We had no options.
That’s how we felt. The idea of having half of our income sent to Sallie Mae for 20 years felt oppressive, to say the least. Not having the option to change jobs, or move cities, or foster kids – our whole being was enslaved to paying these student loans. How could we pay for childcare, groceries, rent, and student loan minimums each month – much less dream of traveling, investing, or vacationing? What about the crazy giving we had heard of? I had dry eye from walking around with perpetual crazy eye.
We have three kids. We have been trying to pay off $154,000 of debt since September of 2014. At first, it was a Sisyphean task – we’d work and work and work only to have unknown unpaid interest capitalize and add itself to our debts. From September 2014 until March of 2015, more interest accumulated on our student loans each month than we were paying off of principal. That’s right, our debt was still growing even though we were snowballing. That’s math for you. Sometimes math is a total jerk.
Those days, throwing in the towel felt like the best option. I cried big juicy tears of regret into my pillow begging God, “please Lord, PLEASE go back in time and give me a brain! Just a little one! It would save us so much interest. PLEASE.” Spoiler alert: He did not do as I requested, and I am still working on the cerebellum part of the equation.
But he did give us the drive to keep going. I swallowed my feelings and focused on the one thing I could change: results. We could budget better, we could cut expenses, we could raise our income. We started seeing evidence of our hard work: one small loan was paid off, and then another, and then another! These wins were little bursts of mental and emotional energy that kept us -and are still keeping us- going., 3.5 years later. Even then, we still needed more motivation.
Here are our best strategies for staying MOTIVATED while you climb those mountains:
1. Dream big, dream strong, dream together, dream often.
The Bible says, where there is no vision, the people perish. If you have a spouse or kids, their lack of vision can either be a weight around your shoulders or their excitement about your family’s future can propel you forward! If you are united in your why, why are we doing this? they will propel you to success.
Example: your spouse knows you want to pay off all those credit cards, but she doesn’t care about your goal or see how that relates to your family. Your kids whine at the store, begging for that shiny new toy or to eat out all the time. In each example, your family isn’t dreaming together.
Guys, we’re going to make some sacrifices, but once we do, our lives are going to be totally different. We are going to live ____ or be able to ____ or have the opportunity to ____.
Our family wants to live in the mountains. My husband dreams of a career in forestry. I have my sights set on owning and piloting my own plane. We want to bless missionaries and buy houses for pastors. Our kids will never take out student loans. We look forward to the day we can adopt and foster tons of other kids who need us. Travel will actually be an option – and we are dreaming of Russia, New Zealand, and Canada. We dream of paying off our parents’ mortgages and creating scholarships for deserving kids. What are your dreams?
2. Celebrate your small wins!
365 days of small wins one after the other becomes a year of massive progress. You wo’t pay off $6,000 every month. Heck it may not even be $600! But it must be something. As you base your financial decisions off of biblical principles, you will walk eer closer to financial peace. Sometimes those wins are unique:
The next hundred gone, a paycheck increased, bill eliminated, meal planning for the first time, buying groceries in budget, picking up a second job – these are all small wins that will move you through the Baby Steps, out of uncertainty, debt, and fear, and into security, peace, and legacy. What have your small wins been?
3. Make a visual representation of your journey.
We keep a chart in the master bathroom of all our debts. On it, we mark what we have paid off. Each square represents $100… and the chart makes me think “Whoa! Can you believe we’ve come this far?!” I love to color in another square. Another debt gone; another debt that will never darken our doorstep again! I have seen people do debt-free chains, debt-free art, thermometers, color in pictures, fill up jars with marbles, and even write down a list on the fridge that you strike out with bloody red pen. I don’t know how or why; I just know it IS SUPER powerful. I am thinking of making some visually motivating art. Do you have something that shows your progress?
4. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on.
Have you ever noticed, whenever you say “I’m working hard on clearing up my debts, paying for a house in cash, saving for retirement, and paying for my kids’ college fund,” some people look at you as if you’ve grown a second head? My favorite response I get is, “Oh that’s nice that that works for you, but it would never work for us.” I wish I got that response more often. But mostly I get, “Uh, why?” Followed by, “That’s a bad decision – your kids are only young once.” EXACTLY! We’d better clean up this mess fast otherwise our kids will endure the same struggles we did!
When I got a second job and my husband a third, I didn’t bother telling the people whom I knew would be Debbie downers. I told the people in my court who had my back – hey, we are really leaning into this! We are finally WINNING HERE!!! And they cheer us on. They don’t guilt us for not attending that umpteenth party or not getting a new car every two years. They understand that if something’s out of the budget, we won’t budge, and they get that we are crazy passionate about reaching our goals. Some of those awesome friends we have known for years, and some of them we have made amazing relationships with through our volunteer coordination of our church’s Financial Peace University class. Join supportive groups on Facebook, cleanse your social media of stuff that is a bad influence (for me….. I unfollowed HGTV. #fulltransparency) and surround yourself with cheerleaders. It will be hard to have a successful no-spend month if the thing you and your friends bond over is buying new sports equipment or going shipping. It’s hard to do this stuff. But it’s serious – so carefully weigh the decisions you make about who you surround yourself with.
5. Saturate your mind with the stories of other people who have done it.
WE’RE DEBT FREEEEEEEEE! I love to practice that with my kids. Debt free screams are MY JAM! You know why? Because I need to know this hard thing we are doing is going to work. I need to know this diligence is going to pay off. I need to know: THIS STUFF WORKS. The good news is, every day, there are more stories I hear of people doing exactly what we are doing. They are making less money than us and making more progress. Or they have figured out a way to increase their income even more! Or they have more kids than us. Or they are older than us. Or their family situations are harder than ours. Whatever the truth is – it means we have no excuse, and I BELIEVE WE CAN DO THIS. Those screams keep me motivated. I cannot wait to be in Ramsey Solutions headquarters, sharing our story with the world, and helping to shine the light for thousands of other families who are just like us. Here is a great channel to subscribe to TODAY:
Dream big. Celebrate your wins, no matter how small. Create a visual reminder of progress. Surround yourself with a supportive community. And saturate your focus with the success stories of others who have been through what you’re going through, and who have won despite great obstacles.
What are you doing to stay motivated for the long haul?