Last week, we put our goals to paper as a way to cement our commitment to them. This week, the rubber hits the road as I share some of the effective ways I approached my debt on the way to saving for a dream trip around the world.
1. Value saving money over spending it. Have you ever been without debt? Maybe the last time you can remember was when you were a kid. Those were the days! Cultivating a low tolerance for debt may translate as boring and conservative, however if you require money to reach your goals and dreams, the sooner you adopt this attitude, the better.
2. Buy a book about paying off debt, TODAY! A $12 book I bought about 5 years ago helped me organize my approach to paying off thousands of dollars in debt over the years. I went with the catchy Debt-Free by 30, Practical Advice for the Young, Broke, & Upwardly Mobile. Just about any good debt book will provide a path for you to follow via answering self-assessments, accounting for monthly expenses, and harping on the evils of credit card companies. Flipping through the book, I cringe at having considered it acceptable to be paying $140 a month in credit card payments (most of it toward just the interest).
3. Apply the 90/10 rule with gift (or unexpected) money. A year after one of my grandmother's passed away at the age of 90, I received a monetary inheritance. Well before it was wired to my bank, I had established a plan to use 70% to pay off the total balances on my three credit cards (canceling two of them in the process), 20% as seed money for my trip (which I locked up in a 12-month Certificate of Deposit), and 10% on ” stuff.”? When the money arrived, I executed my plan immediately. To be honest, I have no clue as to what happened with that remaining 10%, it just seemed to evaporate (which is why I strictly limited the % of purposeless money).
4. Pay off high interest loans first. I picked this tip up from a second book, The Four Laws of Debt Free Prosperity, which I actually received for free as part of a lunch series on financial planning offered by my employer. By the time I was reading it, I had worked up my one remaining credit card's balance to somewhere around $2,000, so I was struggling to pay it down again.
Here's the Debt Elimination Exercise in an Excel document which I drew up at the time I was reading the aforementioned book. Ultimately, I decided not to worry about paying down my car loan (see tip #8).
5. Use online banking to set up automatic payments. Paydays are like being drunk. You have a sudden influx of money into your bank account which can cloud your judgment, tempting you to buy stuff, rather than pay off your debts. To ensure you continue to chip away at them, and to avoid racking up late fees, schedule debt payments to coincide with your paydays. Many institutions allow you to schedule recurring payments to make it even easier for you to part with your money (don't worry; there's no better place for it to go).
Bonus Tips and Anecdotes:
6. If you owe money to family or friends, share your goals (better yet dreams), with them, and suggest they forgive your debt instead of buying you a birthday (Christmas, or other holiday) gift. In effect, you're including them in making your dream a reality, which is a powerful approach.
7. Resist the temptation to sign up for a new retail store credit card for the instant discount on the items you're purchasing at the time it's offered. If you're like me, that instant $30 savings can lead to a $1,000 wardrobe financed on store credit (and high interest rates). Despite this lesson, I still buy at Banana Republic…just with cash rather than credit!
8. If you happen to crash your car (like I did in 2005), and you need another, buy it used, and put ALL of the insurance payment toward the down payment, regardless of the variety of ways in which the dealership finance or bank people will try to suggest it's better you invest it (thus taking on a greater debt through their organization, and increasing their revenue from interest payments).
What have been your most effective strategies to tackle debt?