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Playing Debt Games

June 11, 2014

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Today, Debt Debs and I are swapping blogs! I’m posting about Debt and the Single Girl over at her blog and she is here to tell you about the debt games she’s invented to keep herself motivated while paying off debt.

Do you play beat the GPS when you are driving on a long journey?


Image Courtesy of digitalart at Free Digital


Anyone out there know what I’m talking about?  You know, when you program in your destination and it gives you an estimated time of arrival and you try to beat that time.  Ya, it’s a fun game for me, but maybe I’m weird like that.  I don’t condone reckless speeding or anything like that, it’s just a mind game I play to combat boredom on what can be a long and seemingly endless journey.

What does that remind you of?

Debt repayment.

Debt Fatigue Defined

It can get tiring, and tedious and boring and no fun anymore.  My favorite personal finance expert, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, recommends that your debt repayment timeline last no more than three years, otherwise you suffer from debt fatigue.

But what if you’ve cut back your expenses, brought in additional income and still can’t make the numbers work?  You run the risk of suffering from debt fatigue big time.

What to Do About Debt Fatigue

Now you can always do something drastic, like sell your home, take in a roommate – all the big, big lifestyle change options to get your debt repayment less than three years.

Or you can try what I do.  Melanie from Dear Debt wrote on VOSA recently 5 Things That Will Help You Recover From Debt Burnout.  In here she talks about playing debt games which reminded me about the ones I play.

I recently had to tap into my Emergency Fund, which I hate to do, but in this case it couldn’t be helped.  Now I have the challenge of not only building it back up to where it was (and beyond!), but also continue with my debt repayment goals.  Quite a challenge, even for a self-proclaimed debt wrangler like me!

So what am I going to do?

  • I’m going to continue to manage expenses and look for savings opportunities
  • I’m going to hope and pray and encourage my husband that he make more than the minimum income that I’ve budgeted on (his income is variable)
  • I’m going to apply those savings/earnings to my debt / e-fund appropriately
  • If all else fails, I will look for other opportunities to increase my income on  short to medium term basis
  • I’m going to play games with my savings/debt goals to increase my motivation and make this journey more fun!

Debt Repayment Games


Image Courtesy of jscreationzs at Free Digital

For example, my e-fund is sitting at $7,800 and it was at $10,000 before.  I need to get it back up there as a first step of my goal.  For the second step I want to get it to $15,000, because I’ve decided I need more to be less anxious about our finances due to hubster’s variable income.  I also have a big property tax payment that will be coming out of there next month, bring the balance even lower to just over $5K.

Okay, before you chastise me for using my e-fund for regular expenses, I know you are completely right.  So, a bit of background, normally I put $450 in my e-fund every month, so that it will bring my fund even higher and allow me to pay my property taxes from it.  I just haven’t gotten around to researching other separate account options to keep this money separate.  So for now, it’s one big pool that I manage.

Ahem, so back to my dilemma.  I’ve got to increase my e-fund but continue to pay off debt.  I have some debt that will be completely paid by August, which will free up that money to apply to my e-fund.  Some quick calculations make me think I should be able to meet my $10K e-fund goal by October and my $15K e-fund goal by December.  However, this assumes that hubster’s income continues to meet minimum or more, we have no unexpected surprise expenses yada yada yada.

But wait, where are these games you’re talking about, Debt Debs?

Debt Repayment Game 1:


Image Courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at Free Digital

Well, as I said based on quick calculations, the above is a reasonable goal, but not quite sure if it’s totally achievable.  In addition, I do not want to sacrifice my other debt repayment goals which need to be going on simultaneously.

For those debt repayment goals, I track the number of months left on each debt and I have a forecast for where I think I will be each month.

So here’s where the game comes in.  I’m getting there, honest!  I took a quick glance at my other three debts and each are expected to be down to the following amortization periods by October and December (I picked these dates as they are the target dates that I want my e-fund to be $10K and then $15K).

I know these look like astronomical amortization periods, but the two debts on the right hand side are smallish, and I’m only currently making minimum payments on them, so when I can reallocate funds to them, they will go down much quicker.

So my game is:

  1. Can I meet my goal of getting to $10K e-fund in October and $15K e-fund in December without upsetting these debt targets shown above?
  2. Secondly, my stretch game goal is, can I reach my e-fund goals and exceed these figures above?

Does it sound like I’m a glutton for punishment?  Maybe.  But that’s how I roll.

Debt Repayment Game 2:


Image Courtesy of suphakit73 at Free Digital

Here’s one more.

My car debt is currently $9,933.40 (ya, just kicked below 5 figures on Friday.  YAY!)  It should be fully paid by July 12, 2016.  My mini mortgage above is $13,308.49 and it’s due for rate renewal June 2015, so I want to have it fully paid by then.  It will come down as fast as any additional income / lower expenses I can throw at it.

So the question is: When will my mini mortgage meet and become lower than my car debt?

Since I need to fund my e-fund first from Sep – Dec, I don’t think I can throw a lot of money at this Mini mortgage until Jan 2015.  So my quick estimate is that:

  1. It will be down to my car debt or less 5 May 2015
  2. My stretch game goal is to have it equal to or less by 21 Apr 2015.

