your tribe.
- Keep track of everything.
- If a strategy doesn't work for you, don't stick to it.
1. Optimism and Realism
I wasn’t exactly into the whole idea of putting what amounted to a down payment on a home into our debts, the bulk of which stem from low-interest medical-related charges. What fun was that?
But after the first few months of making mega-payments, I started to see the fun in it. I began looking forward to making new payments like a madwoman with a datebook and a calculator. Our tax refund was coming? Great! My family gave me cash for my birthday? Awesome! Let’s throw it at that credit card bill!
Debt is a bummer, but changing my mindset certainly kept me on the right path.
And it made some of the long months, when nothing seemed to budge and our money felt like it was going down the drain, just a bit more tolerable.
2. Your Tribe
I want to pause for a moment and recognize what an awesome team we have here at CentSai. Behind the scenes, we have weekly phone calls during which we talk about our writing, and having to fess up about my debt payments to a bunch of strangers (and friends) who are as into money as I am has been a huge motivator to pay off debt. The same is true of writing here.
Knowing that a thousand-plus eyes see my name and my debt totals is like sticking my feet in hot coals. I wanted to get off there as fast as I could. Without that accountability (and a bit of shame), I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Now, I’m not saying you have to go to extremes like confessing your money sins to your BFF every phone call you make. But if you can just find one friend or family member to talk with honestly about your money, it certainly helps keep you on track.
3. Keeping Track
Here’s another confession for you: I suck at organizing. Piles of papers are my friends. Little notes written on the back of junk mail is my way of keeping things together. My to-do list is always hidden somewhere between my actual planner, our fridge calendar, and sticky notes I occasionally find months later.
This year, I promised myself that I would be different. While I am still a pile-maker with errant sticky notes scattered around, I have been much better at setting alarms on my calendar to make debt payments on the fifth and 25th of each month, and I'm rocking at keeping running tallies of my debts in Google spreadsheet templates that I found for free. I’m no Martha Stewart, but it’s helping me visualize my progress every month.
4. Strategies That Don't Work
As a personal finance writer, I’ve read a ton about money management. Some advice for how to pay off debt has been awesome. For example, I read about a person who used a whiteboard and doodles to represent debt. When it was paid off, he washed that doodle away until it was a blank canvas.
Well, that brilliant idea didn’t work for me. I forgot about it a week later, along with the 400 or so other Pinterest-like strategies and tips that I’d accumulated. The truth is, what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. And what looks good on a blog won’t necessarily help you break through your debt problem.
What did work for me was doing the mundane work: Budget. Track. Transfer. Repeat. But that’s me. Whether you need something pretty and stylish or someone to yell at you like a drill sergeant, go find it! Only you know what works for your debt repayment.
Final Thoughts on How to Pay Off Debt
So what does all this mean for my personal debt repayment for September? Well, sticking to these rules of how to pay off debt and stick to goals, my family managed to pay down $1,793-worth of debt. Wowzers! That’s a ton of money!
So far for 2016, we have paid off $19,876 of our $20,001 goal. With a little under $200 left to go for 2016, you can bet that next month will be extra special! To read what happens, click here.
This is part of a series chronicling Michelle's road to debt payoff. You can find her previous update here.