Isn’t it wild how money can make your life amazing or cause you to feel completely miserable? It’s worshiped, demonized, and coveted. It’s chased every day by regular hard-working people and those at top of the game making millions. Money is universal. It’s the thing that makes the world go ’round and it’s one of the most important areas of life that you MUST master.
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t learn a lot about finances during your childhood. My parents taught me how to balance a checking account and strongly cautioned me against getting into debt. Beyond that, we didn’t really talk about money. It’s not that it was a taboo subject, it just didn’t rank high on the list of things we discussed at the dinner table. As I got older and started earning my own money, I had to start applying what my parents had shown me plus learn some hard-earned money lessons that would shape my future. Fortunately for me, I inherited some of my parent’s fiscal responsibility just from watching their spending habits over the years, so my threshold for debt was low. Everything else, I learned from Dave Ramsey and Tony Robbins.
Obviously, debt is a very real problem for millions of people. Not all debt is bad, but having an abundance of consumer debt that eats away at a chunk of your monthly usable income is a problem. That’s the debt I’m talking about in this post. It’s those credit card statements that come in the mail every month reminding you that you are owned by Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.
Statistically, half the households in America have more debt than savings. If presented with a $1,000 – $3,000 emergency, many of those households would have to rely on credit cards to pay for it.
I don’t know about you, but that kind of financial pressure creates a lot of anxiety. If you’re reading this, I can imagine you know that feeling all too well. I’ve been in your shoes, so stick with me as we walk through some principals to help you achieve your goal of being debt-free.
Three years ago, If you’d asked me if I thought it’s possible to be debt-free, accomplish the things I want to achieve in this life and still have an emergency savings account that will be there when it’s needed, I would have said no. I had over $40,000 in consumer debt and student loans to pay off while earning roughly $20,000 per year. I was married at the time and my husband paid for the cost of our home, so I was experiencing a lifestyle in which I’d never had before. I grew dependent on his income to survive, which for whatever reason, caused me to believe that I was incapable of creating the life I wanted on my own. I had a victim’s mentality and scarcity was my go-to way of thinking.
Then, one fateful afternoon I was sitting alone in my office and it dawned on me that I had a bad relationship with money. I’d never taken the time or had the courage to face my financials from an objective position so I was always ashamed of what I lacked. Of course, this is a hard thing to accept about yourself, so I shed some tears (for roughly 2 days), accepted the hard truth *gulp* and then I started searching for answers. Once I found what worked for me, it became a wash, rinse, repeat sort of thing. I just focused, did what needed to be done and before I knew it, I’d reached my goal. I was debt-free!
This is the process that took me from being 40k in debt to completely debt-free with a fully-funded emergency account in less than two years.
1) Focus on creating a healthy mindset about money.
Beliefs about money can come from a variety of sources. It could be from childhood messaging you received that made you believe that making money is difficult or it could be from an experience you had that forged a thought into your mind and caused you to view money through a particular lens/viewpoint. Some of those beliefs could include:
- I’ll never have enough money because I’m not lucky.
- I’m not from a wealthy family, so I will never achieve financial security.
- People who chase money are greedy.
- Money is evil.
- I’m not creative enough to find new ways to make money.
- I can’t do it on my own, so I need someone to take care of me.
- I’m a victim of my circumstance and don’t have the power/strength to change things.
- I’m not ______, I’m not __________… insert negative adjective of your choice that confirms your negative belief system.
The list can go on as long as you can think of reasons why money is a problem. When you believe these things to be true, you operate with that as the way you see and relate to money. The way you relate to money directly impacts how easily it comes to you. If you’re really attached to your negative money beliefs, it’s safe to bet that right now in your mind, you’re saying how financial freedom isn’t possible for you because of X, Y, Z. If you believe this, you’re correct. However, you’re also correct if you believe the opposite and you can overcome the obstacles in between you and the life you are working for. Adopting a healthy mindset about money is the first and one of the most important steps toward financial freedom. Without this mindset shift, nothing else you do will create real change. Change your mindset, change your life.
2) Create a budget and stick to it.
Budgeting isn’t just for people who pay attention to details. It’s for everyone. It’s the thing that helps you ensure you don’t overspend. You need to know what you have coming in each month and what is going out. A basic budget should include your income and expenses. You list out everything you earn and everything that you have to pay out for monthly living expenses, then subtract your expenses from your income. Once you have that number, use the remaining money for paying off debt. That should bring you to a zero balance on your budget every single month.
Do this! Create a spreadsheet with 4 columns. Income, Expenses, Actual Cost and Difference. Everything in the difference column can be rolled into debt. If you don’t want to do a manual budget, you can use this budgeting software.
3) Eliminate unnecessary spending and cut down on monthly expenses.
