The Absolute Guaranteed Way You'll Want to Pay Off Your Debt

If you want to reach a money goal faster, plan how you'll celebrate once you get there. Success is gonna be sweet. By Melody Warnick, REDBOOK.

Life would be a terrible long slog if you didn't celebrate the milestones: graduations, anniversaries, retirement, even TGIF. So why don't we whoop it up when we achieve our money goals? Planning for a "Hooray, I did it!" moment can actually motivate you to keep saving or paying off your debt, and propel you over your next money hurdle. "The part of our brain that makes daily decisions is like a 6-year-old-it loves treats," explains Ted Klontz, Ph.D., a behavioral consultant in Nashville. "That's what we're honoring when we give ourselves these little rewards, like throwing a party when you make progress on your debt." These three women say their celebrations were the light at the end of the tunnel that kept them going. Read, plan, then load up on the confetti-you'll need it sooner than you think.

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WOO-HOO MOMENT: Making the last college tuition payment for their daughters
CELEBRATION: Throwing a "tuition-free" party for their friends


To put two daughters through 20 years of private school, from kindergarten to college, Marcia Niedringhaus and her husband, Duke, of Creve Coeur, MO, took a pass on a lot of stuff their friends were doing. There was no kitchen remodel, no fancy new car. It was all worth it, Marcia says, "but you get tired of writing those checks. A few years ago we started saying, 'When we're done paying for all their school, we really ought to have a party.'" When the big day finally arrived, they invited their closest friends over and, as everyone watched, did a New Year's Eve-style countdown before hitting "submit" on the final $22,000 electronic payment for their youngest's college tuition. "Everyone did a shot of tequila and cheered," Marcia says. Afterward, the group piled into the biggest, gaudiest limo they could rent, hit a dive bar, and stayed out dancing till 2:30 a.m. The evening was such a hit that the next day, one of their best friends, whose kids are in grade school, sent out a "save the date" for her tuition-free party… in 2024.

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WOO-HOO MOMENT: Paying off a mortgage
CELEBRATION: A Jamaican vacation


Less than halfway through the 25-year mortgage on her Toronto condo, Shondell Varcianna got serious about axing it entirely-at first, just because being debt-free seemed like a smart goal. But then, she says, "it got to be something bigger. I wanted to have that money from the payment for myself. I kept thinking, What could I do with $1,618 extra a month?" With $80,691 to go, she meticulously tracked every penny she spent and cut way back on expenses with changes like brown-bagging lunches and skipping new clothes. To stay motivated, Shondell devised mini-celebrations for every $25,000 she paid off, like going for dinner with friends-a wise strategy, says financial adviser Harriet J. Brackey. "When New Year's comes along, it's kind of a joke how long those resolutions last. Incremental rewards prevent that kind of burnout." Meanwhile, Shondell focused on a mega-reward for making the final mortgage payment: a trip with her boyfriend (now husband), Clive, to Jamaica. She strategically scheduled it so that the last payment came out of her bank account while they were there, in December 2011. Watching divers hit the waters of the Caribbean from a cliff-side restaurant made all the scrimping worth it. "You definitely have to be looking forward to something," says Shondell, who blogs at callmewhatyouwantevencheap.com. "It's not just about working and sacrificing. You have to play."

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WOO-HOO MOMENT: Paying off $35,000 in debt
CELEBRATION: Screaming on the Dave Ramsey show

In the beginning of their marriage, Ashley Swierczek and her husband, Adam, wobbled perpetually on the brink of financial disaster, thanks to $35,000 of debt. "Then one day in the car, I stumbled on financial guru Dave Ramsey's radio show and listened as caller after caller explained how they got out of the red, then screamed, 'We're debt-free!' They sounded so emotional," remembers Ashley, who lives in Columbus, NE. Inspired, the couple wrote their debts on a whiteboard in their kitchen and committed to knocking them out one by one. To make it happen, they beefed up their construction and photography businesses and scrapped extra spending, even opting out of the extended-family Christmas gift exchange. ("We felt a little guilty, but everyone knew how important getting out of debt was to us," she says.) The couple tuned in to Ramsey's radio show every week to stay inspired, and after just 10 months, they were ready: At the appointed time, they set up a video camera and recorded themselves calling in to Dave to holler, "We're debt-free!" Ashley broke down and cried. "It was that moment of, 'We survived. We did something extraordinary.'" Now she watches their video regularly to stay on track-they're saving for a trip to Belize with their two kids-and tears up every time. Ramsey says that emotion is part of the experience: "For most people, getting rid of debt is about deep sacrifice." But, he adds, you can celebrate however feels right to you, whether it's cutting up your credit card or burning your last bills. "Whatever keeps you motivated and helps celebrate a huge victory works."

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