Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

When Paying Off Debt is Discouraging


Guest post from Jamie of Medium Sized Family

It’s a big thing to decide to get serious about paying down debt. It takes commitment and dedication.

Our family has a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) of paying down a debt that amounts to 19% of our take-home pay. Everyone in the family is on board with doing the work it will take to get this goal accomplished. We’re making different choices, and sometimes just saying “no” to help us meet our bigger goal.

We did so many things right. But it turned out that this month, the money we had saved wound up being needed for an unexpected expense instead.

It’s discouraging to work so hard and not see any improvement!

The worst part about discouragement like that is that it can derail your hopes before they even get any real traction. So rather than letting myself wallow in that disappointment, I made some different choices.

If you have been discouraged by the lack of progress you’re making towards various goals, here are a few things you can try:

Look for the good.

If you try hard enough, you can usually find that silver lining — even in a moment of disappointment. While we weren’t able to put money toward our debt this time, the fact that we didn’t have to dig into our savings account or pay with credit is still a big win.

Learn from it.

“Unexpected” expenses happen to all of us. You might not know where the unexpected expense is going to come from or what moment it might happen in, but you can bet your cookies that it is going to come along some time!

I’d rather not touch our savings account if we can help it, and if we do touch it, the next dollar earmarked towards debt will have to refund the savings account instead. But at least it is there if we need it!

Revisit the goal.

If you find that you are discouraged by your debt month after month, it might be that your goal is not realistic. We had to take another look at our big goal to see if we still considered it to be doable. Once we decided that we our goal is definitely a stretch goal, but still reasonable, then we revisited our baby steps towards that goal.

A big goal to pay off a large debt can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s far easier to handle it by breaking it into chunks. Then you can look forward to meeting several smaller goals along the way.

Some ways to break down your large debt goal into baby steps include:

Break down the goal into percentages. Create a visual thermometer and color in a rectangle as you pay off the debt. Each time you’ve hit 10%, 20%, etc. of your goal, celebrate! Dance in the kitchen, pull out the good china, treat yourself to a delicious dessert, or find your own special treat.

For something simpler, watch your bill. Each time the first number (or second or third number depending on your circumstances) goes down another notch, you’ve reached a baby step!

Find the Fun!

There are a few surprising things that are helping our entire family get through our debt payment plan. Try a few things and see what makes the challenge of paying off debt more fun for your crowd:

Get a Mantra. We’ve decided that our mantra for 2016 is that this is the #YearofNo. When someone asks if we can stop for fast food, all we have to do is say “Hashtag: Year of No!” Yes, we do sometimes still get whining and complaints. But far more often than not, we get a little giggle and a joke in return. This mantra has also helped me get through several shopping trips when I am trying to separate the “needs” from the “wants”.

Choose a Challenge. There are so many different challenges out there to try! Your family might enjoy seeing how long they can go without spending in a No Spend Challenge. Maybe your culinary side would like the workout it would get from an Eat From the Pantry Challenge. You could try generic versions rather than your usual brand name and treat it like a science experiment. (Get the whole family’s opinion of one versus the other!)

Don’t Break the Chain. Choose a habit that you’d like to change, then, see how many days you can go without using that habit. We were able to go the entire month of January without stopping for fast food. That was a major breakthrough for us! If and when you do finally break the chain of days, don’t be discouraged. See if you can break that record with your next try.

Stay Positive!

No matter how you choose to lift yourself from a debt discouragement slump, make sure that you find ways to stay positive. You can do this!

What are some ways you’ve gotten over discouragement?

Jamie is a wife and mother of 5, ages 2 to 12. Her family lives in the country where they raise goats (whenever they aren’t playing baseball!). She blogs at Medium-Sized Family where she shares tips on saving money in small and big ways so you can afford to give your family a beautiful life.

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Emily M. says:

    Don’t give up! It may set you back a few months but you’ll get there. I just paid off one credit card this month. I might have done it sooner, but last June we ended up having to get a new roof so I had to take out a home equity loan because the roofer’s financing was good for a year, but then went to 27% the next year. So it was like getting another credit car or car loan payment. But it can be done so now I’m working on those other payments. Instead – just be happy you had the funds for that emergency and didn’t have to go further into debt for it.

