If you want to get out of debt (and stay out of debt) pay close attention to the following:
1. Try not to tackle every debt at one time. Focus on a specific debt or debt category, and put all of your energy and extra income towards paying off that particular debt. (Of course, always pay your minimums!) Don’t be a spotlight, be a laser. By focusing on one debt, you will reap the psychological rewards of seeing substantial progress.
2. Do not cancel your credit card if it still has a balance. While I do not use credit cards, I waited until after I was finished paying my balances in full before I canceled my credit card accounts. Why? If you close an account before you pay your balance, you have no leverage with the credit card company. Why should they work with you if you are no longer a customer. Wait until the balance has been paid and then cancel the cards.
3. Do not build your debt reduction plan around unrealistic expectations. If you have never been on a budget, don’t expect to have a “perfect” month right off the bat. Realize that it takes time to change behaviors, attitudes, and habits. Create a realistic plan.
4. Try not to skimp on the emergency fund. I’m a big fan of having a “baby emergency fund” of at least $1000 in my savings account at all times. If you are going to get out of debt, you will be VERY tempted to empty out your cash savings and put every single available penny towards debt reduction. Resist this very powerful (and very real) temptation. Why? Just as soon as you empty that emergency fund for debt reduction, an unexpected expense will arise, and you’ll have to borrow money to pay for it. Instead, use your emergency fund for true emergencies, build it back up, and then continue with your debt reduction. It’s better to miss your goal date by a few months (like I did) than to live life without some emergency cash.
5. Do not listen to a thousand different voices saying a thousand different things about YOUR plan. This one may sound strange coming from a guy who writes about personal finance, but be careful about to whom you listen. The only person who can truly understand you is YOU. I used Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method, and paid my debts smallest balance to largest balance. Others use a method whereby you pay your debts highest interest to lowest interest. Still others use a combination of the two. Whichever plan you adopt, or if you come up with your own plan, be faithful to yourself. Do what you know you will do! (This is NOT to say that you shouldn’t listen to SOME advice, but be smart about it. Not every personal finance book fits your particular situation. I had a friend who has 100,000 dollars in credit card debt try to tell ME how to manage my finances. I listened to what he had to say, nodded politely, and then changed the subject!)
6. Never allow your credit card company access to your savings or checking account. While I am sure that all credit card companies are honest and above aboard… ahem… I would never allow them to withdraw funds directly from my bank accounts. Instead, use online bill pay provided by your bank or send in a check to pay your bills.
7. Avoid using a second mortgage to consolidate automobile or credit card debt. Before you use any company to consolidate your debt, read the fine print! Personally, I find that most people who move debt from a credit card to a mortgage, without changing their behavior, end up with mortgage debt AND additional credit card debt. Plus, who wants to risk their home for the sake of paying off unsecured credit card debt?
8. Try not to make major purchases while you are getting out of debt. In some cases, making a major purchase in unavoidable. If the washing machine dies, it has to be replaced. But, one of the worst mistakes that you can make is to pay off one or two credit cards, get a little breathing room, and then go buy that television set, new car, or lawnmower that you’ve been wanting. Wait until you are debt free and THEN reward yourself by buying something nice. (I would almost guarantee, however, that once you get out of debt, the LAST thing you will want to do is go out and spend a lot of money. I spend LESS money now that I am debt free than I ever spent when I was in debt!)
9. Don’t argue with your spouse about money. It’s just not worth it. I’m very blessed to have a wife who has been “on board” throughout this whole process. I will confess, however, that we would have been debt free a month or two sooner had she been as
crazy dedicated as I was to the plan. Once we created a budget, I never once criticized her for the purchases she made. There were things that she purchased that I would not have purchased, but I was so thankful for her love and support, I kept my mouth shut.
10. Never think that you are stuck with the life that you have right now. I find it amazing the number of people who don’t think they can do anything about their jobs, their health, their finances, or their futures. If you want a better life, you must choose a better life. Read a book. Write a resume. Find a church. Join a support group. Create a plan. If you are frustrated and feel like there is no hope, wake up! You can have an awesome life. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop worrying about your past, stop blaming yourself and others, stop making excuses, get up, get out, get going, and get a life! You can ROCK!