Whether you’re grappling with six-figure student loan debt or a few thousand in credit card debt, paying it off can be an all-consuming task. Think about it – every time you fork over money for coffee or send in a bill payment, you likely have some thought of the heavy financial burden you are carrying.
For some, reaching a zeroed out balance becomes the goal to trump all other goals. Sometimes that process can take years.
So what happens when you finally reach that point, when all that hard work and diligence reaches the crescendo? That exhale is often followed by a particularly tough question to answer…what do I do now?
When you’re laser focused on one point in the future, reaching the finish line creates an entirely new set of challenges — like setting new goals and jumpstarting your motivation in order to keep moving forward.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to reach your debt-free goal.
The moment may not feel as sweet as you expected.
Most of us spend a great deal of brain power thinking about and anticipating future events – especially when there’s a goal attached that we put a great deal of effort into achieving. Sometimes our imagination far supersedes what the reality is, and reaching the finish line just doesn’t feel like we thought it would.
That’s okay, normal even. The greatest rewards are in the journey itself, all of the struggles you muscled through, the lifestyle changes you made, and the habits you broke.
Don’t place so much emphasis on that zero balance, but instead on how your improved financial health will have a positive impact on every area of your life moving forward.
You may have to make some adjustments to your lifestyle…again.
If your world was centered around paying off debt, you’ll soon be faced with the task of looking at the things you sacrificed and how – or if – you want to incorporate them back into your life.
This can be a daunting task, but it’s also empowering. There aren’t many points in our life in which we have a clean slate and the ability to look at what we want to add in order to enhance what we find meaningful. Usually we’re forced to look at what we should take away in order to create a life more reflective of who we are.
Be prepared to answer this: what do you want your life to look like without the handcuffs of debt?
You will have to be deliberate in your acknowledgement of your achievements.
Once you’ve paid off your last debt, it will feel novel for a short amount of time. Maybe you’ll recognize it for a few months when you no longer have to send in a payment.
Then it will become your new normal.
This is where the problem resides with the, I’ll-just-wait-for-this-to-happen-and-then-I’ll-be-happy mindset. That one highly anticipated mile marker will soon just feel commonplace.
Now and in the future, when your achievement doesn’t feel so shiny and new, you’ll have to take the time to reflect on how far you’ve really come. This will pay dividends when it comes to continuing your forward progress financially and in every other area of your life.
Debt doesn’t naturally stay away forever.
Ask anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight or stopped a two-pack-a-day cigarette addiction and they will likely tell you that kicking a bad habit at one point doesn’t mean it sticks. Sometimes debt goes away, only to come back a short while later.
If you made drastic changes to your spending, you may be reeling from debt fatigue and a desire to go back to a less regimented plan for your money. Whatever it may be, staying in the black means continuing to be deliberate with your money and routinely doing check-ups to make sure you’re on a sustainable path.
You may not need to be managing your money in exactly the same way you were when you were dealing with debt, but staying intentional will ensure you aren’t combating another debt dragon down the road.
This wasn’t the end, it just opened up an entirely new set of doors.
You may be ready to breathe a sigh of relief, but the beauty of the official debt-free moment is not that you reached a point of relaxation; instead, it’s about all the doors you opened for yourself as a result of committing to the journey.
Instead of taking today’s dollars and pouring them into yesterday’s commitments, you will be able to decide exactly how you want your future to look. You’ve essentially afforded yourself the luxury of looking towards tomorrow with a positive, the-sky’s-the-limit outlook.
How amazing is that?