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Episode 249 - The Debt-Busting Game Plan You Never Knew You Needed

Do you like to compete? Do you like to play games? If so, you likely have a competitive spirit that could be harnessed to help you achieve financial freedom. Whether you enjoy board games, video games, or watching sports, there's a way to use that competitive edge to get out of debt.  


Embrace Your Competitive Spirit: 

There are countless ways to be competitive, from playing physical sports like basketball to participating in fantasy leagues. Similarly, you can use competition to motivate yourself to pay off debt. In this blog post, I'll share how my wife and I gamified our debt reduction plan and paid off nearly $100,000 in debt.  

Breaking Down Debt into Manageable Goals: 

A common saying is that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. This metaphor applies perfectly to debt reduction. When looking at our debt of over $90,000, my wife and I could have easily felt overwhelmed. Instead, we focused on finding one extra dollar, then two, and progressively more. This incremental approach made the large total seem manageable.  

Turning Dollars into Points: 

To make our debt reduction more engaging, I turned it into a game where each dollar paid off was worth one point. The goal was to accumulate 90,000 points to win. Just like in sports, where different actions yield different points (field goals, touchdowns, etc.), we found multiple ways to gather points: saving an extra dollar here and there, and sometimes even more significant amounts like $10 or $20.  

Strategizing Like a Game: 

Every game has a strategy, both offensive and defensive. In financial terms, this means using a combination of income generation and expense reduction. A budget is your game plan, while a debt snowball serves as your offensive strategy. By sticking to a budget, you can prevent unnecessary spending, much like a good defense keeps the opponent from scoring.  

Offensive Strategies: 

- Debt Snowball: Pay off smaller debts first to build momentum.  

- Income Generation: Look for opportunities to earn extra money, such as side jobs or selling unwanted items.  

Defensive Strategies: 

- Budgeting: Plan your spending and stick to it. 

- Cash Envelopes: Use cash for specific budget categories to control spending.  

- Menu Planning: Create a grocery list and avoid impulse buys.  

Gamification in Action: 

For example, instead of focusing on my entire $90,000 debt, I aimed to find an extra $100 at a time and repeated this 900 times. Breaking it down into smaller chunks made the task less daunting. Each time I found extra funds, whether by cutting expenses or earning more, I celebrated adding more points to my game.  

Visualization Tools: 

Consider creating a visual representation of your debt reduction goal. One effective method is using a jigsaw puzzle. Have a custom puzzle made with a picture symbolizing a financial goal, then assign a dollar value to each piece. As you pay off debt, assemble the puzzle piece by piece, visually tracking your progress and involving family and friends in the process.  

Every Dollar Counts: 

Apply opportunity cost to every spending decision. Instead of buying new shoes, think of the dollars as points you could add to your game. This perspective helps prioritize debt reduction over unnecessary spending.  


Remember, getting out of debt is entirely achievable. It's challenging, but the satisfaction of overcoming a tough financial game is immense. Celebrate each small win, whether it's finding an extra $10 or resisting a purchase, and watch as these points accumulate to conquer your debt.  

Call to Action: 

If you decide to gamify your debt reduction, I’d love to hear about your strategies. Share your experiences in the comments below. Let's support and learn from each other on this journey to financial freedom. You can get out of debt. It's hard work, but winning makes it all worthwhile.  

The more challenging the game, the more memorable the victory. Make debt reduction a game you won't forget and win your way to financial freedom. 

