This Trick Could Help You Finally Pay Off Your Debt

by Emily Guy Birken on 20 February 2014 1 comment

There are some people who are able to make and keep promises to themselves. When they say that they will stop eating ice cream every night or that they will send an extra $1000 to their credit card company every month, they do it. (See also: Ways to Make Yourself Accountable)

I have never met one of these people.

My guess is that you haven't either.

For the rest of us mortals, the accountability that comes from making a promise to another person may be just what we need to stick to our commitments. After all, it's easy to blow off a promise to yourself, whereas disappointing someone else is another matter entirely.

So why not try this trick with a commitment to pay off debt? Working with a debt partner who is focused on a similar debt-payoff goal can help you reach that finish line faster. (See also: Pay Down $100 Worth of Debt This Week)

The Importance of Accountability

A common piece of advice for goal-setters is to tell everyone about the improvement plan. That way, you'll face social consequences for not following through on your goal.

However, just telling people that you plan to pay off your credit cards once and for all can backfire. According to career coach Shana Montesol Johnson, "when we tell someone that we are going to do something big…the praise and positive reaction we get from our audience gives us a part of the experience of having already accomplished these things… And so we are less motivated to actually work toward these goals."

This happened to me recently, when I told several friends that I planned to complete the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Everyone was very positive and supportive, and I felt great knowing that my friends thought so highly of my plan.

Then I wrote a grand total of 3,000 words during the month.

I thought I had given myself accountability by telling people about my writing plan, but I was missing a key ingredient: specific responsibility for my actions. While I had one or two friends who asked me in passing how the writing was going, no one was checking in on my progress.

Had I vowed to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge with a writing buddy, I'd know that a particular person would be asking me on a daily basis where I was — as I would ask her. That would give me motivation to turn off the cat videos on YouTube and get back to crafting brilliant prose.

When it comes to debt payoff, that kind of personal accountability will also have a motivating effect. If you find yourself tempted to spend money you don't have on something you don't need, thinking about the fact that you would have to tell your debt partner about your slip-up can be enough to stop you. (See also: Frugal Promises I Haven't Kept)

Staying Encouraged Is Easier With a Cheerleader

Debt reduction does not offer much in the way of instant gratification. The progress you make in paying off your large debt is incremental and not particularly satisfying. And since willpower — like a muscle — can be exhausted, you cannot simply force yourself to stay virtuous throughout the journey to debt freedom.

So how do you stay the course when you feel like giving up? Ask your debt partner to be your number one fan. It's easy to forget how far you've come. But your debt partner can remind you how big an accomplishment it is that you have already paid down some of your debt.

This is especially important when you hit a setback. Perhaps you forgot a payment due date and were hit with a late fee — and you feel like throwing in the towel since you'll never get ahead anyway. Your debt partner can remind you that before you started your debt payoff goal, you paid late fees all the time, and this is the first one you've seen in months. (See also: How to Avoid Late Fees)

It is important, however, that your debt partner not just be a yes man. According to Mandi Ehman of The Art of Simple, "if an accountability partner is just patting you on the back or nodding their head when you make excuses, then they're not really holding you accountable after all. An important part of being accountable to someone is giving them permission to be honest with you. They should be comfortable telling you when you've gotten off track or pointing out areas where you may want to focus more of your efforts."

Plus, It's More Fun

In addition, working with a partner can make the slow progress much more fun. You and your debt buddy can determine ahead of time how you will celebrate your small victories, and you can remind each other of those upcoming celebrations when you are feeling discouraged. (See also: The Secret to Succeeding at Everything)

Write Out a Contract

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of partnering with a friend to make a debt payoff plan, experts say that an important start is to create a contract. Not only does this exercise help you and your debt partner understand just what you are in for with your partnership, but it also makes clear from the beginning exactly what success will look like and how each partner will help the other to achieve success. (See also: A Quick Guide to Agreements and Contracts)

You may have heard of these sorts of contracts for weight loss partners. They are very effective for weight loss, and can easily be adapted for debt reduction. According to Colette Bouchez of WebMD, a partner contract should "spell out your mutual goals and the ways you plan to help each other achieve them." In addition, your contract should "include both short-term goals and long-term ones."

For instance, one of your short-term goals may be dining out less often in order to save money. You might write into the contract that you want to cook meals for the week every weekend so that you won't be tempted to order carryout after a long work day — and you could specify that you and your partner will cook together every Sunday and share your week's worth of food. Writing those short-term goals into your contract can help you to plan ahead for both potential setbacks and for the type of accountability you need in order to meet your goals.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

When it comes to self-improvement, promises you make to yourself will always be easy to break. After all, the only one affected is you.

So find a friend who has a similar goal and work out a partnership to keep yourselves accountable. You'll both be better off for it, and you'll enjoy the process of improving yourself that much more.

Have you worked with a debt partner to help you reduce debt? Were you successful?

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Liisa

My husband is the best accountability partner I could have! :) While it's not always fun, knowing that my choices affect him directly, as well as our future, is huge in helping me to reign things in. We WILL have the money chat again soon, and I WILL have to explain myself and my spending. Plus, it is super fun to have someone to get excited with when we reach a goal. Celebration is the key to staying sane in a long-term debt repayment situation like ours!