  • Christina says:

    I know setbacks are discouraging, but look at it this way. If you hadn’t saved up that sizeable chunk, when the emergency happened and you needed to use it for something else at least you had the money for it. The alternative would have been being in debt for two things instead of just one!

  • Kelly Cox says:

    Jamie, I think this is a great post! Debt is discouraging but we have hope. It is so worth it to keep striving! 🙂

  • The first step for us was coming to terms with the amount of debt we owed. It was quite sobering, but gave us the necessary sense of urgency to start doing something about it. Remaining balances due and setbacks can be really discouraging, but odds are that you made some good decisions along the way too. I try to focus on the good (

    Ultimately, I believe that everything happens for a reason. We put ourselves in this financial position, but now we can learn to be more responsible and purposeful with our money.

  • Aimee says:

    You make some great points about keeping perspective! Shortly after we decided to become serious about paying off our debt we discovered I was pregnant with our first child. that can be discouraging, but choosing to focus on the positive – even if it is only $5 to $10 at a time, can be very important.

  • Corrie R says:

    I love the mantra!! In fact, I’m stealing it! 😉 #YearOfNo

  • Patty says:

    “The worst part about discouragement like that is that it can derail your hopes before they even get any real traction. ”

    Very wise and very true.

  • Mary says:

    Jamie, great post. We went through a debt pay off, I had a chart on my refrigerator. It was so rewarding to pass by the fridge and cross debt off! Keep up your great work!!!!!!!! As Dave says you are changing your family tree. It’s neat watching the children take on some Davisms once they are out and making their own money. Best wishes!!

  • Awesome post Jamie! It is discouraging sometimes when you think you’re doing so well with your money but then have to spend it on random, unexpected things. I love your positive attitude though and your mantra is pretty funny! I might have to try that with my kids..LOL!

  • Rachel says:

    Last year, instead of re-doing our kitchen, my husband and I decided to pay off our 2nd mortgage. When he’d bought the house before we were married, it was financed into a first and second mortgage. The interest rate was pretty high- we were basically wasting over $200 a month in interest. And to not have that payment every month would be huge. I really thought it was an unattainable goal as it was just over $40k. But with our tax return and my husband working a ridiculous amount of hours in that season of our lives (at that point in our lives his job required it), we were able to pay it off before our goal of the end of the year. In fact, we paid it off a few months early. And to think I thought it was an insurmountable goal! God has been so good to us! It feels absolutely wonderful to have that mortgage gone! It can be done!

  • Donna says:

    Great posts everyone! I was married to a man who worked 80 hour weeks, never home. I was high school math teacher. Together, $130K. Paid off cars early. Driving my 12 yr old car now (Larry Burkett: the cheapest car to drive is the one you own. True). I planned everything. Handled budget. Every bit extra went on mortgage. Paid it off. $300K house we owned. I became disabled. One day he comes home says “I don’t love you anymore”. Divorce after 31 years. I have remarried. He’s disabled as well. We have racked up huge credit card debt. Daughter in college. Ex never spoke to me again. He doesn’t speak to children.

    However, cutting up credit cards. Contacted Christian financial planner (licensed in my state). With God’s help and #YEAROFNO (thanks!) we will be debt free.

    For years, I had no credit card debt. Losing ex’s income devastating. But! My God sent me an awesome man! Yes, we only make $30K together; we can and will pay it off. Thank God our vehicles are paid for. I purchased a 2200 sq ft condominium penthouse with my divorce proceeds. So, praise God, nice home, no yard work, big pool. Paid for home.

    But no emergency fund. Working on it. And right after I made appt with debt planner; my car needed a $700 repair. Ouch! Able to put it on 0% card for 12 months.

    So just when you get entirely out of debt; boom! Life changes. I HATE INTEREST! Ugh! I’m 52. So young folks and older folks get in the credit card debt situation.

    Hang in there! With God we can do this!

    (Financial planner is FREE and licensed by my state. I checked them out thoroughly.). And we are starting envelope budget plan starting March 1.

  • Great post, Jamie! I need to implement the #yearofno too!

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *