I shared my goal to be proactive in repaying my student loans this year. I forgot that I wouldn’t get my full school stipend in January, so I paid $350 instead of the planned $460. Then that ugly interest monster stepped in and ate the payment like a midnight snack. I began to feel the same defeat from the last time I put a lump sum on my loans. Seeing the exact amount of your payment jump back onto the total balance is always a heartbreaker.

If I’m being honest with myself, the original goal I set was lofty. My income has been inconsistent since separating from the Navy. Although I get a monthly allowance from school, that amount is prorated for when classes are physically in session. Since the semester ended mid-December and started back mid-January, I received less than half of the allowance because of winter break. That boils down to just enough money for living expenses, and not much left for anything else.

I also realized that I’m not immune to the psychological effects of paying off debt. Based on interest rate and balance, it makes financial sense to pay off the one that’s more than 16k. In reality, throwing a few hundred dollars at it is like pouring a bottle of water on a house fire. The only way I will see a major difference is if I pay at least $1000 towards it every month. That just isn’t possible at the moment.

The mind trick I’ve had to implement instead is paying at least $100 a month on my smallest loan. This one is $1500 with a 6% interest rate. I would save more interest by putting money towards the largest, but seeing my payments make an impact in a shorter amount of time is a big motivator.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s common to set goals that look good on paper, but are difficult to execute. It can hinder you in many ways, financial or otherwise. How many times have you told yourself that you would start working out 5 days a week, or read 3 books every month? The idea of doing these things makes you feel warm and tingly at first. When you try to squeeze them into the busy schedule that most of us have, the warm and tingly feeling quickly turns to dread. You become overwhelmed by the realization that you’re not a superhuman, until you give up altogether.

Life can make you feel that if you aren’t crushing massive goals every second, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. I’ve been drawn to stories of those who paid off $50k of student debt in less than two years. These stories are the ones you see the most because of their extreme nature. They will make you believe the whole world has the secret to paying off thousands of dollars in debt under two years, while you’re the only bum too lazy to figure it out.

Here’s a secret: you’re not lazy, you’re not a bum, and there is no magical formula to pay off loans. There’s also no magical formula to getting a hot summer body, or to read the self-development books you’ve been meaning to get to. You work with what you have and keep moving forward.

Small wins are worth celebrating, just like big wins. Once you learn to embrace that, you’ll begin to see how much progress you really are making.

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