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It was about 2 months after we started paying off over $100,000 in debt, and I was beginning to get pretty discouraged.
We still have a huge number left to pay off.
I wasn’t thinking about what we had already paid off. Instead, I just saw the large number in front of us. I felt like we hadn’t done anything at all. And I was close to wanting to give up.
Since I’m a visual learner, I need something to show me how far I’ve come. Just looking at a number isn’t enough.
I started looking around for different debt tracker methods to really help us have a clear picture of where we were, whenever we needed it.
There are some really great ideas out there! So let’s check them out!
First, why use a debt tracker?
Tracking our debt payoff wasn’t even on my mind when we first started paying off debt. I was filled with adrenaline and excited to get started. I knew that we’d be moving the needle with each paycheck!
But that adrenaline wears off pretty quickly. Once you’re in the thick of it and feel like it’s never going to get paid off, you might start to get discouraged.
That’s exactly where I was only two short months in. We had a long way to go.
That was a make-or-break moment in our debt payoff journey. We had been at that position before, where we started to get discouraged and the adrenaline would wear off.
And when that happened, we quit.
It was important not to quit again. And the only way we could do that was to keep our adrenaline and excitement up.
For us, that meant a visual way to track our debt payoff. So that’s what we did.
Related reading: How We Paid Off $100,000 in Debt
How do I get started with a debt tracker?
Before you get started with the debt tracker method of choice, you should do a couple of things.
1. Figure out exactly how much debt you have
The best way of figuring out how many open accounts you have with debt is to check out your credit report.
Or, if you don’t want to go that route and know you’re making payments on all of your debts, then open your bank account and make a list of your payments made.
I really like to use spreadsheets when keeping track of any finances. So I used a spreadsheet, making a line for each debt, minimum payment, and total amount owed.
This will give you a clear picture of exactly how much debt you’re in. Plus, it makes it easier to add your debt payments into your monthly budget if you have a complete picture.
2. Create your budget
You knew I’d say this!
It’s SUPER important to have a budget in place before you start paying off your debt. This helps you apply the maximum amount of money possible to your debts while keeping up with your regular monthly expenses.
And not just creating a budget, but keeping up with your budget!
I personally like keeping a spreadsheet for our budget. I update it every couple of weeks (payday) and when we receive our monthly statements for variable expenses (electricity, water, gas).
Related reading: 11 Best Budget Binders You Need to Rock Your Finances in 2021
3. Make updates as you go
Just like you have to keep up with your monthly budget, you also need to keep up with your debts.
How much is owed in each debt? Then you can update your debt tracker!
Has the minimum payment changed? Then you can apply the smaller minimum and put the excess money toward the debt you’re currently tackling!
What debt tracker method did we use?
Like I mentioned, I’m a visual learner. So in order to keep my excitement going, I created a chart.
The chart, which looks very similar to multiple thermometers (one for each debt), was placed on our fridge to look at every single day.
See, we had all of our budget and debt tracking in spreadsheets on the computer. That’s not something we look at daily. But our fridge definitely was!
I drew up some charts using a single piece of paper. Each debt we had left had its own “thermometer”, and every time we moved the needle, we were allowed to color in a little more of that thermometer.
This, for me, was the game-changer in our debt payoff journey. When I got to go color in our “thermometers” every week, it told me we were getting somewhere. It may have been a small or large amount, but we moved the needle forward.
If you want to try the same debt tracker method as we did, pick up your FREE printable below!
How can I keep track of paying off debt?
If the coloring in thermometer method doesn’t quite work for you, let’s talk about some other methods to help keep your excitement up about debt payoff.
Debt payoff tracker apps and online tools
Just like there are apps to help with your monthly budget, there are also apps dedicated to helping you track your debt payoff.
Here are a few apps and online tools, if using technology is a way that can help you track:
- Debt Payoff Planner (app)
- Debt Tracker (app)
- Unbury.me (online tool)
- Debt Payoff Assistant (app)
- Debt Free (app)
Related reading: 35 Financial Tools You Need to Manage Your Money Right
Bullet journaling has become super popular, and for good reason! It’s a really beautiful way to keep organized.
Using a bullet journal to track your debt payoff can be really handy, especially if you’ve already started different bullet journals! I really like the ideas they have over at Funding Cloud Nine (image below) for tracking. They have both charts and tables for different ideas.
Spreadsheets can be so powerful in managing your finances! And if you’re already managing your family budget using a spreadsheet, if might feel natural to use it for tracking your debts too.
Here’s a good debt tracking spreadsheet that comes in multiple formats. It’s a plug-and-go type spreadsheet, so all you have to do is enter what debts you have and go!
Reward along the way
The reward system is a fun way to track your debt payoff. The idea is that, once X amount of dollars (or X debt, whichever fits you best) is paid off, you will get a reward.
It could be going out to a restaurant, going to the movies, or even a weekend getaway. It’s super important to save up for this ahead of time.
Be sure to set these rewards up ahead of time too. It gives you something to look forward to ahead of time.
Using a debt payoff tracker to keep yourself motivated
The main focus behind using a debt payoff tracker is to keep you and your family laser-focused and excited to get your debt paid off as quickly as possible.
During the process, you might find that one way isn’t working for you. And it’s completely fine to switch it up while you’re still paying off your debt!
We did the same thing: I created this complicated spreadsheet with some homemade formulas to track our debt payoff. While it worked for a little while, it didn’t keep us excited.
That’s when we switched to the chart and it saved us!
All this to say, give yourself some grace during this period. Paying off debt can be a long and arduous process, and it can be really tough to keep up your stamina. If you need to switch things up to keep your momentum, then that’s what you have to do.
And it could also work out that one method of keeping up the excitement works for you, but not your partner. In that case, it’s totally fine to have different methods for each of you!
Just be sure that, if it involves spending money (like the reward system), that you’re both on the same page. Like I mentioned: that needs to be saved up for along the way. Be sure to talk through it.
Related reading: 9 Tips to Staying Patient While Paying Off Debt
And those are some debt tracker methods that could help you on your debt payoff journey!
Are you in the process of paying off your debt now? What have you used to track your debt payoff?
If you aren’t quite ready to pay off debt yet, is there anything you can think of that would be sure to keep you motivated while you do it?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments!