Stop charging and borrowing
If you want to get out of debt fast, you have to stop using debt to fund your lifestyle. This means no more financing furniture, no more signing up for credit cards, no more test driving brand new cars that you don’t have the cash to pay for. Don’t be tempted by credit offers in the mail or “no furniture payments until 2016” financing. If you can’t save and pay cash, then don’t borrow it. This will help you focus solely on the debt that you currently do have so that you can develop a game plan to pay it off quickly.
Cut costs and have an emergency fund
Why is having an emergency fund important? Well, if you don’t have any money in the bank and an emergency does happen, how are you going to pay for it? For most people, credit cards become the funding source for those emergencies. If you are trying to get out of debt then you need to put a buffer between you and debt; that is exactly what an emergency fund does.
You truly cannot get out of debt if you don’t cut costs. Start by evaluating your monthly spending, and see what you can change. Cutting expenses will leave more available funds to help you pay off your debt. This may mean that you stop eating out at restaurants, cut cable television, or choose to workout at home or outside instead of at the gym. If your budget is already pretty limited, it can be hard to find places to cut down, but cutting expenses really will help you get out of debt faster — as long as you use the extra money to pay off your debt. Sometimes, even small cuts make a difference, such as making coffee at home instead of running into a store on your way to work.
Do you have a shiny new-ish car or two in the driveway? You can significantly reduce your total debt by trading in your car for something cheap. If you can get $18,000 for a trade-in, and you can find a $10,000 car on the lot then you just came into $8,000 to help you pay off debt. If you can trade-in two cars and concede to just having one, you could double or triple this amount. Now isn’t the time to have toys either, you can have toys when you’re debt free – so sell your Jet Ski, Harley, and go through your garage and have a yard sale.
Be careful not to become too rigid or legalistic. The important discipline is that you can have long term perseverance. It is not good to cut back so lean for so long that you break and blow your budget and become discouraged. Have milestones of success that can reinforce your efforts.
Create a realistic budget and stick to it
Developing a budget that tracks your income and your expenses is crucial to getting out of debt in a short period of time. It will help you gauge where you are with your finances so that you can move forward toward your goal. It will expose whether you have money left over, which is called a surplus, or if you are in the negative, which is called a deficit. The goal is to increase your surplus and use that money to pay down your debt.
You can increase your surplus by earning some extra cash. If you are in a commission-based job then this means that you need to make more sales, which will probably involve having to work more hours. If you are in a salary job and you are limited in the hours that you can work, then you might need to pick up a second job.
While you trim your expenses in your budget, go over each line item on your budget and ask yourself, “How can I make this number smaller?” It may involve cancelling services that you rarely use like online memberships, cable, cell or home phone service, etc. The amount that you slash depends upon your commitment level to getting out of debt. The more committed you are, the easier it will be for you to give up some of the unnecessary amenities in life. You might not even need to sacrifice much if you can find these items or services for less.
Organize your debt
This should be a pretty obvious first move, but don’t let the simplicity of it get the best of you. Get a piece of paper, a Google spreadsheet, or open Notepad on your computer. Go to the website of every financial institution to which you owe money. Then, copy down all balances with their respective APRs (interest rate) exactly as they appear. It’s also very beneficial to know what your minimum payments are for every account. After tracking down all of your debts, you’ll have a decent idea of how much is owed.
Have a payment plan
If you want to get out of debt, particularly with a strict budget, you need a plan. Start by ordering your payments by which debt you think needs to be paid off first. You can determine this by looking at the amount owed, the terms of the loan, and the interest rate. This concept is known as snowballing. When you’ve paid off a debt, you’ll have freed up some money that you can now use in conjunction with the minimum payment that was already being made on the next debt down the list. Then when the next debt is paid off you keep the snowball going.
Paying off high interest loans first has benefits, but if this loan is really large you may want to prioritize a lower balance loan that has a similar percentage rate first, so you have some near term encouragement as you pay off a debt fairly quickly. If you have a loan that doesn’t require payments yet (like a school loan) you should also factor that in and probably pay off other loans first. Another important point is that if you are deeply in debt, you can also attempt to negotiate a repayment plan with your lenders, which may help you reduce your payments or get better loan terms. Some people think this is where an outside debt negotiating firm is the only way to go, but you can save their fee and do it yourself. In addition, you care a lot more than a business does.
If you have a limited budget, you might feel that a really small payment isn’t worth it. However, every little bit helps. Setting up automatic deductions will prevent you from falling into the trap of finding different excuses not to make debt payments. If you have the money taken out of your bank account at the same time each month, you will need to factor that into your budget and pay attention to your account.
Dave Ramsey is quoted saying: “The biggest thing about getting out of debt is really getting angry about it. You’ve got to get ticked off about living your life in such a way you’re going to retire broke, and that you work too hard to be this broke.” Debt doesn’t have to be forever. Develop your financial game plan and start your journey toward being debt-free today.
Make sure you pray
In Second Kings 4:1-7 Elisha instructed the widow to borrow empty jars and that the Lord would provide. We should Pray and ask for the Lord’s help and guidance in the effort toward Debtless Day. He may act quickly (like the widow) or slowly over time; prayer is essential in either case.
For a free Debt Snowball Pay down Plan, email Jeffery.Masters@LPL.com.
Jeffery Masters, is president of Jeffery W. Masters & Associates. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Independent Financial Partners, a registered investment advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Jeffery W. Masters & Associates and Dave Ramsey are separate entities’ from LPL Financial. Jeff is a Locally Endorsed Investment Advisor by Dave Ramsey, which is not affiliated with LPL Financial.