How to Map Your Debt Payoff Progress to Stay Motivated
You’re heading into the new year with the big financial goal of paying off debt and you’re feeling motivated.
Setting a new goal usually comes with a powerful burst of energy that you can harness to kick off your debt-free journey in style. Hopefully, you’ve already made some moves toward this goal — making an extra payment, reworking your budget or looking into debt consolidation.
But paying off debt is often more of a marathon than a sprint. Achieving your goal to get out of debt requires long-term planning and strategizing to stick to your commitments and sustain the positive changes you’re making.
One powerful system you can put in place is a visual reminder of your debt payoff goals. Here’s how to map and track your debt repayment progress to build and keep your balance-busting momentum.
5 ways to visualize your debt repayment
Creating visual reminders of your debt goals comes with some big benefits:
- Bring your goals to your attention. They prompt you to recall your debt repayment goals, keeping them top of mind in your daily life.
- Reinforce behavior changes. With ongoing reminders of your bigger goals, you’ll be primed to continue making the small, smart money choices that will keep them on track — from eating out less to making an extra debt payment.
- Track your progress. You’ll have an ongoing, accurate idea of how far you’ve come and how much you have left to go.
- Celebrate your wins. As you mark off each dollar paid or balance eliminated, you’ll see the effects of your debt repayment efforts. Recognizing these “small wins” can give you the boost you need to stay strong and stick to your debt payoff strategies.
If this sounds promising to you, check out these ways to visually track your own debt payoff journey.
1. Chart your debt
One of the easiest ways to track your debt progress is through a paper or chart. With this method, you use a piece of paper to outline debt amounts, and color or fill in a section to represent an amount paid off. You can make your own or head to Debt Free Charts to download free debt payoff charts.
Heidi Nash, founder of Debt Free Charts, said the charts were inspired by her own efforts to pay off debt. Nash made charts to track her own progress, including empowering words such as “debt-free” or the specific type of debt, such as “credit card” or “family loan.”
“Numbers on a page changing just doesn’t have the same impact as seeing something fill up,” Nash pointed out. “Seeing it visually helps you notice how far you’ve come, gives you that feeling of winning and inspires you to work a little harder at it so you can color in another line.”
2. Make a physical representation of your debt
If coloring isn’t your thing, you can find another way to visualize your debt payoff goals. Find a physical way to represent the debt you’re repaying:
- Make a paper chain. Nash said she’s seen people use this move, with each paper link equal to a dollar amount. You get to tear a link off as you repay that amount and break down your “chains” of debt.
- Post-it your home. You could write out your debt in $20 or $100 increments and paper them on a door or wall in your home. Each time you make an extra payment, you get to rip a Post-it down and crumple it up.
- Set up a “debt-free” jar. Get two jars and fill one with chocolate coins or quarters to represent what you owe. As you repay debt, you can move coins over from the “owed” jar to the “paid-off” jar. This is a debt-tracking method I first saw on personal finance blog Debts to Riches.
3. Map your journey to debt freedom
If you have multiple balances to tackle or a lot of debt to repay, it can feel like you’ll never be out of debt. But that makes it all the more important to keep up your momentum and celebrate wins as you go.
Drawing a “get-out-of-debt map” can help you chart your own path out of debt. To create this, first prioritize your debts and put them in order from top priority to last. Then, you can map out key goal posts along the way to paying it all off — paying off your first $1,000, getting rid of your smallest balance and so on.
You might even attach a small reward to celebrate each milestone, such as treating yourself to lunch out for a small milestone to buying a bottle of champagne to pop open for a balance you’ve eliminated.
4. Include debt goals in your daily planning
You might already have a planner or journal you use to track tasks and goals. So why not add your paying off to-do item you’re using your planner to tackle?
This can be as simple as adding “make an extra $100 credit card payment” to your weekly to-do list or adding a digital calendar reminder to send in an extra payment on payday.
You can also use your planner to track your spending and money management and make sure you’re keeping funds free to go toward debt. A smart way to do this is by creating a habit tracker in your planner, a goal-tracking method created by James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.” A habit tracker is an addition to your journal or planner that charts out daily habits you want to build and keep. You list each habit, such as sticking to your daily spending budget, and next to it you can add a check for the days in which you stick to your habit.
5. Remind yourself of your ‘why’
Reminding yourself that you have a goal to get out of debt can be effective on its own, but it’s even more powerful when you combine it with a reminder of the reason you want to get out of debt.
Think about your bigger “why,” the things you really want that depend on paying off debt. It could be as simple as avoiding the interest you’ll pay, or the monthly cash flow you’ll free up when your debt is gone. You could calculate this dollar amount and put it up somewhere you’ll see it often.
It could be about providing your kids with more financial stability and security. Or maybe you’re planning to get married in the next few years, and you want to pay off student loans so they won’t burden your new spouse. Put a picture of your loved ones in your wallet to remind you they’re why you’re focusing on getting out of debt.
Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of travel but your goals have been holding you back. Print out pictures of your dream destinations to remind yourself that the freedom to go there is your driving force.
“Paying off debt faster gets you to your dream future faster, where your money is yours, and not flying away every month to pay for your past,” Nash said. “Just imagine being out of debt by the end of 2019, and what options that would open up.” Holding this clearly in your mind could be exactly what you need to keep yourself motivated to pay off debt and work toward financial freedom.