I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to pay off my loan debt. Yes, there was a decision made and action taken, but there was also action taken for a couple of years before I had the determination to succeed. During those years, I lurked on personal finance blogs, read books about financial freedom, and slowly worked on being more responsible with my money. The actions I took during that time built my resolve. When I was ready, I took the plunge, made a decision, and got busy paying down the loan debt.
By “got busy,” I mean this: I do something EVERY DAY to move the payoff along. Although I only make a payment once a month, I stay motivated by doing at least one thing every day to keep my finances in check and my debt payoff plan moving forward. Here are a few of the actions that work for me:
1. READ PERSONAL FINANCE BLOGS FOR INSPIRATION
There are a lot of good ones out there. I like to go to the Wise Bread site every morning to see what new articles they have posted. Subjects range from ways to cut expenses to recipes for inexpensive bean and rice dishes. Sometimes, they post career advice or debt free success stories. They often have a handy roundup of links to good PF sites, as well.
I love a good “I paid off my debt” story, and The Debt Myth has quite a few good ones. I like to look at the numbers, because it puts my debt in perspective. Some people have paid off more than what I owe, and some people started with less. Reading these stories makes me feel a little less alone, and each time I read one, I think, “Why not me?” It was an essential step in my decision to aggressively pay down debt. I read other people’s stories until I could answer that question. The “Why not me?” question became “That’s going to be me” and now “That is me.”
2. CHECK YOUR ACCOUNTS DAILY
One of the first things I do in the morning is check my savings and checking account totals on my smartphone via Mint.com. It helps me think of my financial picture as a priority in my life, as well as offer me an opportunity to be grateful for the amounts in each account – no matter how small.
I also have my consolidation loan loaded into the Mint mix. I look at that giant negative number, and I feel a jolt of inspiration to get that thing wiped out and off my list.
I also login to my checking account daily. Although I keep track of my spending, I still like to go in and see what’s pending and what’s posted. Again, I take a moment to be grateful for the money in the bank, no matter how much.
3. CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
When I was first building up a small emergency fund, this was extremely hard to do. But, like most things, with a little practice, it became much easier. And, wouldn’t you know? The more gratitude I felt for my balances, the bigger they became. I think this is version of “what you focus on grows.” I didn’t just focus on how much money I didn’t have. I focused on what I did have, and then made sure to appreciate that.
I also thought long and hard about what a $48,000 education felt like. I thought about the classes I took, the friends I made, the books I discovered. I thought about the papers I wrote and the understanding of the world that I developed. I made sure to appreciate those things, too. I spent almost a decade looking at my college and graduate school education as subpar because I was never making enough money to justify the debt. I was angry at myself for not doing internships or working with professors who could have become mentors. Again, I was looking at what I didn’t do, but the moment I started looking at what I did have from my education, then the overall amount didn’t seem so troubling. I’d pay $48,000 or more for just one of the friendships I have from college. And that perspective goes a long way.
4. SEEK EXTRA INCOME OPPORTUNITIES
Whether it’s posting something to sell on Craigslist or eBay, or filling out an eligibility survey for a market research opportunity, I do at least one action a day that could lead to extra income.
Extra income is key to paying off debt. Although it’s also important to mind your expenses and create a budget from your current income, making extra money goes a long way. It’s also extra motivation. And, it can do more than just pay off debt. It can build emergency funds or pay for items that you’d like to have, but don’t want to break your budget to buy. For instance, the money I’ll make at a market research opportunity will pay for new hiking boots for my New Year’s goal of hiking in seventeen metro parks. That’s money I don’t spend from my budget, so I won’t really miss it.
You can apply for part-time jobs online, post an item to sell on Craigslist or eBay, fill out a survey, seek guest post or freelance writing opportunities, and/or create a profile on elance.com. Not all the opportunities will pan out, but if you think of it as a numbers game, then the more you do, the better chances you’ll have at one (or more) of them paying off.
5. DREAM BEYOND YOUR DEBT
I like to think about what my life will look like when I’ve paid off the debt. I have plans to travel. While I’m paying off the debt, I spend time researching the places I want to go. I’d like to go to Australia, so I’ve been reading travel literature about adventures in Australia. I’ve also followed Instagram accounts of Australian photographers and places. I keep it in mind, and I think about what I’d like to see and do while I’m there.
Whatever your dream, I’m sure there’s preparation involved. Start it. Read about it. In a way, that’s what I did by reading the personal finance blogs before I made the first aggressive payment toward my debt. I dreamed about paying off the debt. I prepared myself. I read about it. I built an emergency fund. Then, I made the decision and made the first payment.
Now, I nurture other dreams while I’m taking action on my debt-payoff dream. It’s a good way to remember that life is not about debt. It’s about so much more. Focus on those dreams. Do something every day to one day make them happen, too.