Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself Along Your Debt Payoff Journey

Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself

Being human in the modern world involves making some tough decisions. Everyday in life we have to do things that we wouldn’t normally choose to do in our jobs, at our homes, in our relationships, and in other areas of our lives. Let’s face it, if we were given the choice between cleaning the bathroom or watching a favorite movie, most of us would choose the favorite movie.

Who but a select few among us would choose to fill out their tax forms instead of going to a barbecue with friends? Likewise, when it comes to our finances, we often find that the things we should do are not the same as the things we’d like to do (all else being equal). If long-term consequences could be ignored, most of us would rather not spend all of our extra cash towards paying off debts and instead would prefer to spend it pursuing our own whims and dreams.

However, if we were to make our choices based off of pleasure alone, then chores like cleaning the bathroom or completing our taxes on time would go by the wayside. The reality is that we do live in a world with long-term consequences. Which means that only choosing to do the things that we find pleasurable can actually get us into trouble.

With that said, shouldn’t it be true that we can find a good balance and give ourselves pleasurable rewards during our debt payoff journey?

Why yes. Yes, it is. Below, I’ll outline some ways to make the journey a little less painful.

The Psychology of Rewards

Have you ever heard of Operant Conditioning? This is a phrase coined by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner to describe a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through positive and negative reinforcement, a person learns that there are consequences to their behaviors. Positive reinforcement increases a certain behavior, and negative reinforcement decreases a certain behavior.

Why not use some psychology on yourself? The type of financial restraint needed during debt payoff mode is not as hard to achieve if you know you have a reward coming down the pipeline to positively reinforce your good behavior.

Rewards Along Our Own $59,000 Debt Payoff Journey

You may have read my own $59,000 debt payoff story on this blog. What I did not include in that initial story were the little splurges that my husband and I allowed ourselves to take in order to maintain our motivation. We sat down and had a fun discussion about how we would reward ourselves along the way.

Since we were packing all of our breakfasts, lunches, and making each of our dinners at home, any time we were able to eat out it was a huge treat for us. In order to maximize the money that we could put towards the actual debt payoff as well as our other goals (down payment on a home and paying cash for our wedding/honeymoon), we chose to reward ourselves beginning on the cheaper side and ending with a moderately expensive restaurant once all of our debts were paid off.

For example, after paying off the first of our debts, we grabbed two turkey barbecue sandwiches from our favorite barbecue restaurant for under $15. Later, to celebrate our third and final debt payment, we decided to splurge on a nice, moderately-priced restaurant to savor what we had accomplished.

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Leaving Yourself a Trail of Cookie Crumbs

Rewarding yourself at various checkpoints along your debt payoff journey can really help you to stay motivated. Before deciding on what the reward will be, you need to decide when you will reward yourself.

Measurable wins (deserving of a reward) might include reaching a certain amount of debt that was paid off (for example, the $5,000 mark, then the $10,000 mark, and so on), or perhaps after a certain time period of living within your budget (the one-month mark, then the six-month mark, etc.).

From our own example, we had three debts to pay off (a student loan, a car loan, and an engagement ring), and decided to treat ourselves after the successful final payment for each of these loans. This little trail of cookie crumbs is a small price to pay to keep you motivated towards reaching your next milestone. Fortunately for all of us, using this psychological trick does not even need to cost much.

Frugal Rewards that Will Not Break Your Bank

While finding a reward to motivate you is based entirely on personal taste, I would like to share some ideas to get you in the mindset that a reward or splurge does not need to cost a lot of money.

  • Dessert Out: If you are like Paul and I, then you probably do not get to eat out much now that you are on a strict debt payoff diet. While you may not wish to splurge on an entire dinner or lunch at a favorite restaurant, why not splurge on a really nice dessert? This means that you will still get to go out, but for under $10.
  • A Signature Drink: Is there a particular signature drink that you have been craving? Personally, I love a green tea frappuccino (with whipped cream, of course). It’s something that I do not drink often, but when I do, it feels like such a treat.
  • A Personal Day: Do you have a vacation day that is calling your name? Why not use it and just relax all day long? If you do not have an entire day, taking a half day on a Friday is always very nice as well.

Have you ever used this psychological trick to get you motivated? What sort of rewards or splurges did you grant yourself?

Image credit: StarsApart

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  • Prudence Debtfree

    Good idea, Amanda. The odd treat keeps people from burning out on the road to debt-freedom. The trick is to keep it scheduled as you suggest – to celebrate specific milestones.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      I agree! Thanks for the comment, Prudence.

  • April

    I love the idea of a personal day! I was trying to think of free ways to reward yourself – spending money to congratulate yourself on not spending money doesn’t make sense to me, in the same way that a big dessert/pig out doesn’t make sense as a reward for losing weight. A personal day is a great one.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      You make a great point, April. It’s definitely better to find a reward that doesn’t require spending money.

      • April

        I’m going to do it! I’ve asked my boss for a “tentative” annual leave day in November and explained the reasoning. She loved it too.

        • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

          Great! Congratulations!