Having a hard time paying off debt? Try a Money Board!!

Here’s a new idea for you today if you’re having a dickens of a time paying off debt…

It was dropped on our post the other day on those money notebooks, and as soon as I saw it I immediately had fingasms… (That’s right – I said fingasms!!)

For budgeting, I’ve used excel and now YNAB. Pretty boring stuff. But the real magic is in my money board, where I track the current goal of paying something off. $1 usually represents $1k. Each time $1,000 is paid off, a dollar moves from the left side of the board to the right. When the debt is cleared, the money moves back to the left and a new goal is set.

I’ve paid off tens of thousands of dollars this way. The last $27 is on the left because I am paying off my house and will be completely debt free next year!

I asked if it was a *physical* board or some other sort as I’d love to see a picture of it!, and I was pleasantly pleased with the answer:

Yes, the money board is a bulletin board that hangs on the wall in the office. It’s about 18”x22”. I’ll email you a picture. It’s pretty plain looking… it’s literally money on a bulletin board! :-)

My husband and I have paid off approximately $249k in debt over the past 13 years using it. Most of that has been mortgage debt… but that’s still a lot of money! I’ve never added it up before!

$249,000!!!! In 13 years!!!! By using a simple money board!!!

Next email:

Here is a picture of the money board. Pretty fancy, huh? It originally started as a ‘dream board’. Remember when The Secret was something everyone was talking about?

My husband and I put pictures of beaches and mountains on the board because we wanted to take trips. However, we were also trying to pay down debt and I couldn’t get myself to save for a trip while we had other priorities. So the board became meaningless with all those pretty pictures.

Since our real goal was to have our debts cleared and more financial flexibility, I took down the pictures and put up dollar bills. The rest is history!

And she wasn’t lying when she said it was simple, haha…. Here’s the full pic of this bad boy so you know exactly what we’re talking about ;)

money board

(Da Vinci was right – simplicity really is the ultimate sophistication!)

She was then kind enough to share even MORE of her backstory and the events leading up to this board if I wanted to hear it, and while I probably should have just thanked her for her time and not been such a glutton, I couldn’t resist ;)

So here’s how this board came to be, as well as directions on how to start your own if you’re so moved to do so…

And I’d strongly consider it! It’s been working miracles for her!



– My husband and I married after graduating college about 14 years ago, with student loans. We bought a town home about 1 year of being married. We financed the entire purchase (who needs a down payment when there’s 100% financing available?!?!?!) SMH. We also financed vehicles right after college – nothing fancy, but my car died right after college and my husband’s was on his last leg. Overall we were living ‘normally’.

– I’ve always enjoyed saving money and it bothered me immensely that we had so much debt. I wanted us to have more flexibility with our income. Since raises came (maybe) once a year and they weren’t all that big, the best way for us to have more money was to pay off the debt.

– When I realized I’d never go on a nice vacation (neatly captured on my ‘dream board’ mentioned earlier) until we paid off most of the debt, I took the fun pictures off the dream board and put up $$$ to represent the debt we were currently paying off. That was about 12 years ago. The money board has been hanging in the office ever since.

“Moving a Dollar” is a real thing in my house! (My husband laughs at me, but he’s smart enough to realize I’m driving this financial bus to somewhere AMAZING and he’s along for the ride!)

Debt Paid So Far (mine and my husband’s debt)

  • Student Loans = $48,452
  • 3 Vehicles = $30,152
  • Braces = $5,400
  • Mortgages = $165,656

We currently have about $27k left on the house and then we’re debt free. (Don’t worry, we’ve been investing as well. I know this whole pay off a house vs. invest can be a touchy subject.) It’s been a long journey, but it’s been worth it!

How to Make Your Own Money Board:

  1. Choose a debt to pay off.
  2. Money on the left represents the debt owed. Each dollar represents an amount of debt (I typically had $1 represent $100 or $1,000 of debt).
  3. As the debt is paid, move it to the right.
  4. Realize you are changing your life one dollar at a time and feel a massive amount of personal satisfaction. You did it!

If I could say something to those that are paying off debt…. Keep it up! There were MANY weeks when I had $30 left in the checking account after paying a little extra on a loan. It sucked. It was tight for a long time, but then things got better. Something was paid off and that gave me more freedom. Then a raise came. Then I picked up a second job. More debt was gone. Then another raise. Then more money was added to the savings account for an emergency fund.

It takes time, but it’s worth it! If $50 is what you can afford to save or invest, then start there! Just start. Then do it again. Again. And again. And again. Give your future self the freedom you want today!



“Give your future self the freedom you want today!”

So good and so true…

Money board or not, you gotta keep testing things out until you find something that clicks… And Kelly here is proof that it doesn’t have to be all that complicated!

Thank you, Kelly!!


UPDATE from Kelly on 3/30/2020 :)

“Hey J.!!! Look at this beauty! In the midst of this crazy COVID world, my husband and I paid off the mortgage! Since having a nice dinner out wasn’t an option, we settled for a nice bottle of scotch and whiskey in OUR HOME!”

And then she attached a pic ;)

money board update

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  1. Gene Roberts September 25, 2019 at 6:26 AM

    The money-board idea is cool. It is another good option for graphically representing debt and repayment.

    Now if you really want to “Budgets are Sexy” it up, make it a dart-board. Different sections represent different debts/amounts to pay off. Each dollar gets you a dart to throw (until you hit a debt). Landing a dart in a section means that amount goes toward that section’s debt.

    Your husband might still laugh at you, but NOT when you are holding the darts! :)

    1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 7:20 AM

      This is why we’re friends, haha…

      Too funny.

