How to make debt payoff less of a slog

By Marianne Curphey

Paying down debt can be freeing. But the process can be a slog. If you're paying down a large debt, victory can be years away, and staying motivated can be half the battle.

These six tips will help you keep moving forward and making progress.

1. Make some quick victories
Although conventional advice is to tackle your biggest or most expensive debt first, some quick early wins can give you the "feel-good factor" that will boost your self-esteem and keep you on the right track, says Simonne Gnessen, founder of Wise Monkey Financial Coaching  and co-author of Sheconomics, a financial guide for women.

"For some people it can be very motivating to pay off a small debt first," Gnessen says.  "For example, you have cleared the debt on one card so you only have four cards left to pay off.  It can make you feel that you have really achieved something."

2. Look ahead
Writing down your goals -- and imagining what your life will be like when you're debt free,  -- can be a very powerful motivator, says Gnessen.

"It raises your level of commitment," she says.

Gnessen suggests using a phrase that inspires you to refer to your impending victory over debt -- for example, calling it a "debt free day" or a "money freedom day." You might even pick a realistic date in the future as your debt-free goal and put it in your diary. debt-free

3. Keep track of your achievements -- and celebrate them
Keep a journal of your progress and how you overcame obstacles, setting mini rewards along the way so that it is not all about austerity.

"Writing down and keeping track of how far you have come will help with your motivation," Gnessen says.

4. Avoid your triggers
Slip-ups and unplanned spending splurges can erase previous progress and make it easier to give up.

The trick is to pinpoint the exact circumstances in which you overspend and avoid them, says Nina Grunfeld, founder of Life Clubs, which offers self-improvement workshops.

Grunfeld suggests starting with the where aspect of your spending. In what settings do you typically overspend? Is it the same shop? Then notice who you indulge with. Finally, make note of what happens right before you spend. How does your body react? Does your heart beat? Or do you feel all your muscles relax?

"Do you enter a strong emotional state, such as excitement, or do you just feel numb?" Grunfeld asks.

When you recognise the warning signs and your body's reactions, you can start to anticipate when you feel the need to spend. If you keep yourself out of dangerous situations, paying off your debt will seem like less of a fight.

5. Become a habit detective
One of the most exhausting parts of debt repayment is the feeling of working against the deeply ingrained habits that caused you to overspend in the first place.

"You weren't born living beyond your means, it's a habit you adopted for whatever reason, and so it's one you can get rid of too," Grunfeld says.

Luckily, you overwrite old habits (spending) with new ones.

"The brain selects the most reinforced habit, so a new stronger more positive habit will override the older weaker bad habit as long as you do it enough," Grunfeld says.

When you get the need to spend (or feel that stress that precedes the need to spend), consistently do something else. Take a walk, for example.

By changing what you do, you can kick-start a new attitude towards your finances and no longer feel so exhausted by fighting the urge to spend.

"It is like creating new grooves on a record that will make it easier for change to happen," Gnessen says. "Make a commitment to paying off your debt and don't be half-hearted about it."

6. Recognise that you will stumble
We give up for many different reasons -- the goal seems too big, we seem to be moving forwards too slowly, we find it hard to get rid of our habit or we don't like stepping out of our comfort zone .

"For some people that can be challenging, but one way to keep motivated is to anticipate obstacles and get support to help you through," Gnessen says.

Gnessen suggests getting "buy-in" from your partner, children or friends. Buddying up is also a great way to stay on track. Find a friend who wants to achieve something and support each other.

See related: How to prioritise your debts, How to recognize and battle shopping addiction


Published: 7 June 2013