Why Debt Repayment Games Motivate


Image Courtesy of jesadaphorn at Free Digital

There are so many factors that I can’t entirely control: husband’s income, stretch expense containment goals, things breaking or not breaking.   This is why I like to make it a game, instead of a goal.  If I make it a goal and I don’t meet it, I feel like I’ve failed.  If I make it a game, and I meet it, I feel like I’ve won!  If I don’t meet it, it’s okay, it’s just a game.  Better luck next time!

So this is how I like to play games with my personal finance plans to keep my motivation high and avoid suffering from debt fatigue.

So what do you do?  Do you think I’m nuts?  Lay it on me.  I’ve got my big girl panties on.

Debs is a fifty-something wife, mother and new grandmother, who admits to having their “head in the sand” about their financial situation until amassing $247,500 worth of consumer debt. They’ve paid $68K in 2 years with four more years to go. Join her journey as she writes at sharing ideas and motivation to all those coping with poor money management and bad debt decisions. 

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33 responses to “Playing Debt Games

  1. I used to love running numbers through amortization calculators to see when it would be paid off. That’s entertainment to me. Now that we’re debt-free aside from our home, I still run the numbers on our house from time to time. I think it’s fun!

    1. I’m kinda nerdy like that too Holly! I love to run my numbers and see if I’m making progress ahead of where I first calculated my debt free date to be or if I’m falling behind. Unfortunately lately I’ve been falling behind 🙁 Lots of car expenses lately…

  2. I love the GPS game, so your debt games sound great to me! I’m also working on substantial debt repayment, so anything that keeps me motivated helps. For now, starting a blog and publicly sharing my debt totals and repayment progress (and sometimes, not!) keeps me honest and motivated.

    1. Amy,

      That is exactly why I first started my blog. It sure helps me stop and think, “Do I really NEED this and what will my readers think if I buy it?”

    2. Agreed, Amy. We have to trick ourselves into making debt repayment fun. Otherwise we just focus on the negative and have a ‘woe is me’ attitude. Try it! You’ll like it! 😉

  3. I totally play the GPS game every time we visit my parents, but it’s always spot on! I also have my emergency fund all kind of lumped together right now. Opening up one bank account was enough of a hassle. This makes me sound unmotivated, but right now I simply don’t have the income to throw anything extra at my loans, so I’m just taking it easy right now. Eventually when my income stabilizes, I would love to race my boyfriend to see which one of us pays off our student loans first.

    1. Having a race with your BF is a great idea! Ahh the benefits of having a SO 🙂 Though, I do love being single!

    2. Okay, so I’m not weird playing the GPS game. I feel much better. Do you ever play the “cops are chasing me so I need to get out of their sight” while on cruise control? Oh that is my fun long distance driving game too. Especially on hilly, twisty roads, but it has to be a non-busy highway. If you see a car in your rear view mirror a distance behind you, you pretend he’s a cop. At this point you don’t know if he’s going faster than you, slower or the same speed. Basically you are trying to out distance him, without adjusting your cruise control. As you turn corners and go up and down hills, you never know if he is not yet out of your site. He could still be gaining on you. Basically you want to lose him without cheating. Sheesh, it’s a wonder I get anywhere safely with all these road games I play! So now you can understand why I like debt or even savings/investment games so much too!! 😀

      1. You crack me up Debs =). I get too paranoid about cops, especially if we’re driving at night, so I always tell my boyfriend to slow down if we see a car that looks like a cop car behind us. Thankfully, the speed limit on most of the roads we are on is around 60-65mph (96kph) which is just fine for us. Also thankfully most of the roads are super rural so I don’t even know if they have cops patrolling the highway! We never see anyone.

        1. I only like cops chasing me in my games. In real life I freeze. Or I’d like to think I freeze. what if I end up speeding up and trying to outrun them like I do (partially) in my games? Fantasy versus reality – eek! 😮

  4. Its not just you – I play the GPS game also! haha – but this is a great idea to keep me motivated to payoff my debt. I am always trying to update my spreadsheet and give a timeframe when it will be paid off comfortably… and then try to beat that date.

    I’ll be following your journey – hopefully we both can finish before that time =)

    1. Glad you find games helpful. I’ve been “playing” them too, just hadn’t thought of them as games until Debs mentioned it! 🙂

    1. Ha! You too Brian! I don’t believe it! Well actually, I do but I’m still also surprised so many play this game.

      To answer your question. We have 6 mos of living expenses (6 x $5K) in Emergency funds spread across two different funds. Our efund is to cover loss of employment. I have sick leave and disability insurance through work, and if I was laid off, I would get a severance, but my husband is self-employed with no sick leave. If he were to become ill, this is part of our backup plan. I know many financial experts recommend this and sometimes people think it is too much, but in our case it makes sense due to the self employment. Part is in a Tax Free Savings Account and is invested in Equity mutual funds and accessible within days (about $25K).

      The rest is in a power savings account which only pays interest if we keep a balance over $5K. So knowing that $5K cash is part of our E-fund and due to the interest factor, I never want to touch it.

