“Fun” is not a word most of us would use to describe the experience of being in debt. When we talk about debt, we are more likely to use words like “stressful”, “frustrating”, “anxiety-inducing”, “burdensome”, and “depressing”. Our debt may keep us up at night worrying, cause us to feel ashamed, or prevent us from being able to use our money for other things that are important to us. I get it—I’ve carried some amount of student debt for over seven years, and I’ve never used the word “fun” to describe the experience.
At least, not until recently.
I finally finished graduate school in January with nearly $57,000 of student debt and started making loan payments soon thereafter. And while I expected the process of debt repayment to be a wholly unpleasant one, I’m discovering, to my surprise, that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I’m finding that while being in debt is most certainly a negative experience, the process of paying back debt can actually be…kind of fun. The key is how you approach it.
If you want to switch from a “debt repayment is a drag” mindset into a “debt repayment is fun” mindset, try these ideas:
Choose to view debt repayment as a challenge rather than a burden
It may feel like a burden sometimes, but paying back a large amount of debt can also be viewed as a challenge—just like training for a marathon, learning a new language, or working towards a promotion. And as with other types of challenges, you have a certain amount of control over how quickly you reach your goal. There’s no rule that says you have to make only the minimum payment each month. In fact, the faster you can make payments, the less interest you’ll have to pay in the long run (and the sooner you’ll be out of debt!).
As part of the challenge, try to cut back on your spending
I work for a non-profit and don’t make a huge amount of money, but by cutting my expenses as much as possible (I have roommates and don’t own a car), I’ve been able to put about 30-40% of my income each month towards my debt. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but I suggest taking a close look at your spending habits to see if there are areas where you could cut back in order to make higher payments and reach your goal more quickly.
Compete against yourself from month to month
In other words, make debt repayment into a game! Track how much you spend over the course of each month, and see if you can spend a little less than you did the previous month and put a little more towards your loans. I recommend tracking your spending by category so you can see where it’s possible to cut back. For example, if you spent $105 on eating out last month, try to only spend $75 this month. Then, take that $30 you saved and use it to make an additional loan payment.
Pick up side jobs if/when possible
If you have extra time, you may be able to make some additional money by babysitting, tutoring, selling unwanted items on Craigslist, participating in paid research studies, doing freelance work, or any number of other possibilities. Try to put any extra money you make directly towards your debt.
Chart your progress visually
I highly recommend creating a visual tracking system that you can update each time you make a payment. This will make it easier to appreciate the amazing progress you’ve made thus far and watch as you get closer and closer to your goal. I have a spreadsheet that I update whenever I make a loan payment, as well as a corresponding graph that shows my progress. I actually get really excited about updating it each month and watching the graph change.
Tell people about your progress
It can be motivating, and even fun, to share your successes with others. I find that family and friends are often interested and impressed when I tell them I’m aggressively paying back my loans. Let people know when you hit $80,000, or $40,000, or $10,000, or whatever milestones are meaningful to you.
When you reach an exciting milestone, take some time to treat yourself to fun and special activity that you don’t do every day. You could host a potluck with friends, take yourself out for ice cream, or go out to a movie. It could be anything as long as it’s fun, relaxing, and not too expensive.
Always remember that you have a great deal of control over how you view yourself and your financial situation
The situation is what it is, but you can choose how to think about it. I know from experience that it can be easy to spend time blaming yourself for getting into debt or being angry at “the system” for allowing you to borrow such a large amount of money. However, I’m slowly learning that accepting my past decisions and focusing on making as much progress as I can towards my goal of getting out of debt can make a world of difference.