If you are on a journey to becoming debt free, and you’re finding it difficult to stay motivated during the long months ahead as you watch the balance go down very slowly in spite of all those extra payments you’ve been making each month, you are not alone. Staying motivated was probably the most difficult part on our journey of becoming credit card free and especially for me, this is something I struggled with very often.


Whatever the circumstances and whatever the reasons one may have for accumulating credit card debt in the first place, the bottom line is that one has used money they didn’t have at the time but assumed they would have the same amount, and more, to pay it all off later. Strangely enough this is not something one thinks about at the time of making a purchase or withdrawing cash on a credit card – I know we certainly didn’t. And I also know that situations can be dire – sometimes one has no choice but to use a credit card. For a lot of people, credit card debt doesn’t come from shopping sprees and lavish purchases but rather, from genuine need. This is what makes credit card debt such a burden.


Paying the minimum payment due each month, however, doesn’t really put a dent into any debt – the bulk of what we end up paying with our hard earned cash goes towards interest and fees and charges to the lender. That’s why it’s so hard to pay off any kind of debt with just the minimum monthly payments. If you plug in the amount you owe on a credit card into any online debt calculator along with your minimum monthly payments you would see how long it would actually take you to pay off your credit card debt – in many cases, this would take years and you would end up paying double the amount you originally borrowed, if not more. For us, our one credit card would have taken us 8 years to pay off with just the minimum payments and the other one, well, actually 18 years, believe it or not. Shocking, isn’t it?


Now imagine if you actually had your credit card debt hanging about for all those years. Wouldn’t you get sick and tired of having to pay and pay and pay only to see the balance on your credit card go down just a little bit each month? That’s sure to destroy anyone’s motivation along the way. Even with the extra amounts we were putting towards credit card payments each month, we still became discouraged more often than not. Why? Because it still took such a long time. Even a year can seem a pretty long time. And all the while you’re busy paying off credit card debt, life still happens. Murphy does indeed come knocking on your door and expect you to find even more money to pay for burst geysers and punctured tyres and doctor’s visits.


Eventually all you want to do is – give up, forget the whole thing and go back to this state of blissful ignorance before you started paying off your credit card debt and before you became so obsessed with paying down the balance. This was the time when you kind of knew you had credit card debt but you were still hoping for that lucky break in life – perhaps a raise at work, a big bonus, an inheritance or a great lotto win – which would help you wipe out that whole lot of debt in an instant! Sadly, for many of us, this kind of an instant fix never comes and we have no choice but to simply trudge along. If you’re one of the lucky few and you managed to wipe out your credit card debt in one or two very large payments, then consider yourself very lucky indeed.


Because here’s the thing: once you start paying down your credit card debt you know there is no going back to the way things used to be before. You know you have to pay off your debt and so you keep traipsing along. Some months you would be able to put more towards your debt while there will always be those months where you just cannot put that much extra towards the repayment. It’s at those low, low moments that I always said to myself – think about how far you still have to go but never forget how far you’ve come.


I kept a visual reminder of this in a very simple table with the outstanding balance and all the payments we’d made. Each time I would start to feel discouraged about our situation, I would go back to this table, look at our starting balance and how much progress we’d made thus far. So even if we’d only managed to make a small extra payment that month, let’s say R500, I reminded myself that it’s R500 that we wouldn’t be paying interest on. There’s definitely some comfort in just looking at the balance going down, and not going back up. This actually motivated me to stay on track, not make any extra purchases or payments on that credit card and just keep moving.


I also kept reading personal finance blogs during this time. I probably searched for ‘get out of debt’ online at least a million times and I’m hardly exaggerating here. That’s pretty much all the bedtime reading my husband and I did for a very long time. We found inspiration and courage in other people’s stories of success in surmounting very large amounts of credit card and other debt, in fact, much larger debts than ours. The truth is, I just needed to hear that being debt-free is possible, and to stop doubting ourselves into thinking that it was impossible and that it will never happen for us.


I also tried my hardest to keep focussed on our goal of becoming credit card free. At one point all I could think about was seeing that light finally shine at the end of a long and dreary tunnel that we’d been fumbling in for so long. I knew that there were possibilities out there, waiting for us, and that’s really all I wanted – a possibility, a chance at a very different life once there was no more credit card debt hanging around our necks. Staying focussed wasn’t always easy but I held onto our goals and wanted us to be debt free so much that this was the biggest motivator of them all. At least for me.


If you are on a journey to becoming debt-free, what do you do stay motivated?


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