Debt Snowball – Staying Motivated While Paying Off Your Larger Debts

PAID-debtsAre you finding yourself feeling frustrated or overwhelmed with paying down a large debt?  As I have recently become debt free myself, I understand completely.  Our last debt was approximately $9,000, and it took us what seemed like forever to eliminate it.  During that time, we often felt we were making little progress, mainly because the “quick wins” motivational boost we had been receiving from paying off our earlier debts was no more.

I can’t stress to you enough how important those “quick wins” were to us.  I think I might have a solution to this problem that might give you that extra motivation.  To be honest, I wish I would have thought about this when we were still paying our debt down.  So we know that the motivation we receive from paying off each debt is enormous.

What if you broke up your larger debts into smaller, bite-sized pieces?  I think the key to making this work though is to actually write it out on a piece of paper.  Visualization is the key.  Let’s say you owe $10,000 on your plastic companion.

If I were doing this I probably would not write out the total debt of $10,000.  I would instead break this debt into $1,000 dollar bites.  The reason for not writing down the total is because you want to trick your mind into believing that these are separate.  Furthermore, it would be a good idea to set a realistic time line for each chunk to give you something to strive for.  Remember that setting goals, gives you something to reach for, and also gives you a greater likelihood of completion.

$1,000 – DONE (6/2009) <~~~motivational boost!
$1,000 – DONE (8/2009) <~~~motivational boost!
$1,000 – DONE (9/2009) <~~~motivational boost!
$1,000 – (11/2009)
$1,000 – (1/2010)
$1,000 – (2/2010)

I would also recommend that you only worry about doing this for one large debt at a time.  You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with a 6 page list of debt.  You want this process to remain as positive as possible.  Put this list on the fridge and be sure to check each nasty chunk off as you pay it off.  This is important!

I hope this helps you stay motivated during your important mission of debt removal.  Get that debt OUT OF YOUR LIFE, once and for all.  You can do it and when you do—you will feel amazing!

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21 Responses to “Debt Snowball – Staying Motivated While Paying Off Your Larger Debts”

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  1. Jeff says:


    I’ve just finished paying my “small” debt off. Your post is exactly how we are approaching the “large” debts. I’ve broken the next debt into monthly goals and do whatever is takes to make that goal. Example $4700 was broken down into $1500 chunks. So this month I must pay at least $1500 which I can do. I know I’ll get the $4700 soon but breaking it down makes the goal much more visual for us.
    Thanks for the post

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      That’s awesome Jeff! I really wish we would have done the same thing with ours. We really got beat up a few times along the way and our motivation was really lacking at times. From what I have learned about how achieving goals and marking them off of a physical list effects us psychologically, to me it seems like the best way for someone to tackle their large debts.

      Way to go and continue to be the great example that you are. After reading blogs about debt the main focus seems to be on telling people that they cannot do it themselves. In most cases bankruptcy is thrown around as if it were like getting a drivers license. I saw one blog where the guy asked his readers if he should file bankruptcy on $30,000. Then I found an amazing story where people paid off over $100,000 by themselves. People need to see that they can do it!

  2. Dad says:

    We’re closing in on finishing our small debt as well (12/09) and we have one gigantic student loan left ($65k) so this is a great idea!!!

    We will have it paid off in 4 years so if you’re reading this and wondering if you should file bankruptcy, NO!! We started out with $99K in debt, 1 auto loan, 1 cc, 1 loan, 3 student loans… But knock those smaller debts out and you will be pumped enough for the big one(s). And this is a great idea for those guys!

    WTG, Brad!!!

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      You are on fire and I love your determination! That’s what it takes to get out of debt people, what an inspiration! The average person would either file bankruptcy, remain in denial about their ability as well as their problem, or pass it on to someone else. All of those options mean that no one learns a thing about why they ended up in their situation.

      Keep it up, and please oh please keep me informed. I will still be around 4 years from now my friend. Good luck!

  3. Tina says:

    I love this site! I’m officially cc debt free and after reading this post, I believe I’m going to go ahead and stop using them for everyday purchases period. I’ve found that I’m just not strong enough. I’m working on two last debts, my car and the mortgage. So, thanks for awesome information!

