How to Manage Debt Fatigue

Tired woman at her job

While being laser-focused on paying off your debt is no-doubt admirable, it can create negative consequences. For one, you might feel the onset of debt fatigue. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, deprived, angry, or mentally and emotionally exhausted, you might be experiencing what’s known as debt fatigue.

Here’s how to know if you’ve been hit with debt fatigue, and what you can do to manage it:

Why Debt Fatigue Happens

If you’re carrying a large debt load, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps despite your efforts at paying off that mountain of debt, you might feel like you’re barely chipping away at it. Or it could be that taking on extra side hustles after your 9 to 5, plus trying to pinch pennies, could have you feeling deprived. In turn, this fatigue could take an emotional or mental form: you could be feeling drained, or spiraling into anxiety, depression, or bouts of despair. Or, you might feel physically exhausted.

Because it could take years to pay off your debt, and the journey can be long, hard, and met with challenges, you could end up feeling exhausted. It’s perfectly normal, and if you think you’re starting to feel the effects of debt fatigue, the good news is that there’s plenty that you can do to help relieve those negative feelings. Here are some of the best ways to combat the ill effects of debt fatigue.

Enjoy Small Splurges

Depriving yourself when you’re paying off debt can take its toll. You can only eat ramen and entertain yourself at home for so long before you feel as if you’re living a joyless existence.

Make sure you enjoy a little splurge from time to time. You can even set up a reward system of sorts: For every checkpoint you pass on your debt payoff, allow yourself to spend a small amount of money on something just for you, such as a massage or dinner at your favorite restaurant.

Create a Debt Progress Chart

A fun, motivating way to track your debt payoff is to create a debt progress chart. Clever ways of creating a debt repayment chart include drawing a series of squares. Each square represents say, $100 or $500. For every $100 you pay off, fill in a square. Other ideas include drawing clusters of spirals, or creating a Pac-Man-esque game.

For maximum motivation, create a reward for every mini-milestone you hit. For instance, it took Steven Donovan, founder of Even Steven Money, years to pay off his six-figure debt. To track his progress, he made a debt thermometer. To feel the taste of victory, he celebrated with a craft beer with every crucial milestone.

Get Smarter About Side Hustling

Adding side gigs on top of your full-time job can help speed up the debt repayment process. If you’re interested in increasing your income, you might want to consider dabbling with a side hustle that doesn’t require a lot of money or equipment to start, or finding a side gig that serves as a welcome respite from the tedium of your day job. The problem with working multiple jobs, however, is that it can be time-consuming and tiring.

One way to get smarter about working extra gigs is to stack your side hustles. In other words, try to switch between two gigs, or do two gigs pseudo-simultaneously so you can maximize your earnings and reduce the amount of time you spend in work hours. You can do this by toggling between two side hustles that require the same equipment (i.e., food delivery and ride share driver), or try to pair a side hustle that requires you to be on-site with one you can perform virtually.

Make the Most of Gift Cards

Derive some pleasure from gift cards and other types of “found cash.” Found cash can emerge in the form of cash back or gift cards from credit card reward points or shopping apps, or spare change discovered in the seat of your car and in between your couch cushions.

While you’re determined to pay off your debt as soon as possible, don’t forget to enjoy life, too. Redeem some reward points on your credit cards for gift cards to restaurants or retailers to enjoy a night out.

Share Your Debt Woes

Debt fatigue could in part stem from feelings of shame. So let it out into the world. You might also try talking to a trusted friend, suggests Donovan. “Having an accountability partner is key in your debt story,” says Donovan. “Find someone who is there to listen, and not there to judge.” If you’re nervous about being judged, try blogging anonymously about it, or start a journal. “Writing all your successes and failures can serve as your friend or mentor.”

Revisit Your Debt Repayment Plan

If you’re constantly feeling drained, stretched thin, and exhausted from your debt payments, it might be time to reassess your payment plan. There may be better options available if you don't have enough left over every month to support a healthy lifestyle.

One option is working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency such as Money Management International (MMI) to come up with a debt management plan, which could not only lower monthly payments, but lower interest rates and end calls from debt collectors. Plus, instead of paying a bunch of different creditors, you make a single payment, which is then dispersed to each company.

“While paying off debt can seem like it’s going to take forever, remember that debt usually doesn’t happen overnight,” reminds Donovan. “Neither is paying it off.” So be kind to yourself. The day when you’re debt-free will certainly arrive.

Tagged in Debt strategies, Psychology and money, Self care

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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