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If you have a lot of debt — or any debt at all — it can be hard to stay motivated to keep cutting costs, putting savings away, and making payments. What can you do to make it mentally easier and keep your momentum? One way is to visualize your debt and actually look at the progress you’ve made.
Here are some ideas for turning your invisible, imperceptible debt into something concrete.
Note: Some of these tools will show you how much debt you have left, some will show you your progress, and others will show you how much you can save. Use the option that’s most motivating for you, or find a way to combine a few of them into a custom debt-payoff motivator!
Debt Manager (iOS, $0.99)
This app is all about getting your debt paid off, and it provides you with the tools you need to set up a solid payment plan, including a great visualizer.
Once you get your debts loaded into the app (it doesn’t pull them from banks automatically like some other apps do), you can view the balance of your loans over time, compare the snowball method with a standard payoff plan, and look at the amount of interest that you’ll pay over the life of your loans.
(If you don’t know about the snowball method, check out “How to Get Rich: The Fastest Way Out of Debt.” Even if you do know what it is, read it anyway. It’s a really great article.)
It requires some work to get it set up, especially if you have a lot of different accounts, but it’s one of the best ways to actually see your debt.
We’ve mentioned ReadyForZero before, as it’s a great way to look at the progress you’ve made on your debts as well as see how the snowball method can help you move toward being debt-free. The mobile app isn’t great for visualizing your debt, but the desktop and Web apps show you a handy chart of where you are in the payoff process.
The progress graph is useful for seeing when each of your debts will be paid off. ReadyForZero also automatically tracks your balances and payments, so you always have an up-to-date view of your debt.
Debt Graph (Free)
A lot of the debt-graphing solutions out there are focused on the snowball method, and this one is no exception. It’s a simple online tool where you enter each of your debts, including the amount, monthly payment, and APR.
The tool then spits out a graph that shows you how much time and money you can save by using the snowball method (the avalanche method is also available on the site). It’s simple, easy, and if you print it out, will make a great motivator!
This is probably the simplest and most obvious method: keep a financial spreadsheet going, and use Excel to make a graph out of your remaining debt.
In the image below, I created a spreadsheet specifically for this purpose, but there are plenty of Excel budget templates you can use that could include debt.
I found that this graph was best when I adjusted the scale on the vertical axis (it starts at $150,000 and goes up to $250,000, and I used around $200,000 of debt in the data). Having the scale too large makes it really hard to see your progress, which defeats the purpose of this whole exercise!
You can also use Excel to create a debt thermometer chart, which you can update regularly or print out and fill in with a marker. I’ve made a very simple one here:
Just make sure that you calculate a percentage of debt paid off and use that for your bar, and adjust the vertical scale so it goes from 0 to 100. Delete the horizontal lines, add a circle to the bottom of your graph, and you have your own personal debt thermometer!
(We have a more detailed tutorial on how to create a thermometer chart as well.)
Mine isn’t the prettiest, but it should give you an idea of where to start, and you can check out the video above to see how someone else made a thermometer graph with Excel. If you have any tips on making a better one, share them in the comments below.
We’ve talked a lot about Mint before, but we usually focus on budgeting and expense tracking. It also has a built-in tool to visualize your debt. In the Trends tab, just hit Debt in the left sidebar and make sure Over Time is selected. You’ll see a simple bar graph of your debts, and you can use the drop-down menu at the top to adjust the timescale.
While this graph isn’t particularly exciting or revealing, it’s easy to access and will show you the progress you’ve made. And the best part is that you won’t have to do anything at all if you’re already using Mint; your accounts have already been added!
Other Creative Ideas
The above ideas are some of the easiest ways to get a visual representation of your debt, but a number of people have used some other fun methods to make the payoff process feel more manageable.
For example, Amy Jones at MapYourProgress.com used a large coloring page to track her debt — the page included a number of swirls, and each swirl represented $100. Every time Jones paid $100 toward her $26,000 in debt, she’d color in one swirl.
If you like this idea, you can download some coloring pages from www.coloring-pages-adults.com or order some prints of the swirls above from MapYourProgress so you can use the same strategy as Jones. (If you want more options for coloring pages, check out our list of the best places for adult coloring pages.)
Other people have come up with similarly creative ideas, like creating a paper chain and removing a loop each time they pay off a certain amount, making a thermometer graph on a chalkboard, working through a rubber band ball, and keeping track of debt amounts on a wall in the house.
You could get even more creative and find a way to rig up this Arduino liquid life bar to track your debt progress:
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!
How Do You Visualize Your Debt?
The visualization methods listed above are just a small subset of what’s possible, and everyone will have their own preferences — we’re not all motivated by the same thing. So spend some time thinking about what motivates you, pick a strategy, and go with it!
How do you visualize your debt? What else do you do to stay motivated when you’re paying down credit cards, mortgages, or student loans? Share your best tips below!