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How To Motivate Yourself to Pay Off Debt After Building Savings


After becoming pretty good at tucking away money, I realized it became work to prioritize debt payoff. How do you motivate yourself to pay off debt while savings and investments are growing?

I finally did it – I saved money!

Finally having some savings is a powerful feeling. At age 32, I finally achieved the milestone of keeping money in my bank account, pay cycle after pay cycle. I think a lot of readers might not realize how mentally tough it was for me to get to the first $500. After $1000, it became very motivating to put money into savings, and I became excited about the task every other week. 

A large amount of stress melted away as my savings grew. Being terrified of having my life pulled out from under me was always a concern. When I was 30, I had to ask my dad for money for car repairs and it was humiliating. Having savings gave me a sense of calm and control. In The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey says that women crave security much more than men. He opines that if you want a happy wife, build your savings account. His book is filled with regressive, gendered ideas like that, but I had to agree that I love the feeling of saving. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with being a woman, though. 

So, should we prioritize paying off debt over big savings accounts and investments?

Debt interest is almost always higher than savings interest

Most financial advisors tell people to save money before paying off debt so that they don’t end up in even worse trouble. Logically, if you do the math, holding on to credit card debt with 20% interest is crazy when your savings return 0-3%. So, the advice is to build a small amount of savings for unexpected expenses. Car repairs, trips to the vet, a flight for a family emergency – these are all situations you don’t want to put on the credit card.

I built up almost $2400 in savings and it felt amazing! I wanted to keep going. But I’m holding on to almost $9k in consumer debt. It doesn’t make sense for me to keep throwing money into savings.

With that in mind, how can you motivate yourself to prioritize debt pay off?

Chart your progress

There are lots of virtual and real-life tools you can use to track headway made. Humans are visually motivated, and sometimes we need to actually view the changes we are making from a high-level view to see how far we’ve come. You can feel deprived when you can’t join your mom on a shopping trip to the mall, or spend the night with friends at a nice restaurant. But a big chart on the refrigerator that you can color in as you pay off debt might be a happy reminder of the work being worth it.

There are a good number of apps that do this as well!

Debt Payoff Assistant has some nice charts to help visualize progress. A simple bar chart goes a long way.


debt payoff assistant

Mint.com does this pretty well, too.

I wish we had something like Personal Capital to integrate with our accounts here in Canada, but alas, we don’t (that I know of). I love tracking my net worth each month here at BAD! Find what it takes to motivate yourself and run with it!


Immerse yourself in Personal Finance

I used to find the topic of money very boring. Since I’ve started paying attention to my money, I’ve loved reading blogs and listening to podcasts about finance. It helps me learn about the subject. It has also introduced me to a community of people who, like me, wants to discuss best practices and new ideas. Here are some links I love:

I Pick Up Pennies – This is an old school style blog, sort of like a diary. I very much enjoy being a voyeur to people’s lives. She writes very honestly about her life and spending. As a single person with a single income, I like her financial independence.

Personal Finance – Reddit – I love Reddit. I read subreddits about finance, FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), Canadian Finance, all sorts of things. There are notions about Reddit being a certain kind of site, but I assure you, there is something for everyone on Reddit.

The So Money Podcast – I love a finance podcast from a woman’s perspective. This used to be a man’s domain, and women were discouraged from pursuing the topic for so long. She has the best guests in the industry on her show.

Give yourself small rewards

Plan these rewards well in advance to ensure you don’t go off the rails. Set aside money for a short, affordable getaway or for the new gadget you’ve had your eyes on for so long. If you’re paying off $20k in debt, there’s no harm in buying yourself $100 pair of jeans after paying off the first $5k. Just make sure it’s budgeted for so that you’re in control. Rewarding yourself can absolutely motivate yourself!

Motivate Yourself Regularly

Sometimes when things become a habit, they aren’t special any longer. If you find yourself becoming disengaged from the challenge of paying off debt, change it up a bit! Set little goals, try regular personal challenges, or compete with a friend!

Controlling My Christmas Shopping


Christmas shopping bags

I read today that consumers plan to spend an average of $1047.83 this year on Christmas shopping and holiday purchases. My first thought is what a ton of money to spend in one month! But then I realized I usually have no idea how much we’re spending each Christmas or where our money is going.

We’ve never saved for or created a clear Christmas budget. I just try to keep things low and hope it turns out okay. I start early, I use sales, and I’m skilled at convincing my kids they still want the toy they told me about in November and that I already bought. So far this year I’ve just been using our budget’s gift category to the max these past few months, and then supplementing with earnings from my freelance work. It sounds sloppy because it is.

We can’t keep this up. Luckily there’s still time to control my Christmas shopping. Here are some things I’m trying:

1. Limiting the Number of Gifts We Give

For our kids we’re doing the trendy-though-controversial gift-giving concept of “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Then they’ll get a board game for the whole family.

My husband and I decided to just do small stocking stuffers for each other, nothing more. But we also pondered if some other gifts could be omitted. We both come from large families that do gift exchanges, and as our families keep growing and moving far apart, this has started to cause stress, overwhelm, and loss of the true spirit of giving and receiving. At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I proposed to each side of the family the idea of no longer exchanging gifts. It was… not popular. But it did start a good conversation, and I think next year we may just say no thank you and bow out entirely.

2. Planning Ahead and Looking for Sales and Freebies

I always look for deals, but now I’m sticking only to the things on the list (no emotional, “come on, it’s Christmas” shopping). I’m also making better use of free items, like a cousin’s hand-me-down plane my son will love. I was even able to score a free 21-pound turkey when I spent $100 at our grocery store the week before Thanksgiving. Booya.

3. Consolidating and Simplifying

I love the chance to connect with a few close neighbors and friends at Christmas, but I’m keeping it simple and giving everyone the same thing—Christmas potpourri. I made it last year, and it was a hit. It’s easy to assemble, I have leftover supplies from last December, and I only need to buy oranges and cranberries.

4. Using Gift Cards and Store Credit

Close to $1 billion of gift cards went unredeemed in 2015. I plan to use the stash of random cards in my purse for gifts. Our local bookstore also offers store credit when you sell them used books, so I have some unused credit I’ll put towards the kids (“Darth Vader and Son” books here we come).

Controlling our Christmas shopping is changing our behavior and it hurts sometimes. My husband and I had a moment of truth standing in Target on the afternoon of Black Friday. We had gone there for something specific for the business, but the displays of DVDs on sale sucked my movie-loving husband in. As he showed me a stack of of movies we could buy, we had to look each other in the eye and accept they just weren’t in the budget. It was a buzzkill, but it frees us up for the purchases we really do want to make this time of year.

How do you save on gift-giving during the holidays?