How I Ditched My Debt for Good

If you’re in debt, you may have experienced this before: the moment when you get yourself together and finally sit down to tackle your debt you’re thinking, “Yes, this is it, I got this!” But then it happens–you’re suddenly surrounded by screaming ugly balances and you’ve just plugged your numbers into an online calculator that says you’ll be debt free in 2075. Panic. At this point you may find yourself covered in hives and/or bolting for the door to shop or looking for the closest glass of vino. Been there.

A few years ago, I sat down to tackle my debt and I literally broke out into a rash. It wasn’t pretty. But I did eventually push past that moment and, together with help of four girlfriends, finally became debt free and got my financial life together. That group of girlfriends and I coined ourselves the Smart Cookies and we even earned a spot on Oprah’s stage to share our story.

Today, I’m debt free and have spent the last seven years co-writing two books, producing and co-hosting a TV show and running, but I think about that moment a lot. Over the years I’ve noticed something about that moment that sets the people who are successful at paying down their debt apart from those who start, but can never seem to follow through. It’s something we did as Smart Cookies when we sat down together for the very first time and it’s something I’ve watched thousands of Smart Cookies do since.

Those who are most successful at paying down their debt don’t look at the numbers first, as in how much they have to pay down, or the number of months it will take them to be debt free. Instead, they think about how they’ll feel when their debt is paid off. They know that feeling so well they can almost taste it. It’s what they focus on to keep them moving forward, and what keeps them motivated to take those little steps that inch them closer and closer to being debt free.

Anybody can do it. Here’s how it works. Get a piece of paper in front of you, and a pen in your hand. Now close your eyes and think about this: Your moment is here, your debt balance is … a big fat zero.

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Now, open your eyes and write whatever comes to your mind when you think about how you feel at that moment. Here are some of the best examples I’ve seen from our Smart Cookies: I am debt free and I feel complete, at peace and enthusiastic all at the same time. I feel like I’m on fire, like I can do anything!

I am debt free and I have that same sense of excitement I used to get on the night before Christmas when I was a kid, because I can now take that dream trip with my family – guilt free!

Don’t just write out your feeling on a piece of paper and shove it away. Keep reminders of your core feeling everywhere; make it part of your daily existence. Some Smart Cookies have set up email reminders with their debt-free statement emailed to themselves, others have created Pinterest boards with images that remind them of the feeling and of the experiences they’ll be able to have once their debt is paid off.

Of course, there is no question that paying off debt requires organization, discipline and eventually, yes, you do have to look at the numbers. But those who are the most focused and successful at paying down their debt don’t focus on how they’re going to do it, they focus on why they’re doing it. While this doesn’t make the process easy, for many it’s the one thing that helps them push through the most challenging moments or, in my experience, calm the hives.

Sandra Hanna is the CEO of Smart Cookies, which provides daily tips, products and inspiration to live a sweet life, debt free. Learn more here.