When I think back a few months to the days when I ways is debt I can still very clearly remember how overwhelmed I felt on a day to day basis. The first few years I tried not to think about it too much. Every once and a while the thought of those student loans would creep into my mind but I was still in school at the time and I basically would get over it by hoping it would all work itself out afterwards when I got a job. There were many more distractions to take my mind off of that debt especially since there weren’t any payments due at the time. Once graduation came along my loans came to the forefront of mind very quickly and very abruptly when I started receiving notice of the soon-to-be end of my grace period. The monthly payments started to add up and I had never really made any income that could cover them along with rent and everything else I would need to start out after school ended. This all was happening three years ago and that scary feeling lasted the entire time from a little over $90,000 all the way down to $0.
If I had only paid attention to this big picture I don’t think I would have finished paying these off by now. In fact I probably wouldn’t even be half way done either. It is just too big and too scary to stare at head on. While I had the motivation to make extra payments towards my loans from the start, it wasn’t until I started to break down the daunting task of paying them off into smaller and more manageable goals that I started to feel like progress was being made. I first started to really tackle loans one by one after watching a Dave Ramsey video online. I had been searching things like “Debt Motivation” in google and happened to find him. It was through his approach of the debt snowball that I was able to stay on course. While I hold very different views from Dave Ramsey as a person I still think that his way of motivating people to get out of debt is top notch and I would recommend just looking up some of his stuff online or even reading some of his books to absolutely anyone trying to become debt free. Just a small amount of open-mindedness with his material will allow someone with any kind of background or beliefs to internalize his (very simple) principles. In fact most religions and schools of thought preach the same things but just with different names and titles.
One thing that I really got out of my experience with my debt snowball is that sometimes when faced with a huge, almost impossible obstacle, it can be extremely liberating to forget about all that lies ahead and just focus on one small part of that goal. A lot of times I would break it down to the very day I was living and just try to focus on what small things I could do. For example I could try to stretch my groceries one more day and make an extra $10 payment instead of going to the store. While this would work well in terms of my outlook on the future I would also have days when just focusing on small details would be so draining and I would feel like none of it was actually helping. At this point I would switch back to a big picture view to stay motivated. But instead of looking at the future at what I still had to do, I would look at what I had already accomplished up until now to remind myself that every little thing that I’ve done has been working. It would help me keep in mind the overall trend of accomplishing all these mini goals was.
The basic premise of the debt snowball is to tackle debts one by one while paying the minimum on all the others. Once you finish one debt you will have eliminated an entire monthly payment from your budget and now can apply even more to the next debt on your list. According to Dave Ramsey paying off your debts is about motivation which is why he advocates paying off your debts smallest to largest instead of by highest interest rate. I certainly agree that this is very helpful in terms of staying motivated. I did this myself when I first started out. Once I got so intense about paying those things off I wasn’t worried at all that I would stop for lack of motivation so I started to payoff some of my larger loans out of order to save on higher interest rates. This just goes to show that we can still internalize and apply other peoples lessons in our own way once we understand them.
While paying off debts smallest to largest is a quick way to build momentum, it can take a while to finish off a loan once we get towards the end of our list since they are going to be bigger. Therefore it is necessary to find ways to stay motivated even when focusing on just one part of our goal. Breaking down a goal further and further while switching focus between the big picture and the little picture is not only how I got my debts down to $0 but how I also stayed (somewhat) sane in the process. The best part is that at the end of it all, on top of reaching debt-freedom (or whatever other big goal you may have) you also have learned through application an entire system for tackling big things. Making big things seem obtainable is a solid foundation for success and it should give you confidence to do whatever you want with your life which is a great reward for anyone who has to endure the gruelling angst involved with getting out of debt.