Ten Ways to Motivate Debt Repayment

Just seeing the amount of your liabilities can instill a "Why try? I'll never pay it all off" despair. Indeed, high debt can make you feel hopeless. It's not though as effort does produce results. Implement the following techniques to kick apathy out of your life and inspire you to keep your eyes on the prize.


1. Read real--life success stories

Who doesn't love a great "before--and--after" story? Learning how others who've been in your position (or worse) conquered financial adversity can inspire you to stick to your own debt diet. Though some previously insolvent folks prefer to keep their money problems a secret, others want to shout, "I did it and here's how!" from the rooftops. Locate such tales of achievement by searching for "debt repayment blogs" online (Blogging Away Debt is a good one), or read personal finance publications, as most feature real people who triumphed over debt.

2. Set trackable, achievable goals

Establishing clear and measurable goals is key to staying motivated, says Eric Tyson, author of "Personal Finance for Dummies." "By focusing on those objectives, you won't wallow in the misery of debt." Tyson says to think of the big picture, and look ahead: ‘If I get this debt paid off, then I can do X.'" Chart your goal course: Using a calendar, write your starting balance on today's date, then on the same date each month, the amount each subsequent payment will reduce your balance. Get precise figures with a credit card payment calculator.

3. Chat, blog, or "tweet" about it

Silence can be misery. Sharing your frustration and other negative feelings about your financial problems can help you overcome pessimism. Of course, not everyone wants to be on the receiving end of your venting, so try virtual confidants. Start your own debt repayment blog, join a money forum or chat room, or, with a pseudonym, use Twitter to update your financial status. Because these interactive tools can be anonymous, you can get objective support without revealing personal information to those who know you in real life.

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4. Save and repay

Focusing only on arrears can be so discouraging that, after a while, you just want to give up. Revive your commitment by simultaneously preparing for the future. Saving money is symbolic of better days to come. Jerrold Mundis, author of "How to Get out of Debt, Stay out of Debt, and Live Prosperously" agrees. "Start building that right away, even if all you can put into it is a few dollars a week." Find equilibrium, though. It doesn't make sense to put a lot of money into a savings account that pays a very low rate of return when your creditors are charging 10 times that.

5. Reward progress

If concentrating on the past is creating a painfully austere present, try celebrating each payment with an affordable luxury. This can be something as reasonably priced but indulgent as bar of gourmet chocolate, a DVD, or lunch out with a friend. The positive psychological effect this reward system can have on helping you stick to a budget is astounding. Make sure you build the expense into your budget, however, so you don't overspend and add greater stress to your life.

Create a mantra, join a group

6. Create a money mantra

It's inevitable -- some days scrimping will wear you down. When that happens, give yourself a pep talk. Develop a brief but powerful affirmation that you can say and repeat during rough moments. Your axiom can be as simple and straightforward as, "I can do this," "It's only money," "I'll be debt--free in September," "I still have my health," "I am fortunate compared to many," "Others do it, so can I," and "I'm proud of myself." Use any of these or create your own, then keep it in your wallet or tape it to your computer screen.

7. Highlight the finance charge

How much are you being charged just to hang onto that balance? Scan your statement and look for the finance charge. Highlight or circle that figure. Now think about all the things you would much rather do with that cash. Buy new shoes? Invest in your child's education? Save for a vacation? Go ahead; get mad -- that anger can instigate you to pay it off even faster!

8. Stay organized

With chaos comes a "just forget about it" attitude, so get organized. Put all bills in one place, set up a spreadsheet that's easy to update, clear your files of anything that doesn't belong, and develop a detailed budget where you've determined how much you will apply to your debt each month. Such a controlled, methodical system will allow you to spend and save precisely, rather than haphazardly. To help, consider enrolling in an online personal finance management program such as Mint.com.

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9. Be a business

As important as it is to take responsibility for your actions, obsessing about mistakes can squelch enthusiasm. Instead, approach your liabilities in a businesslike manner. Many companies find themselves in arrears. Like them, assess the situation neutrally and have the long-term goal of remaining "open for business" in mind. By replacing an emotional response with a professorial one, you're more likely to make productive decisions. "You owe some people some money, that's all," says Mundis. "The missiles won't be launched, blood isn't running in the streets."

10. Join a group

The fact is, sometimes remaining optimistic and on track requires more than you can give yourself. In this case, turning to the professionals may be your best bet. If paying down debt feels insurmountable because of spending or charging addictions, consider contacting Debtors Anonymous, or another similar group that can provide you with the full-strength motivation and assistance.

In the end, recognize that almost everyone experiences self-doubt and discouragement during the repayment process. If you do, keep those feelings vivid long after celebrating your accomplishment. Recalling them can motivate you to do whatever it takes to never get into overwhelming debt again.