So you want to get out of debt, but don’t quite know where to start? First of all, congratulations! You’re embarking on a life-changing journey to gain financial independence, and you won’t regret it! Throughout this journey, always remember your motivation to get out of debt, whatever it was for you. Maybe your motivation is to start saving for a new car or a fun vacation. Perhaps your motivation is to never have to hear from a debt collector ever again! No matter what your motivation to get out of debt is, let that idea be what drives you through this whole process!
Getting out of debt and STAYING out of debt is all about YOU: your behavior, your actions, and your discipline. Think about the behaviors that got you into debt in the first place. Things like not really paying attention to your spending, racking up interest on your credit cards, and not having any savings to bail you out of an emergency might have contributed… sound familiar? If so, you are most definitely not alone. Tons of people have consistently made those little mistakes that landed them in debt, but you don’t have to stay there. You can overthrow the evil dictatorship of debt, and be free to spend YOUR money YOUR way!
Being debt free is an incredible feeling. Knowing that your money is YOURS and not already committed to a credit card or some other sort of payment is amazing. Being debt free gives you flexibility to look at all of your options and decide how YOU want to spend your money. If you’ve made the decision to get yourself out of debt, you’re going to need to make some changes to your spending behavior. After all, that’s what got you into debt in the first place, right? Changing your behavior will not be easy, but it is absolutely, 100% possible.
We’re going to go over 6 steps for you to take charge of your money and alter your spending behavior. These steps will get you on the road to becoming debt free. Think of this process like a game board (trying to make this fun…) and you should progress to the next step after you finish the previous step.
STEP 1 – STOP ACCRUING DEBT
Stop using your credit cards. It’s that simple.
You can’t get out of a hole if you keep digging, and you’ll never get out of debt if you keep building up more of it. Start using a debit card where the money comes straight from your checking account. This will get you thinking about how much money you actually have to spend instead of building up debt. Take the credit cards out of your wallet if you have to, but STOP DIGGING the hole of debt around yourself.
STEP 2 – START A BUDGET TO TRACK YOUR SPENDING
The next thing you’ll want to do is start using a budget. The budget can be electronic or a hard copy, whatever floats your boat, but making a budget will hold you accountable for your spending. Accountability is CRUCIAL to your success. In order to pay off your debt, you’re going to need to cut back spending in certain areas of your life to create “extra” money that you can use to pay the debts down. Here are a few links to downloadable budget forms:
These sites offer budget forms online and on a mobile app, but you’ll need to create an account first.
Check out a few different ones to see what you like, but pick one and run with it. You’ll need the budget to determine what areas you can afford to cut back on. (PS: This is where your discipline and determination are going to come in clutch.) Plug in all your non-negotiable expenses like rent, car insurance, food, and then whatever money you have leftover can go towards saving and paying off your debts! In order to increase the money you have left over, find things that you currently spend money on that you could realistically do without. To clarify, rent and car insurance are NOT areas we would recommend cutting back on!
Instead, take a look at daily coffee stops on the way to work, weekly bar crawls, or monthly spa treatments. You’ll be surprised how quickly those can add up. Let’s say your daily coffee is $5. If you cut that out, you can save $25 in one week and $100 in one month! Remember the more things that you can find the discipline to cut back on, the faster you will reach your goal of being debt free!
STEP 3 – SAVE $1,000 IN AN EMERGENCY FUND
Save, save, save as fast you can. You can’t catch me, I’m gonna be debt free! Your next step is to save up $1,000 in an Emergency Fund as fast as you can. With an emergency fund, you will have the ability to pay for any unexpected expense IN CASH. Say what?! You’ll be surprised at how powerful you feel when the bill for having your brake pads replaced or your insurance deductible for a totaled car or bout of pneumonia comes along and you can straight up write a check for it. Mic drop.