  4. KELSALYNN says:

    Great idea! I think the important point is to have a visual somehow-whether that’s with a list like yours, or a payoff bar on your blog like a lot of us have. It’s so rewarding to update that stupid little bar every two weeks or once a month (whenever you send a payment)… a lot of people use the thermometers, which is another rewarding experience- to watch your payoff amount grow even if it seems like a long road ahead.

    Wonderful post!

    PS: 2 more days! 🙂

  5. Kelsalynn says:

    How come my little icon looks half pirate/half vampire with the fangs and the eye? Is that supposed to represent me somehow? lol I CAN be a little feisty, but I mean well! ; )

  6. Good plan Brad! I like the idea of breaking it down!

    I’ve got this $30,000 student loan debt which is numbing my mind… but I just don’t want to pay it off since the interest is only 2.6%, and I’m getting a blended risk free return of 4.1% on my savings.

    What to do??

  7. Nate says:

    Good advice! Any motivational technique to help us feel like we’re making progress helps. Sometimes the debt can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to find that silver lining.

    Another helpful tip is to track your net worth. A lot of people don’t do this, but I find that it helps A LOT. Every month as I pay off my debt, my net worth increases. Even if it’s just a small amount, it makes me feel better about my financial situation.

  8. ka says:

    good site on the underpinnings of debt slavery:

  9. Vicki says:

    What a great concept. I have something similar for my motivational boost, but this great for the big debt.

  10. Ronald R. Dodge, Jr. says:

    Good points, but one thing for me, I won’t do it via principle route, but rather I do it via rate route.

    While I understand about Dave’s argument of human behavior, your suggestion of every $1,000 works just as good with the rate route. Not only that, but Dave’s program is outdated as far as I see it. His numbers are outdated. He doesn’t take into account online tools to help with people’s personal financial stuff. His savings rate is based on the old philosophy, though excluding SSA benefits, but still under the old 15% IRA rules that are no longer in play. For me, I require 25% saving rate, not 15% saving rate. His plan is also too risk adverse which I call the cash flow method and it’s not good enough as it falls victim to inflation and taxation risks. As for him saying to use those with 12%+ historic gains of mutual funds, while track history does play a part, it’s out the window when a new manager takes over. Not only that, but I have no trust for any mutual fund managers other than what I have to give in order to take full advantage of the employer’s matching policy. I instead do my own investment picking and decisions, which I have trended at least 1% above respective benchmarks with my own pickings, though 2010, I was about 15% above benchmarks.

    The only reason why I would follow the principle route for debt elimination is if I was in a situation that I HAVE TO free up cash flow demands. Otherwise, I will follow with the rate route using the online banking tools of scheduling payments and what not in addition to what I do within Excel.

    As for getting rid of debt, getting rid of debt in itself doesn’t motivate me, but rather the numbers of how much further out of debt I am is what motivate me, so the cash flow method of Dave’s wouldn’t motivate me anyhow.

    I did have my wife and myself go through Dave’s program, though not so much to learn the specifics, but rather more so for my wife to realize what I had been doing financially was not something just made up in my head, but rather it was the real deal. As we went through the course, the real life experiences they described in the course had hit home with my wife and me as we went through many of such experiences. It was only then when my wife finally accepted what I had been doing is the real deal even though she really didn’t like it. She didn’t like it cause it blew her whole idea of just spending and blowing money was something that she would be able to do all her life, but after having been through the course, she also realized we have to make sacrifices over a time period in order to be able to live like no one else.

  11. Ronald R. Dodge, Jr. says:

    One other thing I do, I keep track of residual daily income/expense numbers and track it. I even have a goal or 2 set against it. The goals I set are no easy goals, but what a feeling it is to meet those goals when it does happen. In 2010, I did suspend that one particular goal cause of another objective I had pushed rather heavily in 2010 which wouldn’t allow for us to meet that one goal, but we met all other financial goals in 2010. In 2011, that one goal that was suspended is back on.

  12. Jessica says:

    Just wanted to say that I love your advice in this post. I write a blog following my family’s progress in paying off our $65 in debt. We have only been working on it for 9 months and we have already hit a few snags, and it took us a while to pick up where we left off. I was in search of ways to keep things even more motivating, and one of the biggest things I talk about in my blog is the idea of giving yourself a gold star every time you hit a goal. Unfortunately, I found that tracking these things online was not enough of a motivator for me. I have to have it physically printed out and on my fridge or my wall so I can check it off and see it every single day.

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