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Being on a debt free journey is hard. It’s hard to change habits, it’s hard to say no, and it’s hard to see how much money you are throwing away in interest. That last one kills me every month, literally makes me want to throw in the towel and be done with all this nonsense.
I’m being dramatic, but you get my point. It’s hard. There is nothing easy about this journey and burning out from it is very real.
Whether your journey is less than a year, or is going to be more than 5 years, it’s important to recognize how you are doing throughout the journey. Check in and make adjustments if you feel like you’re slipping into burning out. Throughout the last 3 years of my journey to pay off $200k in student loans, I have come to, or close to, this feeling a lot.
But, there are ways to avoid it, and handle it when it actually happens. These are the tips I have learned through my journey so far:
1. You can do anything for a short time, but not for a long time.
You need to determine your debt free date before you do anything else. If your date free date is 6 months to a year away, I say go absolutely gazelle intense until your debt is gone. The sacrifices you make for that year will be totally worth it to be debt free in a year or less. Do everything in your power to get them gone, so you can live your life on your terms. However, if your journey is going to be longer than that, I would highly suggest not going crazy gazelle.
I’m not saying don’t pay off your debt, I’m saying that you need to plan your budget a little differently. For example, I sat down with my budget when I started this journey and decided what I valued and what I didn’t value. Things that I value that stayed were saving and investing money for my future (I cut down this category, but it stayed), my health, and spending time with friends and family. This means that I have a higher grocery budget and I keep fun money in my budget to go to happy hour and dinner with friend and family.
My journey was planned to be 8 years and I was definitely not giving those things up for 8 years. I would go absolutely insane and definitely risk burning out. Of course, you’re going to have to spend money on things you don’t value, but you can find creative ways to make them more affordable. For example, I moved back in with my parents to save money on rent.
2. Celebrate smaller milestones before burning out.
This is important, especially if you’re tackling a mountain of debt. If you wait until you have completely paid off you’re debt, you are going to burn out. If you don’t, you’re amazing and I give you major kudos because I could never do it. Figure out what you need to keep motivated and celebrate those wins. This might be celebrating every $10k paid off, or it might be celebrating every loan paid off.
For me I do a combination of both, it really depends on how big the loan I’m focusing on is. Now that I’m more than halfway paid off, my loans are rather larger. I celebrate percentage paid off and paying off individual loans. It’s important to note that I don’t go crazy with my celebrations. I treat myself to a meal out, or I get my nails done. Something small that I don’t normally put in the budget, but will when I know a celebration is looming.
3. Make your money go further.
Budgeting allows you to make your money go a lot further. What I mean by this is that you know exactly where your money is going. This allows you to stop your money from going to certain things. This goes back to number 1, cut out all the things you don’t value. Do you really need that subscription service, is there a cheaper alternative that provides the same service? When your money is going to so many different things it can seem like you have no money to go towards debt.
When I fist started cutting my expenses I was scared to change my lifestyle. When done properly, you probably will see that your money is going towards a lot of things that don’t bring much value to your life. Once your budget is more simplified and only the things you truly value, you will see that you have a lot more money to play with. By taking the time to simplify your budget and your expenses, you will avoid burning out in the future.
4. Recognize your accomplishments.
When paying off a lot of debt I definitely recommend focusing on what you have accomplished. Yes, it is important to know how much debt you have, but try not to focus on that. To avoid burning out, you need to focus on what you have done so far. There are many different ways to do this. I recommend using undebt.it to track your progress and to always know when your debt free date will be.
When you focus on what you have left, it can feel more overwhelming. By focusing on what you have done, it acknowledges what you have done and doesn’t make the rest of the journey seem so hard.
5. Don’t be afraid to stray from the plan.
When you’re on a long debt free journey, it’s important to listen to how you’re feeling. I wouldn’t recommend making rash decisions based on emotions, that’s just a recipe for disaster. What I do recommend is sometimes changing the plan based on how you’re feeling about your debt.
For example, I was so angry at my private student loans and how much money I was losing on interest that I ended up refinancing with Earnest to save me money. I only recommend this if you are doing it to save money in the long run, not to lower payments and cost you more long term. I am happy to help you through this process, if it’s something that intimidates you. I totally was before I learned about refinancing and making it work for you.
Another example is to change your debt payoff order based on how you’re feeling. I was struggling through one of my large loans and was getting pretty annoyed that I hadn’t paid anything off in awhile. So, I decided to switch my focus to a smaller one that I could pay off in a month. This gave me the quick motivation I needed and freed up some cash to go towards my snowball.
Remember: This is your journey, do what you need to do to keep going.
Make your journey your own and listen to your body and your thoughts. If you feel yourself getting worn down, do something to fix it. If you’re frustrated, find a quick win that will keep you going. I’m always here if you need help getting through this, I love helping people figure out their debt free journey 🙂