You’ll want to keep the emergency fund in a separate checking account, far, far away from your regular checking account. You don’t want this money to be easily accessible, because you don’t want the temptation to dip into that to cover “just this one thing” or a “quick little weekend getaway”. That’s not what it’s for, so step back and keep away from that account until you have a legit emergency! You’ll also want to replenish the emergency fund immediately after using it, so you always have a full $1,000 available for the next emergency. It’s not negative, it’s called being prepared!
STEP 4 – ATTACK YOUR DEBT
Your next step is to attack your existing debts. That’s right, attack. Pat Benatar may have sung about how “love is a battlefield”, but debt is too, so suit up!
This step will help you knock out your debts one by one, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the bulk of them and give up. Here’s what you do: list out all of your debts, starting with the smallest total balance going down to the largest. If you have two or more debts with a similar balance, then list the one with the highest interest rate first. Here’s an example list:
- Credit Card 1 Balance – $500
- Credit Card 2 Balance – $650
- Credit Card 3 Balance – $995
- Car Loan – $6,225
That’s right, you can pay off your car, too. Don’t panic; stay with us.
Now that you have your list, start by paying minimum payments on debts 2-4. Then, take the rest of your extra money (your budget will tell you what is extra) and use it to attack Debt #1. By making big payments on a small balance, you’ll pay it off quickly, giving yourself “a win” that will propel you forward to your next debt! Once you’ve paid off Debt #1, take all the money you were paying toward that debt and roll that over onto Debt #2.
This step will take the longest to complete, depending upon how much debt you have to pay off. However, you’ll see quick results by starting with the smallest balance, and that will give you the confidence to keep going!
STEP 5 – SAVE 6 MONTHS OF LIVING EXPENSES
Your next step is to add 6 months’ worth of living expenses to your emergency fund. Once you have paid off all of your debts, you want to make sure that you don’t ever have to go into debt again. You may not be able to plan for everything, but your money is one of the few things that you really can have absolute control over. When you’re in control, very few things in life will take you by surprise.
Your goal with this step is to save up enough money that if you were to suddenly have no income, you could survive up to 6 months without missing payments on anything or going into more debt. Before you say, “that won’t happen to me, I can skip this step,” think about this: what happens if you lose your job? What happens if you fall off your bike while documenting your ride on Instagram and you break something important and now you can’t go to work? Will you be able to pay your bills? This step helps you create a safety net for when life unexpectedly knocks you off the tightrope.
#ProTip: Think of all of the bills that you pay each month and the money you spend on food, gas, home supplies, and whatever else you have budgeted to make sure that you truly cover a full 6 months’ worth of expenses. Your budget will help you determine the full costs of one month!
STEP 6 – KEEP SAVING!
Now that you have no credit card debt AND you have 6 months of living expenses saved away, don’t stop now! Unless you want to work every single day for the rest of your life, retirement is inevitable and retirement is going to cost money. If you want to have kids, they are going to cost money. Maybe they’ll want to go to college. Maybe you want to replace your car or maybe you want to finally own your own home!
There are many different options for you to continue your savings journey, including retirement and college specific accounts. Your HR department can help you learn more about the options available for retirement savings at your workplace. Your company may offer a 401K for retirement savings, and if they offer a company match, you definitely should look into it. (Ahem. A company match is where your company will match a percentage of what you put into the account. For example, if your company matches 3% for every 6% you put in, it’s like getting an extra 3% toward your retirement FOR FREE!) There are also some pretty powerful tax advantages to certain types of retirement savings plans. The government wants you to save and will help you out to make it easier for you to do so!
You can also read articles like these for more info:
Not too bad, right? The steps themselves are not particularly hard, but what’s going to make this journey hard is your dedication to changing your behavior. Following and completing these steps will take a dedication to self-denial that may be pretty new to you. But always keep your motivation(s) in the front of your mind as you progress through these steps. You CAN do it! There are many of people out there in the world who are enjoying flexibility with their finances and all of the options they can choose from when it comes to spending their money. You can be one of those people, too. Stick to the plan and change your habits, and you’ll be pretty darn proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished.
This material is provided for information and educational purposes only. The material is deemed to be accurate and reliable at the time of being published. OnQ0731180681Y000004BRGE