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“I Just Don’t Want To….” has been my motto a few different times while paying off my debt. I am going to call it the seasons changing as well as life just happening. Let me tell you, being in your early 20’s on this journey has been TOUGH.. When you spend 2 years paying off debt, you are likely to have highs and lows.
Life happens and it is easy to get side tracked by all of the things going on in other people’s lives when you are trying to stick to a budget. Budgeting gets harder and harder when you aren’t able to keep up with normal life events, let alone extra things. I recently asked my Instagram “what do you need help with when it comes to budgeting?” I would say one of my top answers was “motivation”. That hit me pretty hard since that seems to be one of the things that I have been struggling with the most lately.
Let me make this clear first, if you are miserable on your budget, CHANGE IT. Budgeting is not meant to make you miserable. If you find yourself not motivated to stay on budget, it might not be you. It might be your budget. Budgeting is NOT meant to punish you. If done correctly, you should be budgeting so you can say YES to things you want to and no to the things that aren’t necessary.
So if you are consistently finding that you are breaking the budget, it’s time to evaluate what is wrong with your budget. But, if you are just in a valley and having a hard time sticking with it. You might just need a little tool to stay motivated.
“How do you stay motivated to stay on budget?”
1. Weekly/Pay Period Budgeting
I don’t know how many people I have seen that post their budget at the beginning of the month, but by day four, they have completely blown it. “Maybe next month,” they say. You do not have the willpower to stick to goals for a whole month without implementing smaller goals throughout. Very few people do.
Start small. Set daily and weekly goals. I actually read a study at one point that said that most people don’t have the willpower to make it through an entire day without breaking one of their goals, which is why you are more likely to do late night snacking when you are dieting.
Simple things like splitting your eating out and grocery budget in half can give you the motivation to stick to a budget. For example, say your grocery budget for the entire month is $400. Start giving yourself $100 a week instead of going to the grocery store on the 1st with $400. If you know you have $100 for the week (or $200 per pay period), you are likely to spend closer to that. Even if you go over a bit for the first two weeks, you can make it up at the end. You are less likely to spend the $400 on the first day of the month and then struggle for the rest of the month.
Leaving yourself with money for the whole month instead of giving yourself all of your allowance at once can help you plan more strategically and practice better delayed gratification. For example, if you give yourself $25 for restaurants every week, you may be more willing to go without eating out for one week so you can have your favorite meal next week knowing that you will get more money the next week to add to it. It is only 7 days.
2. Be Realistic
When you are creating your budget, make sure that you are being realistic. If you spend $1000 on food last month, you aren’t going to set your budget for $200 this month. Start with slowly cutting in areas. If you spent $1000 last month, aim for $750-800. That is still a decent cut, but it is way more realistic. Old habits aren’t going to die overnight just because you said they were. If you did set your monthly budget for $200, you would likely go over in the first week and then feel miserable every single time you spent money on anything for the rest of the month. Finding a middle ground is one of the best ways to stick to your budget. You need to find a place where you don’t feel deprived, but you are still hitting your other finance goals.
This is probably one of the hardest spots and something that I still struggle with to this day. Figure out how much you spend every week and multiply that by the amount of weeks in this month. Your budget probably will change every month and it should. There are some months where I can live off $150 for restaurants. There are some months that I spend $350 because I have a lot of birthdays or special occasions. Nicer weather sometimes means that I spend more money too.
3. Make your goals known and visible
Even if your goals sound totally crazy, tell people who will support you. This step also include creating weekly goals for your finances. Make it a challenge to not spend more than XX amount of money. Or to only spend money on certain days.
Post them everywhere in your house. Write them on sticky notes where you will see them every day. When you tell people your goal, you are more likely to feel accountable to actually achieve that goal. I have my goals posted in my room, above my desk, and on my phone. I type out my monthly goals and make them the lock screen on my phone so I see them every time I pick up my phone. Do whatever it is that you have to do to keep your goals in front of you.
