A few years ago, I graduated from NYU with $68,000 in student loan debt. I knew that it was going to take me years to get out of debt, but I was committed to paying it off. Once I set my goal of becoming debt-free as soon as possible, I made some drastic decisions. I stopped going out to eat and even moved across the country to a city with a lower cost of living.
I felt inspired and ready to tackle my debt. But after a few months, I was over it. Debt fatigue had slowly crept in and I started to resent my debt. I lost my initial enthusiasm and got off track, spending a little more and caring a little less. After all, my debt wasn't going away anytime soon.
Sound familiar? You may be experiencing debt fatigue.
What is debt fatigue?
Debt fatigue is the exhaustion many borrowers suffer from as they pay off large amounts of debt. Common symptoms include feeling burnt out, resentful and apathetic. If you think you may be suffering from debt fatigue, use these steps to help you get back on track.
1. Remember that debt does not have to be forever.
If you have a large debt load, it can certainly feel like it'll last forever. You may be looking at several years of repayment -- or even over a decade. But if you stick to your repayment plan, pay more than the minimum and take proactive steps to eliminate debt, you can conquer it and live a debt-free life. If you have six-figure debt, see if you can focus on the high interest debt first and look for ways to scale back and earn more.
Paying off debt can require a lifestyle shift, but most importantly, a mental one.
Believing that debt doesn't have to be forever is one of the keys to overcoming debt fatigue. To help yourself do that, imagine what your debt-free life would look like. What could you afford once your money is no longer going toward paying off debt?
Write down your goals for life after debt in a journal. Create a Pinterest board with all the things you'll do once your debt is paid off. Put images of your family or vacation spots on your debit and credit cards so you never lose focus of the WHY.
If you can focus on why you're paying off debt, whether it's to have the ability to travel, save up for retirement or quit your job, paying off debt usually becomes easier.
2. Budget for some fun.
When you're in debt, you may feel like you have to cut off all spending and eliminate any fun. I know that's what I thought was the "right thing" to do.
But this method often quickly backfires. Deprivation can burn you out, so instead consider budgeting for some fun and setting up mini rewards for your progress, such as a dinner out or a movie with friends every time you pay off a certain amount.
"You've got to pace yourself so that you can stick with it for the long haul. Getting out of debt for good is NOT like being on a diet where you deprive yourself until you meet your goal. Instead, it's about changing your habits and emotions," says Jackie Beck, debt freedom expert and founder of The Debt Myth, a blog to inspire others to get out of debt.
Jackie and her husband paid off $147,000, including her mortgage, in ten years. She learned to avoid debt fatigue by including fun money in her budget and paying for things with cash. In addition, she made the mental shift and committed to getting out of debt once and for all.
To stay on track, consider going on a spending diet, where you allow for $100 (or another specified amount) of non-needs spending per month.
3. Look at the big picture.
Being in debt can be depressing and easily feel overwhelming when you have a big journey ahead. Focus on the big picture of your life and your finances. Debt is just one aspect of your life and if you feel exhausted by it, consider focusing on another financial goal that still supports your financial life, like saving.
Realize your net worth is not your self-worth. Paying off debt is like a road trip across the country -- it's going to be long, and sometimes bumpy, but you know you'll get there and maybe even learn to appreciate the journey along the way.
Paying off a large amount of debt is hard work and can take time. Try to set realistic goals for yourself and budget for some fun as well. When you feel debt fatigue hit, focus on your goals and the reason why you want out of debt. Just think of all the money you'll free up once you aren't making payments toward your debt any longer.
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