If you’re currently working to pay down debt, I commend you. Paying down debt and boosting your savings are two ways to ensure a sound financial future for you and your family.
If you’re currently struggling to pay down debt, I hear you. I once was there myself. Saddled with over $18,000 in credit card debt, I finally kicked myself into action using the tips and tricks below. Not only did I pay off those debts in less than 8 months, but I also managed to pay off an additional $42,000 in student loans in less than 6 months by continuing to use this system.
While each person’s situation is unique and circumstances may very, the fundamental rules of debt payoff are the same for everyone. Read on to learn how you can accelerate your own debt reduction efforts with these steps:
Pay Down Debt: Stop Adding Debt
This first, most crucial step in your ability to pay down debt fast is often the most difficult. In order to effectively slash your debt, you need to stop adding to the total. This sounds simple, right? Then why is this so hard to actually do?
It boils down to psychology, which has a huge impact on finances. Whether we realize it or not, there’s a lot going on in our subconscious brain when we decide to buy something. Far from the instant gratification that is consciously felt, the subconscious brain holds the key to any long-term financial change. You have to believe you’re worth living a debt-free life. You have to train yourself to avoid the pitfalls of impulse purchases, material “rewards,” and the American condition of ‘Keeping Up with the Jones.’ You need to radically change your habits in order to have a healthy relationship with money.
I went through all of this and more when I finally decided it was time to kick my $18,000 credit card balance to the curb. For me, stopping the debt cycle began with cutting up my cards and only using cash. For you, it may include freezing your cards, cutting them up, or closing your accounts (just be sure to never close your oldest credit account as it has a significant bearing on your credit history and score).
When you stop adding to your pile of debt, you finally gain control. Once you’ve gained control over your debt, you can begin to eliminate it as fast as you’re capable. This is your hard-earned money–don’t give it away to companies that have little interest in your financial well-being!
Face Your Debt
Once you’ve stopped adding to your debt, you need to face it head-on. Log into your accounts, read those statements you may have been ignoring, and take a cold, hard look at the numbers. Make a list that includes your balance, interest rate, and minimum monthly payment. Tally up all of the balances so you have one number that becomes your pay down goal.
Pay Down Debt: Build an Emergency Fund
While it may sound counter-intuitive to save while you’re trying to pay down debt, doing so is a key step in the overall process. If you have no savings when you’re hit with one of life’s inevitable, surprise expenses, you will never be able to climb out of the debt pit you’ve fallen into.
Concentrate your efforts on building a small, accessible emergency fund. A good goal for most people is to save $1,000. While we never know when surprise expenses will hit our budgets, we do know they eventually will arise. When you are faced with such an expense, use the money in your established emergency fund to pay your bill rather than putting it on a credit card. After the bill has been paid, work to re-fund your emergency savings. Just remember to always make your minimum debt payments as you rebuild your savings!
Create a Budget…
…and stick to it.
Budget. The four-letter word of personal finance. Love them or hate them, budgets are a necessary evil for everyone. Even if you have no debt, you should still be tracking your money so you know where it’s coming and going. Along the lines of gaining control of your debt by no longer adding to the balance, having a budget helps you gain complete control over your entire financial existence.
A common misconception about a budget is it means scarcity or lacking or doing without. This is simply not true–a budget is a tool to help you control your money. You get to choose how much money goes where. If you work to change your perception about budgeting, you will eventually see a budget as your financial friend rather than foe.
I like to take the budgeting idea one step further in order to track everything. That’s correct: Track. Every. Single. Penny. To this day, I still keep an extremely detailed Excel spreadsheet that tells me where all of my money is coming from and where it’s going. If you prefer a higher tech option, Mint.com is a great resource. If you’re super old school, you can simply keep a checkbook register or small notebook in your pocket or purse where you record all of your expenditures. Regardless of your method, make sure you detail all of those pennies!
Pay Down Debt: Negotiate Your Rates
When I was tackling my credit card debt, I called each company to request an interest rate reduction. While I wasn’t always able to get a reduction on the first call, I was persistent. I eventually got all of my card issuers to reduce my APR simply by negotiating. If you’ve always made your minimum payments on time, haven’t gone over your credit limit, and aren’t going buck wild with new credit applications, there is no reason why you can’t do the same. A friendly phone call and courteous reminder of your stellar payment history could save you hundreds of dollars, so pick up the phone!
If for some reason your company won’t budge, you can also consider balance transfer offers. Just pay careful attention to the terms and fine print so you aren’t paying more money in fees. Note the expiration date and set a plan to eliminate the debt before that date.
If you’re truly serious about paying off your debt, you will need to work hard. There’s no way to sugar coat that debt payoff is not fun. But it can be fast if you work for it.
When I was paying off my credit card debt and student loans, I picked up side work, consulting gigs, and even started a blog. All of my side hustles provided enough income to knock my debt out in quick succession. I worked an insane amount of hours, but I became debt free a lot faster than my peers; some of whom are still paying on the same student loans 5 years later!
Find a way to turn your passion, hobby, or skill into another income source. Never stop working until the debts are paid and the balances are zeroed out. Once your debts are paid, you may want to continue some of those side hustles as an avenue for funding travel, retirement, house buying, and other financial goals.
Pay Down Debt: Slash Expenses
As you review your debt balances, take some time to carefully examine what you’ve been purchasing. Has lifestyle inflation crept in? Are you no longer living within your means? Be honest with yourself: Are there places where you can cut back on expenses in order to funnel more money to pay down debt?
Common, sneaky expenses that can creep up when not kept in check include commuting (tolls, transit fees, etc), monthly subscriptions that auto-renew (magazines, meal planning), and entertainment (dining out, movies, etc). Now that you’ve established your budget and are tracking those pennies, you should be better equipped to identify the expenses that need a bit of trimming. Remember, the more you trim, the fast you pay down debt!
Be Kind and Celebrate
When you make a commitment to pay down debt, you make a commitment to yourself to take control of your finances. No amount of planning, budgeting, or hustling can make this process any easier.
The reality of paying off debt is that your resolve will be tested over and over again. There will be times when you overspend and fall off the proverbial financial wagon. It’s OK; you are human! Rather than berating yourself for the lapse, be kind to yourself.
Understand this is a marathon, not a sprint. When the punches are dealt, roll with it and get yourself back on track. Focus on the end goal of zero debt and remember you are worth it!
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate a bit along the way. Set some benchmarks that fit your situation, and work towards a reward to help you stay motivated.
Perhaps it’s a movie ticket or a coffee from Starbucks. Whatever your benchmark, find an inexpensive, realistic way to reward your efforts. And once you’re debt free, continue to hone your financial abilities by staying debt free. Use what you’ve learned in the pay down debt process to find success in other areas of your life.
What do you do to pay down debt? Share you tips, tricks, and success below!