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Episode Transcript: 


Do you like to compete? Do you like to play games? Well, my guess is that all of you have some level of a competitive spirit, some perhaps more than others, whether it's active, as in playing a board game or cards, or perhaps something a little more physical, like playing basketball, or even something virtual, as in a video game. Or maybe you're just a hands-off You're just a fan of your favorite college or professional team, or maybe you participate in fantasy sports. Perhaps your goal is to be the best in your class and school. See, there's all kinds of ways to be competitive and in this episode, I want to share with you a way to use that competitive spirit to help you get out of debt. This is the Debt-Free Dad podcast, where we help normal, everyday people like you take control of your finances so you can live a happier, less stressful life. My name is Chris Hawkins and I will be your host for today's episode. From 2005 to 2008, my wife and I we paid off just under $100,000 in debt and have been debt-free except for our house now for over 15 years. So, speaking of paying off debt and becoming debt-free, many of you listening to this podcast have probably totaled up your debt. You maybe have even done a debt snowball and you're looking at the number and you're thinking to yourself I will never pay off my debt. The reason is the number. It just looks so big. There's an old saying that you don't eat an elephant one bite at a time, and that phrase it's more metaphorical. And the point is is that you chip away at big things a little at a time. So think about a sculpture. A sculpture isn't created in just a few days. It takes months, maybe years, and even sometimes decades to chip off enough to call something a sculpture. So for my wife and I, we needed to pay off a little over $90,000 in debt. We needed to pay off a little over $90,000 in debt and I too immediately thought man, that is a big number and there was no way we were going to pay that off. But rather than give up, I chose to gamify my debt reduction plan. You see, for me it wasn't about $90,000. It became how can I find one extra dollar, or maybe two, or, better yet, three, or, even better, 10 or $20. You see, for me I realized that $90,000 was a big number, but $1, well, that's fairly easy. So I realized that all I had to do is keep finding an extra dollar, and eventually my debt would be gone. And so I created a game. Each dollar in this game was worth one point and all I had to do was to accumulate 90,000 points to win the game.


So, just like in sports, there are multiple ways to get points. So think about the game of football. Well, if you get a safety, if you tackle the other team in their end zone, you get two points. You kick a field goal, you get three points. You score a touchdown Well, you get two points. You kick a field goal, you get three points. You score a touchdown well, you get six points. And then, if you add on the extra point by kicking it through the uprights, one point, but you can also go for two. So there's a different way to get two points. So in football, you obviously want to score more points than the other team, but here's the thing you don't score all of them at once, at least most of the time. You get a field goal here, a touchdown there, add in some extra points and by the end of the game you've hopefully got the number of points it takes to win.


So for me, I broke the game down into smaller chunks, recognizing, I didn't have to come up with $90,000 all at once, and so I want you to do the same. So let's suppose, for an example, that you have $70,000 to pay off in debt. Well, don't think I've got to come up with $70,000. To pay off in debt Well, don't think I've got to come up with $70,000. That's too daunting. Instead, I want you to say I need to come up with $10. That's it, and I need to find 7,000 ways to do that. I know what you're saying, chris. 7,000 ways, yeah, that's a lot. So let's think about it this way. What's another way to come up with $70,000? Find $100 and then do that 700 times. Now you go. Well, that's still two big numbers, or at least 700 is a big number. Okay, $500, 350 times. Or $1,000, 70 times Okay, you see, mentally, when you think smaller, it seems doable, and I bet all of you can find an extra $100 if you had to.


So let's think about a game again for a minute. Every time you play a game, you need a strategy called a game plan, and that game plan, it has some offensive strategies, it has some defensive strategies, and to score more points than your opponent, you need to score points but also keep them from scoring points. My father-in-law he he was Scottish, meaning he was born and raised in Scotland, and if you know anything about Scottish people, they are very thrifty and he used to say all the time he'd say it to me, he'd say it to my wife, our kids, all of his grandkids that it's easier to spend a dollar than to make a dollar. Think about that for a second. It's easier to spend a dollar than to make a dollar. So, in essence, anything that you can do to not spend a dollar is much better than finding a way to earn a dollar. So in sports, you don't have to score a lot of points all the time if you can keep your opponent from scoring.


