Paying off debt in the new year is a common resolution. But resolving to do something and actually doing it are two different things.
Taking a smart approach to building good habits, however, can help you master your debt in the coming year.
Jon Bailey, professor emeritus in the psychology department at Florida State University, suggests applying some principles of behavioral psychology to help you create sustainable habits.
“Our general approach is really from the angle of self-management,” Bailey says. “You have to know yourself and your environment so you can put some things in place … (to) make the behavior, in this case paying off debt, more likely to occur.”
With this in mind, here are tactics to help you follow through on your debt resolution:
1. Know what you owe
Create an inventory of your debts, including their totals and interest rates. Add them up to see exactly how much you have to pay down.
Defining your goal can help you focus your payoff journey and see what being debt-free would look like, says Weslia Echols, an accredited financial counselor in Michigan. “Seeing that picture clearly and knowing the value of not having that debt can motivate you to stay the course.”
2. Break it down into smaller tasks
Focus on the day-to-day steps needed to achieve your goal.
►Figure out how much you can put toward your debt each month.
►Choose how you’ll approach paying off debt. Consider using the debt snowball method, in which you pay off smaller debts first to secure early victories that will keep you motivated.
►Trim expenses to find more money for debt paydown.
When making budget cuts, Bailey sees moderation as key to success. “If you go out to eat four nights a week, see what you’d save by only going out three nights a week. The extreme — cutting out going out entirely — isn’t going to last.”
3. Keep yourself accountable
Track your progress and create a backstop to help you stay focused, such as updating a friend about your progress each month. Think about using an app to help you cement your new habits.
Consider imposing a penalty if you don’t stay on track. For example, make a deal with your accountability partner that if you skip a payment, you’ll have to clean their apartment.
4. Treat yourself
Build in rewards as you make progress. Each $100 you pay off, for example, give yourself some small treat to celebrate. This can keep you encouraged and on track toward paying off your debt in the new year.
Sean Pyles is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org