How to Pay Off Your Debt: Stay Motivated and Keep it Simple

And here we go with yet another article on paying off debt. Let’s see, the formula is: start with a bunch of statistics about the heavy debt-load of the average American. Especially young adults with piles of student loans to pay off. Then, confess how much credit card debt you’ve personally struggled with and how you paid it off in less than two years. And finally, shoot off a holster-full of bullet-points on how to reduce debt and live happily ever after.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

It’s just not that easy, is it? Debt wears you down. Debt hurts. It’s a pain in your assets.

So let’s shake this up a bit. You owe a bunch of money and you want to pay it off. Let’s not make this any more agonizing than it already is.

Please don’t start a blog

Apparently, the deal is: go deep into debt – and then start a blog! Yippee! I can confess my sins, reduce my debt and get famous all at the same time!

If we could eliminate all of the “personal finance” blogs that feature some poor soul who is chronicling their debt and resurrection we could a dent in the bandwidth requirements of the entire Internet. Think how much faster you could access those Netflix streaming movies! No more frozen frames and “buffering” messages!

You don’t need a world full of strangers watching over your shoulder to keep you accountable. If you want to journal your thoughts, write it down in a diary. One day you can hand it to your kids and say, “Here, read this. And don’t ever make the mistakes I did.”

Of course, they’ll just snicker and say “Whatever.” But you tried.

Make it automatic

I am sick of financial advisors saying “Pay yourself first.” We know, we know. That just means we’re supposed to save for retirement, or for the down payment on our first home – or for whatever life-goal we’re supposed to have. But we can’t do that if we’re debt-trapped. Pay off the debt. Never go deep again. Then pay yourself by contributing to a 401(k), IRA or other savings plan of your choice.

But we’ve got to pay off the bills first.

Do it automatically. Find a way to have payments routinely drawn from your checking account so that you always pay on time, pay more than just the minimums and never back down from your debt-reduction duty…

(SFX: Cell phone rings)

ME: Hello?

ME: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Really? Right here? OK, OK, I’ll mention it.

(SFX: End-call tone)

So, as it turns out, can do this for you. Automatically set up and pay your bills just like I was saying. Pretty nifty, huh?

Set aside Mad Money

Look, you’ve got a pretty good job. You’re working as hard as you can to make ends meet. You’re serious about paying off your debt. That’s all anyone can ask. Nobody is saying you have to be a monk. You gotta live. You’re (relatively) young – live your life.

Set aside some mad money. Not a lot, just enough to make your life fun now and then. Remember, this is after your automatic debt payments are accounted for. Whatever is left over, keep it for those “splurge on me” moments.

You deserve it.

And now for the Grand Prize

People will say you’ve gotta track your progress. With a chart or a spreadsheet. Are you kidding me? If you like keeping track of stuff so much, how did you get so deep in debt? That little pie chart you made didn’t help you see it coming? That ten column Excel file had a formula bug, did it?

Look, if it makes you happy, post a giant full-color thermometer chart on the wall and marvel at your progress. But for the rest of us who don’t really go for all that, stick to the basic plan.

And promise yourself a Grand Prize when it’s all paid off. Maybe a couple of mini-awards along the way, but something special when the dust settles from months, years even, of dedicated debt payments.

How? Well, you don’t want to take an around-the-world trip charged to your credit card and end up in more debt than you started with, but you deserve a reward for your consistent discipline.

Maybe you set aside a bit of your Mad Money savings for a real treat when the debt is retired. A week for a (domestic) beach vacation. A new wardrobe. Season tickets for your favorite NFL team. Whatever the reward, make sure you have a plan to

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pay for it without having to beg, borrow or steal!

When you’re debt free, you’ll be among the most powerful, attractive and contented people on the planet.

And you won’t have some embarrassing blog on the Internet reminding you just how pitiful you once were.

Hal M. Bundrick is a Certified Financial Planner® and former financial advisor and senior investment specialist for Wall Street firms. He writes for TheSimpleDollar, TheStreet and TheMoneyPivot, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @HalMBundrick.