      I keep another $5K above this for our property taxes which are due in two installments, one in March and one in June. So that’s why I was trying to keep my cash Efund at $10K. I usually try to move $450 per month also in this account to replenish the property taxes for the next years payment. Some months are more difficult than others and it sometimes does not happen. In addition, my property taxes are about $5800, so I really should be moving more like $483 per month into that account.

      Are you still with me? We don’t really have a planned spending fund either. So my thought process is: if I can’t replenish my property tax amount monthly, but I have a Cash efund at $15K then I’ve still got money to pay my property taxes when due, no sweat. Plus, if I am able to accrue more in the Cash efund such that I have too much, I can sweep some out for a lump sum payment on a mortgage or planned spending if we choose. It puts me more in control and not feeling stressed about falling short. It’s always better to be ahead and do better than planned, rather than barely make the plan, from a psychological perspective, I feel. Like a meet or beat budget is what I’m aiming for with this strategy. Does that make sense? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions for me? Keep ’em coming, Brian. I like to look from different perspectives. BTW, I used to think more like you’re thinking but one bad quarter changed my mind and look at me – I had to start blogging to deal with the stress! ha ha Thx for the great comment and question! 😀

      1. Wow! That was almost a full post! 🙂 Having self employment and property tax in the mix makes sense to beef up the e-fund. I just following the line of thinking when looking at my budget that when you are and do too many things at once you usually fail. We have keep a lean $1k e-fund, after going for years with no saving and it has cover all Murphy visits for us. That’s what I was suggesting for you,but didn’t have all of the details. Good luck!

        1. Wow, that’s great, Brian, that you’ve been able to manage with just a $1K emergency fund!
          Is loss of employment not a concern for you? Do you figure severance or medical insurance will cover you for that? Sometimes I think I may be too conservative, but with the roller coaster Q1 we had, I don’t want to be back in that situation anymore. It wasn’t good for me. 😉

  5. I’ve got loads of debt apps. I love putting in different amounts to see when I’ll be debt free. I too love the gps game, I play it all the time. It’s bad though because I think I’m driving a little too fast.

    1. What all apps do you use? That could be an excellent post for your blog, comparing how they work, what you like/don’t like about each of them and what date they give (if the date is the same accross all aps or different on each). I’d love to read something like that!

    2. Oh wow, another GPSer! We should start a club! But with true beat the GPS, you’re not supposed to cheat so you follow the normalish speed limit or use cruise control. We also used to play with the kids, guess what time we will arrive home, or guess what time so-and-so will get here. It was all just for bragging rights but funny how we actually still play those stupid games with them now if we ever drive with any of them for a long car trip which doesn’t happen too much anymore. Have fun with your debt calcutors, Nikki! #nerd #like-me

  6. I don’t think you’re nuts, I think you’re very smart! When I was paying down student debt I made a timeline of how long it “should” take me to pay off my loans if I paid the minimum payment. I then made graphs with different overpayment rates (ex. if I paid $100 extra a month, $250 extra, $500 extra etc.). I then challenged myself to pay as fast as possible and paid off as much as humanly possible every month.

    1. That’s a great idea KK! Glad to know there are lots of people out there with different, though similar, methods of challenging themselves. It’s also nice to know I’m not the only one who calculates and recalculates and rerecalculates my debt free date based on different repayment options.

    2. It’s nice to have plans and stretch plans and lots of options, isn’t it? Then you get to do lots of hurrahs and high fives as you meet or beat each one!

      Thanks for reading and inspiring, KK! I’m so sorry about your kitty, Patrick. 🙁

  7. Great Read
    I’ve spent the last 2 years of my life building the app “My Mountain of Debt.” A cross between debt reduction and video games. There are no controllers in this game, all actions and animations are driven by how much debt you pay off each month. Its a fun way to visually see you mountain off debt crumbling down with each payment.
    I was struggling with debt and craved a way to make paying it off fun. The only fun
    I got from lowering my debt was to see a little dot on my line graph move up (towards the 0 debt mark). I wanted more so I thought, what if an animated story unfolded every time I made a payment. This thought changed my life. Building this app has been an truly amazing experience. Would love to hear what others think of it? Simply google “My Mountain of Debt” to learn more. Look for the red ant wearing a yellow hard hat. 🙂

  8. I’m always running numbers for investments vs paying off the house, etc. I think only in the personal finance community is this viewed as cool and not completely nerdy. It is kind of nerdy, but it’s amazing how much adding a bit here and there does add up. If only I could do everything at once……

    1. I wish we could do everything at once, but right now there’s just not enough $$ to go around for that to work. I’m trying to save AND pay off debt at the same time and it is slow going somtimes, which is frustrating. But, progress , even small progress, is still progress! Keep it up and you’ll get there.

    2. I agree, Kim. Probably only in the PF community is this not seen as nerdy. In fact, I used the excuse that I did enough excel with my job to justify why I didn’t want to track my spending, track against a budget and be accountable for my spending habits. If that’s not being a nerd, then I wish I became a nerd a long time ago! Once you are in control it actually becomes a bit fun. When you are out of control, you just want to through up and avoid, avoid avoid!

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