I literally tell EVERYONE my goals and I really don’t care what people think or say. That has kind of always been my personality and maybe that isn’t you. But start with telling one person that you know will be supportive. This also includes my Instagram. The #DebtFreeCommunity has been a huge motivation to stay on budget. There are so many accounts that are always willing to help.
4. Motivational Vision Boards
Above my desk, I have a board that has my Debt Free Charts and goals for the year. It is full of quotes, goals, posters, and pictures as a reminder of why I am on this journey. I printed off these coloring charts from DebtFreeCharts.com. I have been coloring them in throughout the whole journey and they have given me so much motivation to stick to my goals! Now that all of my debt is paid off, I have printed the emergency fund and house savings charts to stick to my savings goals.
This board is also filled with 5 year, 1 year, and monthly goals for finance and fitness. It has different quotes and tips to help keep me motivated throughout some of the harder lows of working on your finances. This board hangs in my room where I see it EVERY single day.
5. Plan for fun
Don’t totally deprive yourself. When you plan to cut your budget, think of fun, free things to do instead! Don’t cut out everything. When you set a budget, it is supposed to tell you where you can cut back on unnecessary things so you can chose to do the things you really want to do.
While I was paying off my debt, I had a ton of fun. In those 26 months, I went to a concert, got a new tattoo, went to restaurants, and plenty of other fun things. I was able to do those fun things that meant more because I started saying no to the $5-10 mindless spending on my way to work every day.
6. Rearrange Your Space
Yep. I just told you to clean your space. I recently did this. When you are feeling the itch to redo your home or buy a bunch of new things for your home, rearrange a room and see how you can use things you already have differently. Instead of using the shelf for my TV stand, I turned it into my office corner and put my TV elsewhere. Try switching out furniture or moving it around in a room before you go spend money on new things for that space. Or deep clean a closet.
Whenever I am itching to redo a space, I switch out all decor, wash my sheets/switch them out for different ones, and move around a few things. These are all things that I have on hand and it doesn’t cost me any money.
If that doesn’t help, try deep cleaning a closet or room. When you see how much stuff you are getting rid of, you might think twice about buying more items. If you do still make a few purchases after the deep cleaning, it is likely going to be a smaller list of things you actually need.I can bet that after you pull everything out of your closet, you aren’t going to feel like spending a ton of money on clothes because you might be overwhelmed with what you already have. If I am cleaning out my closet, I will try to sell a few things and use that money to buy a new item or two.
7. Pick a New Outfit
This kind of goes a long with cleaning out your closet. After you clean out your clothes, work on wearing a few things that may have been collecting dust. If there are a few outfits that you haven’t worn in a while, it will feel like you just went shopping again. I can’t tell you how great it is to get a compliment on something that has been hiding in the back of my closet! It makes it feel brand new again!
If you are finding yourself with things that have holes in them, plan to replace them. Don’t wait until it is totally falling apart. Every three months, I put $100 for clothing into my budget to replace jeans and work clothes. This allows me to replace things that are falling apart, but also get a few small seasonal items that you might be eyeing.
8. Reward yourself
During a long journey, rewarding yourself can be so important to stay motivated. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but if you meet your goal, you should get a little something. A reward doesn’t have to cost money either. I just started this new dieting app, there was an article about rewards. Rewards don’t have to be food. The app outlines 4 different types of rewards.
- Tangible rewards which includes buying new things. This can work because if you are just wanting one item, you can put it in the budget. Maybe you would love to get a new notebook for your budget or a new finance book that you have been DYING to read. Set a goal to throw XX amount towards debt or savings. When you hit that goal, reward yourself with your $10 item.
- Self-care rewards are things that make you feel good. These don’t have to cost a lot of money. I made a list of 51+ Self Care Practices for under $15.
- Social rewards was the third type that the app gives me. They give suggestions like going to a movie, hosting a part, having a picnic in the park. These are usually things to do with other people, but by doing them, you are taken out of your regular environment.
- Healthy rewards was the last one. Of course because I am taking this from a health app, it is going to focus on healthy rewards. Their suggestions include signing up for a cooking class, trying a new healthy restaurant, buy a new kitchen gadget to help with meal prep, and sign up for a run. While these are health focused, they are also really great to distract yourself from your current budget low.