When I was working to get out of debt, I had to eliminate a lot of extras from my life that I normally enjoyed. Instead of having my hair colored at the salon every month, I’d do it at home. Instead of drinking a cup of Starbucks every day, I got a coffee maker and had coffee at home. Instead of shopping for designer digs at boutiques, I shopped at TJ Maxx and thrift stores. Cutting down on unnecessary spending can make a huge difference in how much cash you have each month that you can put on your debt.
As you’re creating your budget, go through your bank statements and take note of all the areas you can cut back. Even if it’s uncomfortable, trust me, it’s worth it!! You can use that money to start an emergency savings account or roll it into paying off your debt.
In addition to cutting out unnecessary spending, find ways that you can cut down on your monthly overhead. Call your cell phone company and ask them to tell you about any new plans that could save you money, transfer credit card balances to cards with zero percent interest, leave the air conditioning on a temperature where it runs a little less. Here’s an article from Clark Howard with more suggestions on how to reduce your monthly expenses.
4) Save $1,000 as an emergency fund.
Saving $1,000 as an emergency fund prior to paying off your debt gives you an account to reach into instead of using your credit cards when you need money. After all, the goal is to pay those cards off! Do some research on bank fees for savings accounts, then set up the account with the lowest fees. Bonus points if you can find an account that is free. When I was doing my research, I found Bank of America to have the lowest fees overall.
Once you have your account set up, just start saving! It doesn’t matter if you’re only able to save $25 a week, you just need to save. Every single penny counts in the game of getting debt free so celebrate every little victory. When you finally reach the $1,000 mark, you’ll feel a serious sense of accomplishment knowing that you stuck to the plan and made it to the finish line of this goal.
5) List your debts from lowest balance to highest balance then start snowballing.
Before you can pay off your debt, you have to have a crystal clear snapshot of the amount of money you’re trying to tackle. Make a list of everything. Even if it’s a small amount. Every single penny should be accounted for. Car debt, student loan debt, etc. Every. Single. Penny. Once you have all debts collected into one place, list them out in order of lowest balance to highest. The interest rate doesn’t matter, the balance does. You want to pay off the lowest balance first and then use the debt snowball method to continue paying off your balances.
How the Debt Snowball Works: Make minimum payments on all debts except the smallest—throw as much money as you can at that one. Once that debt is gone, take its payment and apply it to the next smallest debt, continuing to make minimum payments on the rest. Repeat that as you plow your way through your debts. The more you pay off, the more your freed-up money grows—like a snowball rolling downhill. *Source: Dave Ramsey
6) Create more cash flow.
Don’t roll your eyes at me with this one. I’m serious! Find extra work, go get a side job or apply for new jobs altogether. I worked two jobs when I was going through this process and still picked up random website work when I could fit it into my schedule just so I could make it to the finish line in a shorter period of time.
Be willing to sacrifice some comforts and some free time in order to make more money. Dave Ramsey says “If you will live like nobody else now, you can live like nobody else in the future.” He means to be willing to cut out things and make sacrifices so you can get out from under the massive burden of debt that plagues the majority of Americans. When you are debt-free, you experience freedom in life like very few people enjoy. Your financial stresses melt away and your mindset about money changes. It’s glorious!
7) Be patient, consistent and realistic.
Becoming debt-free takes time. You have to be ready for the long haul when you start this journey. Stay fully committed to changing your life and the lives of your family because that’s exactly what you’re doing! You are changing the future of your financial life. That is so empowering! Knowing that you have that kind of power should seriously motivate you. Yes, you can count on having bad days, but you can’t give up. This is too important. Patience and consistency will get you to the finish line.
Give yourself grace on this journey too. If you can only pay off a small amount at a time, then pay off that small amount. Be realistic about what you can do. If you set your expectations too high, it can be discouraging and cause you to derail.
8) Celebrate each victory… with cake and ice cream.
Ahhhhhhh the victory dance! Saved $30? Dance party! Saved $50? Time for cake! Saved $150? AMAZING! You get cake, ice cream, AND sprinkles.
Setting reward levels is really fun and it gives you something to look forward to. I had a dance party for every success and if I made any really big strides, I would buy myself a dress or go to dinner with my friends. Set goals and rewards that are reasonable and will not throw you off track. It’s really important that you stay on track but hey, ya gotta have a little fun along the way.
Congratulations on your decision to get out of debt! It’s one of the best choices you’ll ever make for yourself. To help you on your journey, here are a few resources to continue learning.
- Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University
- Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine
- Money: Master the Game
Remember, you are only a victim of the limitations you give power to. You have the ability to be financially free! I believe in you!
Tell me about your journey! Are you working to become debt-free or are you battling some fears that you feel could be stopping you from achieving this goal? Let’s chat in the comments!