  2. LeeAnne September 25, 2019 at 7:57 AM

    Very cool idea and tool. I’m thinking it could also work for kids saving for a certain goal – the dollar could represent $10 in savings. Thinking this could be a fun tool for tracking/building the vacation fund (short term goal). I have an aggressive goal in mind to pay off my mortgage in the next 6 years (about 19 years early) – this would be a fun way too see the mortgage amount decrease over time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 11:41 AM

      DOOO ITT!!!

      19 Years is Sexy .com!!

  3. Financially Fit Mom September 25, 2019 at 8:43 AM

    This is awesome! Dare I say it could even work in reverse. If your FI goal is $1MM, you could hang that up as your “debt” side and as you save money, you could move it over for the visual representation of hitting your savings goal. I also like that it’s a visual representation not only for you, but the entire house. My husband and kids want to barf when I try to show them my spreadsheet and graphs. If I started something like this, you know eventually they are going to ask what the hell I am doing. :) Great idea Kelly!

    1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 11:42 AM

      YES!!! Hahaha… who hates looking at money???!

      (I once had the idea of wallpapering my room with $1.00 bills where $1.00 would = $1,000 and when the room was done being plastered it meant I had a million dollars net worth :) I kept moving every year so I didn’t want to go through the hassle, haha, but now seeing where we are we’d have a completed room now!! Would be so cool to see!!)

  4. Becky September 25, 2019 at 9:29 AM

    Way to go Kelly! I think we might be soul sisters!

  5. Dani September 25, 2019 at 9:50 AM

    Thank you for making this post, you guys! I was intrigued when it was mentioned the other day, and it really is a simple as all that. Appreciate the back story, and definitely going to try something with this–but as others have mentioned, as a savings goal instead of debt paydown goal. We’re on target to pay our house off by the time we retire (10-11 years or so), but we have to be putting more into retirement in order to do it on that timeline. Somehow, paying things down is easier–the goal is to pay down and the target is easier to track, I guess? Anyway, saving the same amount is harder than paying off something, so I’m hoping this will be a visual tool that will help us meet that goal! Thank you!

    1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 11:49 AM

      Haha yup! Saving is def. harder!!

      I wrote a post about it a few years back and always think about this…


      Here were my quick thoughts on it if you don’t want to read the whole article:


      Personally, I fall in the “saving is harder” camp. Mainly because the end goals always seem so arbitrary and flexible, while with the debt there’s a solid – “this is exactly how much you have to pay off” – type mission to it all. Once you pay it off, it’s gone. With saving, you can always have/want more, right?

      Saving also doesn’t seem as catastrophic to your finances as lugging around debt does, even though it’s pretty damn important. And factually speaking, debt almost always costs you more money in the long run – easily seen by just comparing your bank’s interest rate vs your credit card’s, ugh. So for this reason alone, paying off debt always carries more of a rush factor than saving up cash does.

      And then of course there’s the emotional toll of them both. You’d think the more pleasurable route would beat out the one that pisses you off, but studies show time and again how much more we react to fear and disgust than we do more positive feelings. So as much as we love having extra cash in our accounts, most of us would rather nix the debt once and for all and then focus on the niceties!

      1. CJ September 25, 2019 at 12:16 PM

        And that would be why I have always made “savings” a bill that is taken out of our bank account on the same dates of the month, every two weeks,….. must be paid to myself.

        This has worked for the last twenty years.

        1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 12:24 PM

          Very smart!!! Cuts out all emotions from it right there on the spot ;)

          1. CJ September 25, 2019 at 12:29 PM

            We had saved up money for a new to us car, but when we purchased it, they had a interest rate of .98% for two years, we then kept our money and did the financing over two years, had Hugh payments, but we were amazed that we could pay the payments because we had to….and then also kept our car money in the bank….win, win !!!

            1. CJ September 25, 2019 at 12:35 PM

              That is less then 1% percent a year….hope that was clear.

              1. J. Money September 26, 2019 at 6:00 AM

                Yup – clear AND awesome! ;) I tend to do the same with these things – hold onto the cash and pay things off over time if the interest isn’t bad… A nice feeling knowing you can pay it all off at any time!

  6. Mr. P2F September 25, 2019 at 10:44 AM

    Neat idea! Proves there’s lots of unique ways to motivate yourself towards financial freedom!

  7. Abigail @ipickuppennies September 25, 2019 at 11:29 AM

    Definitely an innovative idea!

    I personally just like watching my mortgage (my only current debt) go down each month by checking the balance. It doesn’t move $1,000 at a time very often, so I wouldn’t get the satisfaction each month if I did a money board. Instead I just like to watch the number drop each month by several hundred bucks. To each their own, I guess.

    1. J. Money September 25, 2019 at 11:50 AM

      You can make every $1.00 = $100 so it gives you something fun to do ;)

  8. Hailey September 26, 2019 at 8:25 AM

    Totally love this idea! I just became debt free last week ($75k baby!!!) so I think I will use the money board idea for building up my emergency fund

    Also… “My husband laughs at me, but he’s smart enough to realize I’m driving this financial bus to somewhere AMAZING and he’s along for the ride!” I totally relate to that statement!!

    1. J. Money September 27, 2019 at 2:53 PM

      $75k – amazing!!!! Well done!!! :)

  9. Kelly September 27, 2019 at 7:43 AM

    Woo hoo for being debt free, Hailey!! That’s awesome! Congratulations! I probably should have written something different than ‘laughs at me’. It more of a ‘chuckle at how excited I get to move a dollar’.

    I take it you’re the financial leader in your relationship?

  10. Tonya September 27, 2019 at 7:43 PM

    Haha! I can also relate to Kelly and the other commenters who said “My husband laughs at me, but he’s smart enough to realize I’m driving this financial bus to somewhere AMAZING and he’s along for the ride!” I guess women really are better drivers. ;)