So let's apply that to debt reduction. Finding a way to not spend money is much better than trying to find additional income. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do both. So a budget may be your game plan and a debt snowball well, that's an offensive strategy and sticking to your budget keeps you on offense. Developing a menu before you go to the grocery store and sticking to it. A menu before you go to the grocery store and sticking to it well, that might just keep you from spending all of your grocery money this month. Well, that's a defensive strategy. Using cash envelopes, that's another defensive strategy. So the idea is, the better that you plan defense, the more money that you have left over to apply to your debt snowball.


So back to your story, or back to my story, I should say I decided to gamify my debt reduction by competing with myself how much money can I hold on to this month so I can pay off debt? This month, so I can pay off debt, how can I come up with an extra $10 here, $20 there and $50 over there? Each of these dollars, remember, they're points, and all I needed was a little over 90,000 points. And so the more that I did this guess what the better I got at it, and soon. Well the points, they were coming much faster. Eventually it became $100 here, $200 there, and boy do the points start to add up quickly.


So back to our example. For you Break it down so the numbers seem doable. So, for example, 100 and 700, those aren't overly big numbers. So say to yourself all I have to do is pay off an extra $100. That's it. Then I just have to do it 699 more times.


So the focus is on finding that extra $100. And that's when things get. They're hard but fun, and every spending decision now has an opportunity cost. Ooh, opportunity cost. Well, that's a fancy way of saying what else can I do with my money? So, for example, instead of buying those shoes, I can buy points. Instead of eating out, I can buy points. Instead of a vacation, I can do a staycation and buy points. I can take my lunch to work and buy points.


I think you see a theme here. You know I can combine my driving trips and drive a little slower, maybe to use less gas, and buy points. You know you can sell some things that you don't need anymore and you got it Buy points. You can cut your own hair to buy points. If the boss is offering overtime this week, that's a chance to buy points. That money that you received for your birthday, yep, that's a chance to buy points. Every decision becomes an opportunity to buy points. Now, everything on that list was things that I did. So that was me, plus a whole lot more. Now, it did require some sacrifice, but I quickly realized that it was only going to be temporary, only going to be temporary. So here's a tip for you Maybe you're more visual Find a picture or take one of something that represents something that you want to do when you get out of debt.


Use one of the online jigsaw puzzle companies who will print you a custom jigsaw puzzle. All you have to do is upload the image to them and have them create the puzzle and send it to you. Now you got to pay a little bit of money for it. Then I want you to assign a dollar value to each puzzle piece. So, for example, you've got $70,000 in debt. Order a 1,000-piece puzzle and make each puzzle piece worth $70.


And every time your debt goes down by $70, whether it's because you found extra money or you earned some extra money, or you just happen to be working your debt snowball every time your debt goes down by $70, put one piece of the puzzle together. Talk about a great way to visually see your goal coming together, to see your goal coming into fruition and knowing that the more of the puzzle that you see, the more debt you've paid off. And once you have the puzzle put together, the closer you are to then being able to do or buy what is shown in the puzzle. Plus, here's the cool thing it gets everyone involved. Everyone wants to see what they can do to help put one more piece of the puzzle together.


So don't think of your debt as a big number. That's the point I'm trying to get you to understand. Think of it as a series of smaller numbers, perhaps. Think like I did Each dollar is worth a point, and how quickly can I find extra points to help win the game? Use tools like budgets and debt snowballs and menus and cash envelopes all those things to help you score points and create some type of scoreboard beyond your debt snowball, so that you can see yourself winning.


And I personally think that a puzzle is a good way to create a scoreboard. It's a visual way to see your success. So if you like what you hear and decide to gamify your debt reduction, I'd love to hear your strategy. Put that in the comments below, and if you've done something similar in the past, I'll put it in the comments as well, so other people can learn from it. Let me leave you with this. You can get out of debt. It's not nearly as impossible as it seems. It's hard Absolutely is, but you know winning is more enjoyable the more difficult the game. You know it's those difficult wins that you remember the most, and getting out of debt is certainly a moment that you won't forget.