Being in debt can be a stressful experience. No matter what your circumstance is, if you signed for a loan, you are obligated to pay it back even if you have a life-altering experience like losing a job, getting into an accident, or even if you have increased expenses due to having a child.
Sometimes debt can just be an unintended consequence of too much holiday spending -- or overspending any time of year. Many people try to get out of debt, but life slaps them in the face hard enough that they give up. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are so many people who are getting out of debt every single day, and not only that, but they are getting out of debt in a short period of time.
So if you're ready to get on a path to financial freedom, it's important to have a plan for how you're going to tackle that debt!
Here are 5 simple steps to help you eliminate your debt pronto
1. Make a conscious decision to stop borrowing money
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. 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.
2. Establish a starter emergency fund of $1,000
You might be wondering, ‘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.
Read more: How to build an emergency fund
3. 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.
Creating a budget 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. Below are two ways that you can do this.
- The first way is to earn 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. When my wife and were toward the end of paying off our consumer debt, I was able to get a second job delivering pizzas which gave us the extra income we needed to hit our deadline of 18 months.
- The second thing that you can do is trim your expenses. 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 a gym membership, Netflix subscription, etc. It might even involve reducing the amount of times that you eat out at restaurants each month. 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. Check out Clark’s Free and Cheap List to help you with this process.
4. Organize your debts
This is paramount to mapping out a plan to pay off your debt. There are two approaches that are worth considering. The first is where you list your debts smallest to largest regardless of the interest rate. This is the method that we used to pay off $52,000 in debt in 18 months and it worked great because it helped us build momentum. When we paid off our first debt it put wind in our sails. Even though we had higher interest debts, this gave us something that was very powerful: the belief that we could get out of debt quickly if we stuck to the plan.
Read more: Clark's tips for paying off credit card debt
The other method is called laddering, which is Clark's preferred method because it will save you the most money over time. The way it works is you list your debts, starting with the highest interest rate card first and end with the debt with the lowest interest rate. This method makes the most mathematical sense, because you will save the most money in interest over time. Regardless of which process you choose, the key is to stick with it.
If you choose laddering, put as much money as you can each month toward the card with the highest interest rate, while still paying the minimums on the other cards. Once that debt is paid off, move on to the card with the second highest rate and so on. But this is very important: do not close the account once the balance is paid off. That will damage your credit. Just let the account sit at a balance of $0.
One other thing: if you have one or a few small debts you wipe out completely, go ahead and do that. That will give you some tangible progress to get started -- and then start tackling the card with the highest interest rate.
5. Throw any excess cash at your debt
When we were getting out of debt, there were several times where extra money fell in our laps that we had not factored into our debt elimination originally. We decided to take this cash and use it to tackle our debt. Some good examples would be a tax refund, selling a car, an inheritance, winning a bet, etc. The more cash you can put towards your debt, the faster it will disappear.
Debt doesn’t have to be forever. Develop your financial game plan and start your journey toward being debt-free today.
Read more: 7 things debt-free people never do