I am a coffee addict. On rough weeks, I have been known to bribe myself with Starbucks coffee. I use my Ibotta app to cash out for Starbucks gift cards every once in a while. Ibotta is a grocery rebate app that allows you to scan your grocery receipts for cash back. When you sign up for Ibotta and redeem your first rebate, you will get a $10 welcome bonus! Or in the past, I have budgeted to buy a discounted gift card on Cardpool to get my coffee.
When I have money on my Starbucks app, I will set weekly goals. If I don’t go out during my work week, I will “spoil myself” with a coffee on my way to work on Saturday or on Sunday before church. I will only get my coffee on the way if I meet my weekly goal though.
10. Read a New Finance Book
Sometimes, you aren’t really sure what is missing or why you are struggling. I have always found that reading a new book can be a huge motivation. I put together a list of my favorite books (finance and not) that helped me get through my debt free journey. Check out your local library or use one of these books as a small reward for hitting a goal.
When I read a new finance book, it might give you a new goal or new perspective on something. I remember the first time I read A Millionaire Next Door, I was excited about the idea that close to 80% of millionaires are first generation rich, meaning that they created their own wealth. This was exciting to me because it made it feel more tangible and doable for me to hit that million. While that really isn’t my goal, the book talks about your money habits and how they affect your long term finances.
This isn’t the only book that has reminded me of just how important our daily money habits are to our long term success. Try reading a book the next time you are struggling with sticking to your budget. If you are looking for a new book, check out this book list that I recommend.
11. Make some quick money
Find a way to make some quick cash to help you stay motivated. When I get down about spending some extra money, I make it my goal to make a little bit of it back. Sell something, do an errand for someone, babysitting or pet sitting are just a few ways to earn a little quick cash. Once you earn that cash, throw that money toward your finance goal for a quick win. If you can throw a little bit of extra cash towards your goal, you might feel a little bit more motivated to focus on your next goal.
12. Celebrate your milestones
There are many milestones on a debt free journey. Some of them being to pay off a debt in full and some of them can be a certain amount of debt, depending on how much you started with originally. Choose something to do every time you hit one of those milestones.
Maybe, you have 10 individual debts. Every time you pay one in full, you choose something budget friendly to do. Or maybe you started with $60,000 in debt, so every time you pay off $5,000 or $10,000, you get to celebrate! One of my celebrations was to have friends over to entertain. I didn’t do it very often because I was working a lot. Focus on going back to that list of types of rewards and find something that works for you.
You can choose your milestones and your celebrations, but make sure you are recognizing how far you have come from the beginning. Don’t just focus on how far you have left to go!
13. Revisit you why
If you don’t have a strong enough “why,” it is going to be hard to stay motivated. Sit down and create a real dream of what your life will look like when you are done paying off debt. If you want an idea of my first day of being debt free, check out my journal for that day!
Here is a bit of my why to give you an idea though. Someday, when I settle down and have kids, I don’t want to miss a single event. I want to be able to work when I want and dictate my own schedule. I don’t have a problem with people who like having a regular job, but it just isn’t for me. My “why” is because I want an irregular job. I want to be able to walk away from a project and go to my future kids soccer game. By setting my finances up for success now, I will be able to work my blog as much as I want and not have to get a J.O.B. when I have kids!
The other big part of my why is because I love to travel. Right before I started this journey, I had thought about (tried to) be a travel blogger. I quickly realized that it may not be for me yet, but that I LOVED being able to pack up and go anywhere at the drop of a hat. I didn’t have to spend months and months planning a vacation. Ultimately, I can’t wait to do that again soon!
Whatever you do, get excited
There is no sugar coating it, this journey is HARD. It can be hard to go against the grain and to change your finances. I want you to take a minute to recognize how different you are than people who aren’t trying to change their money situation.
You should be celebrating every step of the way. It is a big deal and you should never undervalue how much hard work you are putting into changing your future. It is okay to get a little down about the progress of your journey, because it WILL happen. But you have to realize how special it will be when you are done.