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Creative ways to visualize your debt

Paying off debt can be a struggle for many. Especially if you’re carrying a heavy debt load, it can sometimes be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel and get motivated to pay off your debts. And we all need a little motivation now and then.

So I thought it’d be fun this week to look at the many and sometimes creative ways that people have come up with to visualize their own debts, to help them stay motivated, so you can too.

Software tools and debt calculators

Today there’s no lack of financial software tools out there for managing your debt. Sure there are the traditional Excel spreadsheets, and loan calculators, if the hard numbers are what keep you motivated. But there are many software programs and mobile apps today that deal specifically with debt. Although I haven’t used them myself, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Payoff.com and ReadyForZero.com, which create personalized debt payoff plans to help you reach your goals. Payoff.com even provides you with both their own visual motivators (badges) that you can share amongst your friends or money groups and the ability to win cash rewards for reaching your goals. I’m just not too fond of linking it to my bank accounts, so I tend to steer clear of these. But hey, who am I to judge?

Debt to basics

Aside from all the technology, sometimes all you need is a piece of paper, to make it tangible and more relatable.

One super simple way of tracking your debt is to just write down how much you owe on a piece a paper and hang it on the wall. Preferably somewhere where you can see it every day. When you make a payment, cross off your debt(s) and write down how much you have left until you get to zero. This one is great for those “to-do list people”.

Or jot it all down on a calendar, marking down the date of your debt payoff goal. And mark down what you have remaining after each payment you make. And if at this point, you’re already itching for technology, sure you can also use a cloud-based online calendar program to send alerts to your computer and smartphone of your next debt payment.

Debt chains and debt thermometers

One of my favourite examples of people using visual motivators to pay off debt was in a post I read years back on GetRichSlowly – the concept of debt chains or paper chains made out of construction paper. Each link in the paper chain represents a specific portion of your debt. As an example, suppose you have $3,000 in debt, you create a chain of 30 links, whereby each link represents $100 of your debt. As you pay down that debt, you remove one link. It’s a great visual motivator – as the chain gets smaller, so does your debt. Get the kids involved! A great opportunity for them to learn.

In a similar vein, debt thermometers or debt tickers are also great visual motivators to help you tackle your debt. As you pay off a portion of your debt, you colour in that portion on the debt thermometer or ticker. By the end, you should have a fully coloured thermometer (not to mention be Debt-FREE!). I found this free debt thermometer template on the Dave Ramsey online community forums, which includes a pdf, jpg and psd of the debt thermometer template, as well as an Excel file to calculate all the percentages for you. But feel free to download others on Pinterest or make your own.

Sharing success

There’s a lot to be said about using visual tools as a motivator. Many books have been written about it and it’s used in a lot of different applications. From weight loss regimens to potty training. Ha!

Share your successes with others. Many of these forums, like the Dave Ramsey one I’ve mentioned above, post weekly photo updates of their debt thermometers and many bloggers also choose to post their own debt thermometers and/or successes on their site. It helps to know others are cheering you on as well, keeping you motivated, and it also helps to keeps you honest and accountable.

And although I’ve only discussed debt here, that’s not to say these tools couldn’t be used to track your fun goals. When you’re debt-free, use them to motivate you to save for something fun. So instead of that thermometer measuring your remaining debt, it could be used to measure how much more money you need to book that vacation!

What visual tools or cues, if any, do you use to help tackle your debt or help you toward your goals and help to keep you motivated?

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