12 Tips for Sticking to Your Debt Payoff Plan
Completing your debt payoff plan requires an almost insane level of commitment. It's easy to get discouraged when you realize the amount of time and sacrifice it takes to see significant results. Sticking to your debt payoff plan might be tough at times, but if you remain dedicated and you're consistent with payments, you can reach your goal. Here are some tips you can follow to help you stick to your debt payoff plan.
1. Make Sure Your Debt Payoff Plan Is Realistic
It's impossible to stick to a debt payoff plan that was never realistic to begin with. If you've overestimated the amount you can pay or underestimated the amount of time it will take, you might want to throw in the towel. The plan you start out with may not work for your entire debt journey. Readjusting along the way will ensure you have a plan based on your changing financial situation.
Take a look at your current income and expenses to calculate the amount you can really afford to put toward your debt each month. You can — and should — pay more when you can, but create your plan based on the amount you can reliably and realistically pay each month.
Use a debt payoff calculator to estimate the time it will take to pay off your debt based on your monthly payment. Note that paying more will allow you to pay off your debt sooner while paying less or creating more debt will increase the time it will take to pay off your debt.
2. Put Your Plan in Writing
Don't rely on your memory to keep up with your debt plan. Putting your debt plan in writing increases the likelihood that you'll achieve it. For one, writing down your plan is a way of committing to it. Yes, the simple act of writing down your plan signals to your brain that you really want to get out of debt.
You don't need a complicated plan — and you shouldn't overcomplicate it to the point that it's hard to stick to. All you need to do is write down your debts, the due date, the minimum payment, and the additional payment that you're going to make to just one of your debts. (Paying a lump sum on one debt and the minimum on everything else is the most effective way to pay off your debt.)
Once you've put your plan in ink, put it in a place that you can refer to it often. Adjust your plan as you pay off debts or you're able to consistently pay more toward your debt each month.
3. Keep Track of Your Progress
Your balances will go down with each payment you make toward your debt. Note that the balances on accounts receiving the minimum payment will only go down by a small amount each month. The debt that receives the larger monthly payment will go down faster.
Feel good about each payment you make, whether it's the minimum or more. Month by month, these payments show that you're committed to paying off your debt.
Every once in while, compare your current debt balances to your starting balance to see how much debt you've paid off so far. Don't beat yourself up if you're not where you thought you would be. Instead, celebrate whatever progress you've made and stay committed to continuing your debt journey.
4. Pay More Whenever Possible
Once you've set an amount to pay each month, stick to it. But, whenever you can pay more, do so. For example, if you receive a bonus from your job, a tax refund, or unexpected windfall, put some or all of it toward your debt. You can also intentionally come up with extra money for your debt by cutting expenses, taking on a second job, or generating side income from a hobby or business.
Seeing your debt balances drop will keep you motivated towards paying off your debt.
5. Don't Be Derailed by Setbacks
We're not perfect people. Our plans won't be perfect. There may be a month that unexpected expenses keep you from paying more on your debt. You may experience a major life event that requires you to make just the minimum payments on your debts for a few months. It's not a reason to quit on your plan. Instead, take a look at what happened to keep you from paying on your debt. Reflect on whether you could have prevented it. Pick back up with your regular payments as soon as you can. Adjust your plan if necessary and stay committed to your debt goal.
6. Share Your Plan With Someone Who Will Keep You Accountable
Many people start blogs and social media pages to share their debt journey, to keep themselves accountable, and to join a community of other people who are also working to pay off their debts. Another benefit of blogging your debt journey: you can generate income, for example with advertisements or sponsored posts, that you can use to put toward your debt.
For example, search debt related hashtags, like "#debtjourney" or "debtfree", on Instagram and you'll find posts from people who are all working towards paying off their debt. You can join in the conversation by sharing your own debt payment, progress, and tips you've found helpful for sticking to your debt plan.
Partnering with someone who's also working to get out of debt will also help motivate you to stick to your debt payoff plan. It could be a friend, co-worker, spouse, or family member. You can bounce ideas off each other or support each other when you feel discouraged.
7. Stick to Your Budget
Paying off debt isn't a goal you can achieve in a vacuum. Other aspects of your finances have to be in order to make progress on your debt. Create a plan for how you'll spend your money each month: the bills you'll pay and how much you'll spend on things like gas and transportation.
Refer back to your budget throughout the month to be sure you're staying on course. If you overspend, it may leave you with less money to put towards your debt and delay your debt payoff goal.
If you find that you're constantly going over your budget, review your plan to be sure it fits your true expenses. It's possible that you've underestimated the amount you spend each month. Note that adjusting your budget may also require you to adjust your debt plan. That's ok. Having a debt plan that fits your budget is essential.
8. Don't Create More Debt
Continuing to use your credit cards or taking on new loans makes your debt problem worse, not better. You can become discouraged if you're sacrificing to make payments on your debt, but you're not seeing progress because you're creating more debt. It's hard to stick to your debt payoff plan if you see your goal being pushed further and further into the future.
Focus on living below your means and sticking to a budget so you don't have to rely on your credit cards. If you can't resist using your credit cards, put them somewhere that you can't access them easily.
Rather than using your credit cards to pay for things you can't afford, save up and pay cash.
9. Take a Small, Planned Breaks When You Need To
The road to debt freedom might be long. It could take years to completely pay off your debt depending on your balances and the amount you can afford to pay. All sacrifice and no enjoyment can drive you crazy and make you want to give up. So, every once in a while, take a small break from your debt plan just to enjoy yourself.
It may be a while before you indulge again. Make sure you choose to spend on something that's going to bring you some long-term satisfaction. Choose an amount to spend that won't ruin your progress, stick to that amount, and don't use debt.
10. Remember Why You're Paying Off Your Debt
What are the things that made you decide to pay off your debt in the first place? To secure your financial future? For a more comfortable retirement? To save money on interest and fees? To have more control over your monthly income? There are dozens of reasons for paying off your debt. Write down your reasons and refer back to them whenever you're feeling unmotivated. Knowing that you're making the sacrifice for a good reason can help you stick to your long-term debt repayment plan.
11. Read Success Stories
The internet is filled with stories from people who have paid off substantial amounts of debt, maybe even more than you're working toward. Not only can these stories serve as a source of inspiration, but they can also give you some ideas of things you can do to pay off your debt.
Reading success stories will show you that it's possible to pay off your debt as long as you stick to your debt payoff plan. Type the phrase “debt success story” or "how I paid off debt" into a search engine to find real-life examples of people who've beaten the odds and paid off their debt.
12. Keep the End in Mind
Picture your life without the debt. Imagine how great it will feel to longer have the monthly payments and not have the debt. You'll have much more control over your finances and the freedom to make some different decisions. Perhaps more importantly, think about how much you will have grown as a person having achieved something so great.
Paying off your debt deserves much more than a pat on the back. People plan celebrations for the completion of other major life events — college graduation or job retirement. Accomplishing something as major as paying off your debt deserves some recognition. It could be a trip, a party, or just a night with your favorite movie. Just plan to celebrate your debt payoff in a way that's meaningful for you — in a way that will inspire you to stick to your payoff plan.