Do you know that sinking feeling you get when you walk into the DMV? Most of the time, the room is full of people who are veterans of the waiting game. You have to walk past all of them, up to the counter, to pull off your little number. The worst part is when you look at the number, look up at the sign on the wall, and realize just how long you’ll have to sit there along with everyone else.
Debt-repayment reminds me a lot of that particular waiting game. You take a number, probably the amount of debt on your credit card; you calculate how long you’ll be waiting in debt-repayment mode, and then you realize it’s time to sit there and wait as your debt shrinks. I get paid once a month, so that means I have 30-31 days of wait time in between the exciting days where I can send big payments off to the credit cards. That’s a lot of time to easily get discouraged, say “forget it!”, and go shopping. In all the years that I tried paying down my cards, that’s usually what happened. This time, however, I finally figured out how to WIN the waiting game. Come Friday, my last big payment goes off to the cards. How did I do it? Well, here were my rules to make all that waiting go faster:
- Rule #1: Keep yourself occupied by “snowflaking.” At the DMV, I always take a book to make the time go faster. At boring meetings, I have an “activity pack” of papers to grade or work to edit. In debt-repayment mode, Paid Twice’s great concept of snowflaking became my activity pack. To fill in the thirty odd days between paychecks, I completed surveys, did tasks on Mturk, cleaned out our house and sold things on Amazon, hosted garage sales, and picked up contracting work. Anything I could do to earn money, I did. Keeping myself occupied earning extra income helped to keep my focus on debt-repayment. I was working so hard to bring in $2 here and $10 there that I didn’t want to go blow that money on books or coffee.
- Rule #2: Be kind to yourself. Instead of beating yourself up over having debt, reward yourself for taking the steps that few folks take to get OUT of debt. When I started, I gave myself $200 a month for “fun.” At first, it was the psychological security blanket that I needed to change my behaviors. Instead of going cold turkey, I had a little money to pay for things that I used to charge. Once the debt snowball got rolling, I often snowflaked most of that money to my debt. However, at first, I needed that little cushion to feel like I wasn’t in debt-repayment purgatory.
- Rule #3: Find a frugal support network. You have to find a way to combat the steady stream of encouragement that we Americans get to over-consume. Advertising is everywhere. While it may not influence you much to buy one product over another, I’m convinced that it does persuade you to consume in general. During debt-repayment mode, I cut way back on television. I’ll never forget the time in March when I was sick and watched TV all day. The next time I was in Target, I had this urge to stock up on cleaning products for the house. I know it was because I was barraged by cleaning-product ads for that eight-hour stretch! You may find a real-life support network of friends who are in the same boat, or you may rely on the great network of personal finance blogs. Whatever you do (I do both), the more “normal” it seems to be frugal, the easier it is!