How to Avoid Debt Fatigue

Hi Money Manifesto readers! I’m Katie from Slowly But Surely, where I write about tackling my goals, specifically getting out of debt. I started this year with $68,000 of student loans and a credit card balance and I’ve started tackling the debt pretty aggressively.

At the beginning of the year, I moved home to live with my parents rent-free. I do the cooking while they pay for the groceries. I work remotely at an entry-level marketing position and I pay off extra debt by babysitting, dog sitting, and running my own side business, Katie Pelton Resumes. These efforts have lead to paying off over $5,000 worth of debt so far this year and becoming credit card debt free! It has been incredibly rewarding, yet consuming.

The more I learn about personal finance, my passion and motivation grow. No matter how hard I work, I continually use any spare time to find ways to earn a few extra dollars to pay off debt. I find myself taking as many side jobs as I can get, endlessly reading and writing about getting out of debt, and constantly discussing my new knowledge with family and friends.

I’m making great progress but I’m still a long way from being debt free. Even when I’m doing everything right, the slow process is exhausting!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this process is to maintain realistic goals to avoid debt fatigue. Debt fatigue is “when a debtor stops making payments on his or her debts and starts spending again after being overwhelmed by the amount of debt incurred and the seemingly futility of the debt repayment process (the overall amount of debt owed does not appear to dramatically lessen as payments are made),” according to Investopedia.

I often catch myself working all day, babysitting at night and when the baby goes to bed I’ll help a client with a resume or read finance blogs. I need to remind myself that although time is money, I need to pace myself for such a large goal. Sometimes when the baby goes to bed I need to grab a good book and just enjoy some peace and quiet, guilt free. Sometimes I need to enjoy a happy hour or girls weekend with friends instead of babysitting.

Finding a balance may seem contradictory but it keeps me from feeling like a slave to this goal. It is important, however, to keep these limited breaks affordable so I’m not taking away from major debt progress or worse, getting into more debt! When I take these breaks I’m able to return with a refreshed motivation for getting my next babysitting job or making another big debt payment.

It is also important to push myself while keeping my expectations low, which is completely out of the norm for me. In the past I was too strict and had unrealistic expectations as to when I would see progress, which set myself up for disappointment and ultimately debt fatigue. Now, I map out the minimums I can make in a month and make a timeline from there. Any additional progress is just a huge pat on the back that motivates me to keep working.   

It might seem simple, but these reminders have made all the difference so far in continually paying off my debt in a big way. It’s only been three months but I look forward to maintaining this momentum! 

Have you ever dealt with debt fatigue? What useful tips can you offer from your experience that you used to get over it?

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  1. It is great that you are working so hard to pay off your debt. Sometimes it feels like you are spinning your wheels though. I totally understand because we are in the same situation. Just keep your eye on the ball and remember to treat yourself every great once in a while. It helps to keep you motivated. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  2. Paying off $5,000 so far this year in debt is nothing to sneeze at. That’s very good, in my opinion at least. 🙂 I can relate to the debt fatigue as I was there too when I was in debt. Finding that balance is key otherwise it can just become too burdensome to continue. I would set myself smaller goals to reach to help build that momentum and would have to force myself to take breaks and in the long run it helped me immensely.

    • Thanks, John! I’m happy with $5,000 but I’m wildly impatient amount the remaining balances. I’m glad I’m learning these lessons though, and it helps to know they worked for others too.

  3. Keep a sweet budget handy and make sure to plan in some spending cash each month. If things feel too tight, you’ll end up splurging. And definitely listen to Holly above. They are debt killers, and are about to pay off their freaking mortgage! They know a thing or two about debt fatigue!

    If you need any budget help, just let me know 🙂

    • I definitely learned that lesson the hard way! Having some fun, as long as it’s in your limit, is necessary. I just don’t always stick to my limit when I get on a roll. I guess I’m still learning but it’s a work in progress!

  4. I experienced debtor fatigue a few years back. We were pretty close to our goal of paying off consumer debt and our roof began to leak. It almost stopped us in our tracks, actually it did for about a year. But then I started blogging about money and it’s helped to make it exciting again.
    Good luck getting out of debt Katie.

    • It’s so helpful to see others’ experience and know that even when debt fatigue happens it is possible to bounce back. Thanks for sharing, Justin!

  5. savvyfinanciallatina says:

    Never spend more money than you have allocated. There a lot of ways to have fun without spending money like having a board game night with friends, or renting a movie for a $1 and watching it with friends.
    Cutting alcohol is a great way to save money 🙂

    We have been cutting our expenses every month as we found things we were spending so much money on but it didn’t make any sense. My goal is to get our expenses to $2,500 monthly. Right now we are at $3,000. Which I think is a lot of money considering how my parents raised a family of four on much less. Granted we had much less, but still we can do better without really having to sacrifice our lifestyle.

  6. Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says:

    Congratulations on moving toward your goals! Many people in your situation would look at their primary job and say, “Well, I can’t be expected to do anything here,” and quit trying.

    • Thanks, Jenny! I certainly had that mindset for years until I finally did something about it! It’s amazing how much extra one can do when they really try!

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