Give Me Back My Five Bucks

How do you fight debt fatigue?

There are many different ways to get yourself out of debt – like creating multiple income streams, selling possessions, living below your means, and going without a lot of comforts you were used to. But when you change your life so drastically, at a certain point, you might start to get tired of concentrating so hard on your debt. This is called debt fatigue.

Debt fatigue is a mental state that can happen when you’ve been in debt for so long that you think you’ll never dig yourself out of the hole you’ve created for yourself. Financial expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade often tells people on her television shows to try and make a plan to get out of debt in 36 months or less – because anything more than three years, and you’ll likely suffer from some form of debt fatigue.

I was in debt for years – from age 19 to 24, but I only actively cared about eliminating my debt for 12 months. Near the end, I could feel myself slipping (and that was after less than a year!). I remember I was just a few thousand dollars away from being debt-free, and then I bought a $3,000 iMac computer. What? Yeah. I was sick of living such a limiting, frugal lifestyle, and it took a lot to remind myself of the path I was on, and how much better my life would be once I got out of debt.

Related: Can lifestyle inflation be avoided?

Being extremely money conscious all of the time can really put a strain on your quality of life. Because I never had a great relationship with money, once I got myself out of debt, I really struggled to find a balance between spending and saving. It took me a very long time to come up with a budget I could live with, and I still find it hard today – which is why I track my spending on a weekly and monthly basis here at GMBMFB.

So if getting out of debt seems impossible, and it seems like it’s too hard for you to deal with, don’t give up and revert back to your old spending habits. Here are some suggestions on how you can fight debt fatigue:

Keep in mind the big picture

It can be really, really easy to fall into the habit of feeling sorry for yourself when you’re on a strict budget. Especially when you find yourself working a part-time job on Friday and Saturday evenings, when you could be out with your friends instead – trust me, I’ve been there. I worked minimum wage jobs for years – it helped me get out of debt, and save for a down payment on my first home.

When you’re trying to get out of debt, holding onto the impression that you are depriving yourself will only bring you down and make it harder to stay on track. It helps to create a list of both short-term and long-term goals for your debt-free life. Then, whenever you start to feel yourself slipping, you can remind yourself of your goals, and how amazing it will feel once you achieve them.

Think of your debt-free life

Take a few minutes to think about what being debt-free will mean to you. Whenever I started to feel tired during my journey out of debt, I kept in mind all of the positives that were waiting for me once I got there – like sleeping better at night, being able to afford a vacation, owning a home in the future, starting a life with someone, and most importantly – freedom. Not having to stress out about where the rent money was going to come from, or how I was going to pay for groceries? That was something I was really looking forward to, and unfortunately, it’s something I sometimes take for granted now. It wasn’t that long ago where I had to shuffle money around just to make ends meet, and it’s good to be reminded of that.

Related: Would you ever date someone who had debt?

Reward yourself

It’s okay to celebrate financial milestones when you’re getting out of debt. Whether it’s paying off a credit card, or getting your total debt down to a certain threshold, make sure you give yourself a little bit of wiggle room to treat yourself – within your means, of course. I used to treat myself with ice cream cones. :)

Create visuals

What are your goals once you become debt-free? Many people are visually motivated, so creating a collage of photos or a vision board is a great way to stay on track. Social media websites like Pinterest and Trippy make it easy to save and share photos with friends. So whether you’re looking forward to a trip to Europe, owning a home, or starting a family once you get out of debt, start cutting out photos or pinning images of your goals.

Don’t beat yourself up

Nobody is perfect. So if you slip or make a mistake, the worst thing you can do is give up. Don’t wait until the following month to get back on track (I’m super guilty of waiting for a milestone to “start fresh” with my goals if I haven’t been doing well). Just pick yourself up, learn from your mistake, and keep going as quickly as possible.

Have you ever suffered from debt fatigue before?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


Comments

  1. Good post! I usually indulge in a little spending when I’m feeling particularly strong debt fatigue. Sometimes all it takes is buying that coffee mug I’ve been wanting, and the world is better again.

  2. Kayla says:

    I go through this all the time, and sometimes I spend money to ‘beat the fatigue’, which is of course, counter-intuitive. Overall, I’ve been trying to adapt to more lifestyle choices that reduce stress overall, and adopting a lifestyle that is frugal not by extreme goals or force (aka not looking at the ‘someday being able to afford it all’), but rather enjoying a more spend-free lifestyle. For example, I’ll focus not just on not spending money in a particular category, but instead on how I can replace that habit with something free/cheaper that is just, if not more, fulfilling in my life.

  3. Cassie says:

    Oh absolutely! I used to beat debt fatigue by giving myself a little bit of slack to buy or do something I wanted, like picking up a bottle of nail polish or going to Starbucks. The key is to do it when you’re fatigued, not just when you’re frustrated. Otherwise the debt fatigue slack becomes a daily occurrence, and soon you’re sliding back into old spending habits.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Great post! I’ve been feeling debt fatigue at this month since its almost the end and I’ve done so well making sacrifices all month and paying more on my student loans. I have a lot of giftcards saved up from working online and ones I’ve gotten as gifts-and I use those to buy something to make things easier. That way I’m spending money, but not really.

  5. Simon says:

    Digging oneself out of the debt-hole is a tough journey, requires lots of discipline, sacrifices and hard work and its easy to give up. In addition to what you’ve noted in the post such as giving myself breaks, I also try to vividly imagine my debt free life and have people who have managed to pay of their debts to encourage me on and serve as real life examples…I think this has been key in keeping me motivated when debt-fatigue sets in!

  6. Erick Brunet says:

    Thank you for sharing the article. It’s very useful. Hope to hear more from you.

  7. Ema Matts says:

    Whenever I have any doubt on any issue related to taxation, debt, financial planning, my first priority is your blog. I am damm sure that, I will definitely get a answer to my doubt. And this is the best post to make plan for debt.

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