How To Claw Your Way Out Of A Financial Pit Of Despair

Photo: Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash

When you decide to work towards a big financial goal, getting motivated at the start comes naturally. You’re excited to start chipping away. When you’re near the end of your money marathon, you get reinvigorated and start thinking of the endless possibility of post-goal life. But what about that seemingly endless part in the middle? How do you stay motivated to keep chipping away at your progress?

When I was working to pay off $50,000 debt that I had accrued in a few short years, I got my nails done a lot.

It was a period of my life when I felt as though I should probably put every dollar toward my debt, and the $30-60 I spent each month felt a bit extravagant. I could have painted my nails at home, or gone the most frugal route and left them bare.

But the ritual of going to the nail salon every month or so gave me something to look forward to. I got to spend an hour or so sitting quietly, unable to check my phone with my mid-mani hands, watching Below Deck reruns and thinking about absolutely nothing. When I was finished, it was back to work, freelancing or picking up odd jobs to to accelerate my payoff plans.

When I looked at my neat nails, I remembered that I deserved nice things, even though — and maybe especially because — I was working so hard.

I’m still working to pay off my remaining student loan debt, and while the balance keeps going down, sometimes it feels like a slog. I asked a few folks who have achieved big financial goals how they stay motivated through those muddy middle periods.

Document your progress (either privately or publicly)

What I found is that I have to tell everyone about my goal so that my word holds me accountable.

I decided that I was going to quit my job, buy a bus and travel with my dog for three months... sounds crazy! As the day got closer, I would get into ruts about how crazy this was and all the what ifs... [but] because I shared my goals on my blog and with my friends it helped me track and show my progress towards my goal.

— Phil Risher, blogger at Young Adult Survival Guide. Risher paid off $US30,000 ($44,424) in student loans in 12 months.

When my husband and I were paying off our student loans there were times I felt isolated and hopeless. I started my blog as a way to share what I’d learned and encourage others to make changes in their lives. Documenting my journey and being able to see how far I’d come kept me motivated and accountable to what we were doing.

— Jen Smith, blogger at Modern Frugality and cohost of the Frugal Friends podcast. Smith and her husband paid off $US78,000 ($115,502) in student loan debt in two years.

Make mini goals within your big one

Starting from the end-point and creating action steps back to my starting point helps me think through what I want to accomplish and what I need to do to get there. It also helps me put a realistic timeline on those mini goals and keeps me focused.

— Liz Eischen, blogger at Kitchen Table Finances

If my goal is a long way off I’ll make smaller goals to reach along the way and reward myself proportionally for reaching them.

I’m always working on controlling my spending, sometimes I’ll do no-spend challenges to reset my spending habits. After each challenge, I’ll reward myself with something I’ve been wanting. Not only does it keep things interesting, but it also motivates me to keep improving.

— Jen Smith

Let yourself take a break

I didn’t learn this lesson until after we finished paying off our debt. There are times when you just need to show yourself some grace and enjoy life a little. Moving at 110 per cent isn’t sustainable long-term and giving yourself a moment to enjoy a nice meal or go to the movies can make all the difference for your motivation.

— Chris Browning, blogger and podcaster at Popcorn Finance. Browning and his wife paid off $US27,000 ($39,981) in credit card debt in 2.5 years.

Try something new

I mix things up to avoid falling into a rut while making progress toward my financial goals.

I am working on earning extra income and have tried a lot of new methods for earning more money – from food delivery to house sitting to renting out household items to re-selling furniture. Being creative in my methods allows me to stay focused and avoid becoming bored or stuck in rut as I work toward my goals.

— Liz Eischen

Enlist a few cheerleaders

It is so motivational hearing people share their stories. Whether it’s paying off debt or saving for their first home, I feel energised after hearing how someone who was in a similar or even worse situation managed to overcome it.

—Chris Browning recommends listening to personal finance podcasts and following online groups such as #debtfreecommunity.  

How do you stay motivated during a financial marathon? Share your strategies in the comments.


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