When it comes to paying off debt — whether it’s from student loans or credit cards or what have you — having an accountability partner is key. Just like a gym buddy, having someone to help keep you in check can not only benefit you, but them, too. For instance, if you’re tempted to binge-shop one week, but you know the money would be better spent going toward your student loans, your accountability partner can help you stay on target. Or maybe it’s a smaller purchase, like your daily morning coffee stop at Starbucks. Instead of a $4-5 Americano each day, you can turn that coffee money into student loan debt money — and your student loan buddy can help.
Of course, before finding such a person or friend to help you stay on track with your student loan debt, you first need to openly talk about your debt with them and break the barrier of stigma you may have since it’s not always easy admitting you have debt — and how much.
“It can be really difficult to stay motivated when we are the only person we are accountable to,” Maggie Germano, founder of Maggie Germano Financial Coaching, tells Pillar. “When no one else is invested or watching, it’s easy to let things slide.” But she says that finding an accountability partner puts that accountability outside of ourselves and makes it so that someone else will know if we aren’t working towards our goals — and that can be very motivating.
Mark Kenison, CFP®, enrolled agent and owner of Momentum Tax & Accounting, agrees. “Having an accountability partner is a great way to make sure you stay focused on your goals, because sharing your goals with someone makes you more likely to remember them and work on them every day — just like going to the gym or working out,” he tells Pillar. “If you’re doing it by yourself, it’s pretty easy to think of an excuse not to go. But if you have a buddy that you work out with, you feel more obligated to go because you don’t want to let them down.” So, finding a “get out of debt buddy” will help you in the same way, he says. “You’ll both feel obligated to help each other pay off your student loans, and you’ll feel like you’re letting your buddy down if you don’t stay committed to paying off your own debt,” he adds.
Here are finance experts’ top tips of how to hold each other accountable when it comes to student loan debt — and any debt really.
1. Understand Your Own Needs And Communicate Them With Your Buddy
Germano says the first step in accountability is understanding your own needs and communicating them with your buddy — and also making sure they communicate the same with you. “It’s so important to understand how your accountability partner is best motivated,” she says. “Some people need tough love, yet others need to feel completely supported and loved while they are working towards a goal.” This way, she says, you’re both able to give each other the support and encouragement that is needed and that will actually provide motivation, rather than discouragement and resentment.
2. Find Someone Supportive, But Someone Who Isn’t Personally Invested In The Outcome
When you’re looking for an accountability partner, Germano suggests finding someone who wants you to succeed in paying off your debt, but won’t be personally affected by the outcome. “This allows that person to be a great accountability partner because they can be supportive, but you won’t necessarily feel too pressured or judged by them,” she says.
Silvia Manent, CFA, CFP®, and founder and managing partner of Manent Capital, agrees. “An accountability partner is crucial to your success,” she tells Pillar. “You want to make sure that your accountability partner is someone who is a goal-getter and someone who wants you to succeed.” You also want to make sure that your partner who is available for you and will make sure you stick to your goals even when times get hard, she says.
3. Set Check In Times And Dates With One Another
Germano says that when it comes to committing to paying off your debt, a key component is keeping to your word. “You should set check-in days and times so that there is a consistency around the communication you set up with your accountability buddy,” she says.
Similarly, Manent suggests holding bi-weekly or monthly “Tea & Dessert Money Dates” where each of you go through your student loan wins — and the things that you need to improve upon. “The goal is to give yourself a reward and make it fun,” she says. “You can also go to a gym class or cook together — and talk about your wins — but make sure to pencil it in on the calendar.”
Kenison, too, says that consistent check-ins are important. “Having regular accountability sessions will keep you on track,” he says. “Schedule a regular call or meeting with your buddy to talk about how things are going where you can share what’s working and what’s not working for both of you.” He says hearing that your buddy is facing the same challenges that you are will encourage you to stay strong and to pass up that purchase you wanted to make but don’t really need.
4. Make Accountability Goals And “Rules” To Help You Along The Way
Kenison recommends setting up some ways to help you and your accountability partner stay on top of your debt. “Maybe you could agree to talk to each other about any purchase you’re thinking of making that is over a certain dollar amount before you do it,” he says. “You could also message each other every time you pay down a certain amount of debt, say each $1000.”
He says that setting some goals, then rewarding yourselves along the way, can keep you motivated. “Maybe each time you reduce your debt by $5000, you two do something fun together — just not too expensive,” he says. “Remember that being debt-free is the new BMW or Mercedes. I always tell my clients to put their money into things that go up in value, not things that decrease in value.” So, paying down your debt is basically making you more money, he adds. “The less debt you have, the less interest you’re paying someone else — and that’s putting more money in your own pocket.”