How To Stay Motivated When Paying Off Debt

stay motivated when paying off debt

Hopefully those of you who have resolved to make this a debt payoff year are still holding fast to your resolutions. As I’ve started to notice the crowed of new gym users waning in recent days, I can’t help but think others might be struggling with ambitions goals set for the new year. From experience, I know it’s hard to stay motivated when paying off debt. Anyone can to anything for a short period of time, but how about when fixing a problem takes months or even years?

Have a Reason for Paying Off Debt

It’s important to have a reason for paying off debt. Of course less debt means greater financial stability, but having a more personal reason is a better way to stay motivated. Write down what you hope to achieve once you’re debt free.

I want to pay off debt:

  • so my kids don’t have to support me in retirement.
  • so I can spend more time doing what I love instead of working.
  • so I can handle whatever life throws at me without wondering how I’ll pay the bills.
  • so I can take my parents on a trip they’ve always dreamed about.

Your reason might be aspirational or simply to sleep better at night, but make sure to clearly state what being debt free brings to the table.

Set Up a Reward System

Paying off debt is like being on a seriously restrictive diet for a very long time. No fun. By building rewards into your debt payoff plan, you’ll have something to look forward to. When we got serious about paying off our credit card debt, eating out once a month was our treat. After paying off half our credit card debt, we took a vacation. Some people feel you should never spend money on travel if you have debt, but we didn’t see it that way. The few hundred dollars we spent on that trip helped us stay motivated to continue paying thousands more toward our debt.

Make it a habit to reward yourself every time you pay off a credit card or a percentage of your total debt. Either keep track with a spreadsheet or check your progress with a free account at Personal Capital. Eventually seeing your balance shrink is reward enough, but having an actual treat to look forward to can often get you over the shock of a new debt reducing lifestyle.

Share Your Goals With Like Minded People

Many of our family members and real world friends view debt as a necessity. It made no sense to talk about not having a credit card balance or paying for a car in cash. We might as well have been speaking Portuguese.

The lack of like minded people in our day to day lives was one reason I decided to start a blog. Originally, I wanted to connect with others who shared our views for debt free living. I’m not sure we would been able to stick to our plan if it wasn’t for the personal finance community. I know we certainly wouldn’t have paid off our debt as quickly if I’d kept listening to “normal” people.

If you don’t have those in your life who support side hustling, brown bag lunches, and considering the public library a fine form of entertainment, look online. Even better, start your own blog. If nothing else, blogging will take up time that was previously spent shopping online or reading Facebook posts bragging about the latest and greatest material possessions that can be had for six years of payments plus interest.

Expect Setbacks

On any type of personal journey, there will be setbacks. Debt payoff is no exception. Your car, health, and home all could decide to mutiny at the same time, hitting you with unexpected expenses. Hopefully, you have money set aside for emergencies, but even if the credit card has to come back from hiding to dig out of a hole, that doesn’t game over.

After the crisis has passed, brush yourself off and get back on the horse. There are always things you can do to earn extra money for getting back on track. A few setbacks don’t mean debt freedom is beyond reach. Expect them. Deal with them, and move on.

Stay Motivated When Paying Off Debt

Now that you have a why, a reward to look forward to, people to support your debt payoff journey, and know how to cope with setbacks, staying motivated should be easier. No matter how prepared you are though, spending a significant portion of your life paying off debt is not easy, but the rewards of a life without consumer debt are far greater than the effort it takes to become debt free. If you still have a hard time staying motivated, try a few motivational quotes from time to time to keep you going.

What setbacks have you experienced when paying off debt? What is your number one reason for being debt free?


Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. Hey Kim, some great points!

    I want to get debt free so that my partner and I have more opportunities and freedoms in the future. I’m just about to graduate university so I’m reading up on personal finance now to make sure that when I start earning properly, I’ve got a strategy for getting out of debt.

    Any other advice?

    1. Continue to live like a university student until your debts are paid off. Once you inflate your lifestyle with a higher salary, it’s really hard to go back. If you pretend to live on what you have now and put the rest toward debt, you can be debt free before you know it. Then there will be plenty of time to invest and use your new income for things you value.

  2. So true! I think staying motivated is one of the hardest parts of any big goal or life change. There are good days and bad days, but the key is to keep moving forward. I love your call out about the importance of reward even with money related goals. Great post!

    1. There is always a little devil and angel on your shoulder. Motivation can help make you listen to the correct voice when deciding to save or spend.

  3. Having a reason to pay off debt is typically what is needed if you are going to stay motivated. I know having student loans and not wanting them to impact my lifestyle was a huge motivating factor and has kept me going for years now.

  4. We’ve had some pretty huge setbacks in our debt payoff journey in the area of home repairs. It was tempting to throw in the towel, but instead, we turned that discouragement into motivation and are now working harder than ever before to dump our consumer debt. I would add also that changing things up helps. For instance, we just instituted a “How Low Can You Go?” no-spending challenge on Fruclassity. All money savings from that challenge will result in an extra payment to our debt load.

    1. I have always admired your determination and ability to move past setbacks. With a large family, there must always be something popping up to trip up your progress.

  5. Motivation is so important! Without it, it would be very easy to give up, sadly. Like Holly said, setting small goals really helps. One thing that helped me was to work on paying it off as quickly as I could.

    1. Our whole debt seemed way too overwhelming looking at the whole picture but breaking it up into little pieces and rewarding ourselves for hitting each goal was what kept us going.

  6. We created a bunch of small goals when we were working to pay down debt many years ago. Having small goals to work towards help keep us on track, and it also gave us something to celebrate along the way.

  7. My number one reason for being debt free is just now owing anyone anything. There is a huge freedom in that. It’s funny since I got my full time job (mostly in part because i had a pf blog), so many of my friends are now asking how they go about starting one. 🙂 I actually charge consulting fees now. Not to my close friends, but to new people.

  8. I think motivation is huge when you’re paying off debt – especially when you have a lot of it. My motivation was I wanted freedom. I hated having to send a chunk of each paycheck to creditors to pay off the stupid mistakes I had made. On the other hand, it was also motivating to see those balances go down with each payment. While I did face setbacks, I used a rewards system to help keep me going when I wanted to give up.

    1. With that freedom, you get choices and that is my favorite part about getting rid of debt. We have so many more options now that we used to.

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