I’m frequently asked how I stay motivated to remain out of debt. After all, there are so many temptations and so many fun things that I could blow my money on. People assume that it is hard for me to remain motivated and disciplined. Sometimes it is. Like anyone else, I have days when I just want something and I want it now. I just want to go blow money and forget the consequences. To remain debt free, though, I have to check the worst of those impulses.
When you’re trying to get out of debt you can see the end goal and that provides motivation. You know that when you’ve paid off $X amount of money you will be debt free. You keep going to reach that number. You’re fired up and motivated to make the necessary sacrifices. But when you’re debt free, you don’t have that magic number to shoot for. When there’s no concrete number staring you in the face it’s easier to lose motivation. Sure, you want to save but for what and how much? You want to have money to spend but do you really have to watch every penny anymore? It’s easy to just drift, spending and saving aimlessly or, worse, spending with so much enthusiasm that you land back in debt. It’s like losing a lot of weight. You’re motivated to get it off in the short term, but once you’re there the enthusiasm drops off and it’s easy to fall back into bad habits.
So how do I find the motivation to remain debt free when there are so many options for my money? How do I keep my bad habits and ugly urges in check? Here’s how:
Set goals: Just because I’m debt free doesn’t mean that I don’t have financial goals. I want to buy a new(er) car someday. I want to retire comfortably. I want to be able to give to charities that I value. I want to travel. I want a new computer. All of these things take money. I write down the things I want to accomplish and assign dollar values to each. Then I track my savings progress toward each goal. Seeing those numbers add up and those goals reach fruition provides me with the motivation to remain out of debt.
Keep one big goal in mind: In addition to the smaller goals, I always keep one big goal in mind. At one time it was a home. Once I got that, I changed it to having a comfortable retirement. Now that that goal is well on track, my current big goal is financial independence. I want my investments and activities to provide enough passive income that I don’t have to work for an income, unless I want to. The big goal is not something that is easily attainable, but it is possible. It’s something that will keep you motivated and working toward it for several years. Even if you’ve managed to mark off all your other goals, the big goal will still be there. As long as it is, you’ll keep striving for it.
Remind yourself about the benefits of being debt free: Whenever I want to blow an unreasonable amount of money (as I did recently when some terrific travel offers came across my desk, plus some property that I’d been looking at came on the market), I remind myself what I love about being debt free. My love of security and freedom go a long way toward keeping me on track. I don’t want to end up in a position where someone else dictates where my money goes, or where someone else controls my decisions because I owe them money.
Know what matters to you: When you’re debt free, you get to know what really matters to you and it usually isn’t stuff. Maybe it’s your ability to be home with the kids, security in the event of a job loss, the freedom to choose work you love, the ability to give money away, travel, a special hobby, or cultural experiences. Would you be able to do, have, or enjoy those things as much (or at all) if you went into debt? Probably not because your time and money would then be spent servicing the debt. When I’m tempted to spend too much, I remind myself of the things that would have to go by the wayside if I had debt. I’m not willing to give them up, so I remain motivated to keep the things that really matter to me.
Staying motivated to remain out of debt is different from the motivation necessary to get out of debt. Getting out of debt takes (usually) a relatively short period of time. The flame of anger and frustration can burn long enough for you to accomplish that goal. Staying out of debt is a long term adventure and something that you’ll (hopefully) have to work at the rest of your life. No short term fire will last long enough to keep you on the right path. You have to seek other forms of motivation. This is what works for me; what works for you might be different. Experiment until you find the right combination of motivational tactics.