Do you feel like you’re never going to pay off your debt? No matter how hard you try, it seems like the balance never gets smaller?
About two years ago, just my credit card debt totaled over $16,000! Even though I was paying more than the minimums, the total never seemed to budge.
Already having a car loan and a hefty mortgage (gotta love property taxes), the credit card debt started feeling pretty uncomfortable at the $10k mark.
By the time it had ballooned to $16K, I was feeling desperate. I needed to get out of debt.
1. Make a budget.
Personal finance guru, Dave Ramsey, often uses this analogy when talking about getting out of debt: “The first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging.”
None of the strategies that we will talk about below will matter if you don’t start spending less than you make each and every month. And that’s why your budget must be the centerpiece of any plan to get out of debt.
A budget is different than just looking back at how much you spent last month. A budget sets a plan for how you are going to spend your money next month.
In order to make sure that you are sticking to your plan, you’re going to need a system to track your expenses. You could go the old school route and just save all of your receipts. But if you prefer to use a tool that tracks your expenses for you, there are lots of great options out there.
Here are a few of the most popular budgeting websites/apps on the market today:
Stick to your budget.
A budget does you no good if it doesn’t change your spending behavior. Make a commitment to check your budget at least once a week. During your weekly check-ups, you’ll likely be in for surprises, like this:
We only have $25 left in our “Out to Eat” budget? How did we spend that much already!?
Or, like this:
We’ve already spend 70% of our grocery bill and there’s still half of the month left!
I had these exact same shockers when I first started budgeting on a regular basis. But they were good because they forced me to cut spending in areas that I needed to.
If you really are struggling with having the discipline to only spend what your budget allows in each budget category, then you may need to go the kamikaze route and stop using debit cards and credit cards altogether and, instead, adopt a cash-envelope system.
With the cash-envelope system, you fill your envelopes at the beginning of the month with the amount of money that you’ve budgeted. Each time you buy groceries, gas, clothes, or anything else, you only use cash from the appropriate envelopes.
Once a particular envelope is empty, that’s it! You can’t buy any more items in that category until the next month… unless you borrow from another category’s envelope.
If you think that moving to a cash-only system would be right for you, our guide can help you get started: How To Budget Your Money With A Cash Envelope System.
Is using cash as convenient as using cards? No. But it’s one proven way to ensure that you don’t overspend and have money left over each month to put towards attacking your debt.
For more creative budget tips and tricks, check out our guide: 6 Brilliant Ways to Succeed at Budgeting.
2. Focus on one debt at a time.
When you have extra money to pay off your debt, it’s tempting pay a little extra on each of your debts.
Instead of setting a (seemingly impossible) goal of paying off all your debt, try breaking your overall goal into smaller, more attainable goals.
For me, that big goal of $16K was too overwhelming, so I broke it down by card. The first goal was to pay off a card with a $1k balance. The smaller goal was easier to reach and didn’t feel as unattainable as the total goal did.
When you spread out extra payments, the results are hard to see. An extra $20 or $50 on each debt isn’t as noticeable as $500 paid on one debt. You’ll be motivated when you see real progress happening on your goals. And when you’re motivated, you’ll want to keep the progress going!
Choose only one debt to apply any extra payments to. While you are focusing on one debt, pay only the minimum for all other debts.
I had been applying little extra payments to several different cards. It was no wonder the balances never seemed to change. Once I started applying all the extra money to the same card, I saw the balance of that card drop significantly each month. Yeah for progress!
When it comes to focusing on debt at a time, you could use the “Debt Snowball” or the “Debt Avalanche” methods. If you’re trying to decide which strategy to use, check out Best Debt Repayment Method- Snowball or Avalanche for a break-down of the pros and cons of both.
3. Speed up your debt payoff by making extra cash.
One of the easiest ways to start seeing real progress on your debt payoff is to find extra income.
One day of the biggest reasons I was so successful in paying off our credit card debt was I went back to work full time. While I’m not saying you need to quit being a stay-at-home mom, you may want to think about how badly you want to get out of your current situation.
Need some ideas? Check out these ways you can make money. There are ideas for every situation: from making money at home to how to get extra cash when you’re already employed.
4. Put any extra cash toward debt.
In addition to whatever you have budgeted to your debt payoff goal, put any extra or unexpected income towards debt.
- Rebates or refund checks
- Mileage reimbursements from your employer
- Tax refunds
If you are paid weekly or biweekly, there will be months where you get an extra check. You can quickly pay off debt when you are applying an entire paycheck towards your debt!
If you pay cash for purchases, don’t spend the change. Instead, accumulate any pocket change then deposit it in your bank every month or two.
When you make the deposit, turn around and send that amount as a payment to your debt.
Twice a year, I got an extra paycheck thanks to the timing of paydays. Those months with the extra paycheck are a great (sneaky) way to boost your debt payoff.
I won’t lie, it was hard to not want to treat myself when I got a big tax refund check after eFiling. Watching the credit card balance go down by several thousand in one statement period? Totally worth it!
5. Make it automatic.
If you are making extra budgeted payments toward debt, set it up on auto-pay. You’ll be less likely to forget a payment or worry about the money getting spent elsewhere just because you have it.
When I first started paying off debt, I wasn’t as diligent about sending in those extra payments. Once I set up the additional payments through my bill pay, those payments started happening every month. No more forgetting!
Over the course of a year, I managed to pay off all my credit card debt. All $16,000 worth. It wasn’t easy but it was totally worth it!
You can do it too!
Focus on one debt at a time and set small goals so you can be motivated with your progress. To really speed up your repayment, consider additional ways to earn money and apply any extra cash to your debts.
With these tips, you will start to see your balances decrease and your debts paid off sooner.
How soon would you like to be out of debt? Let me know how you are going to make that happen on Facebook or Twitter!