Becoming debt free was one of the best actions I could take to change my financial life. Not only has it allowed me the freedom to do more with my investing and saving but it has also allowed me to be able to give back more than I ever thought would be possible. It has reduced my stress level when it comes to life crises, allowed me to help others in need and it’s provided me the confidence to know that I will be OK financially in the future.
The thought of attempting to become debt free (except your home mortgage) can seem daunting and overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. The main thing to remember is that you didn’t get into debt overnight so don’t expect it to be paid off overnight – pack your patience. Also, it’s important to make sure to go at your own pace and not be discouraged by the rapid debt payoff stories you always see promoted. You have your own life to live with its own set of challenges so don’t compare your financial story to anyone else’s.
Here are some tips to get you started paying off debt and set you on the path to financial freedom:
Write down your debt balances. Sadly, when I began my debt free journey, I couldn’t tell you what my debt balances were. But I knew what my minimum monthly payments were. Knowing your debt balances makes the debt more real and in your face. I know that can seem a little scary! Just looking at my debt total took my breath away – it was overwhelming. However, you can’t make a plan to move forward if you don’t know where you were starting from. So, gather all your credit card statements, student loans, and car loans and write them all down. I promise you will survive the process!
Make a written plan for your expenses each month. If you don’t know where your money is going, you have no clue how much money is slipping through your hands that you could be allocating to debt payoff. Having a spending plan allows you to see areas where you can cut back spending and find hidden money that can help you accelerate your debt payoff plan. If you need some help getting started planning out your expenses, click here for my spending plan template and tips to create one.
If there is any debt that you are behind paying, make that debt a priority to attack first. Life happens and sometimes you have to make choices between paying a debt and eating. Once you get through the rough patch, make it your focus to get that debt caught up while you are still paying the minimum payments on your other debts. You can’t move forward paying off your debt when you are still playing catch-up.
Use the debt snowball method to pay off your debts. There are several approaches to paying off debt but the one I found to work the best was the Debt Snowball method. The Debt Snowball method says to list your debts in order from the smallest balance (not smallest payment) to the largest balance. You pay minimum payments on all of your balances. However, with the smallest debt balance, you pay any extra money you find in your spending plan on the smallest debt. Once this debt is paid off, you take all the money you were paying on the smallest debt and apply it to the next smallest debt along with its minimum payment. Why did this method work the best for me? Because it gave me quick wins with the smallest balances being paid off quickly and it gave me the confidence to continue paying off debt. It was all about changing behavior and increasing motivation.
How much debt do you have and what is your plan to pay it off early?