There is a reason why “debt” is a “four-letter” word. Debt is a curse and keeps you from living your life free of fear, worry, and frustration.
The irony is that we run away from our financial problems because we want to avoid pain. Running away, however, only worsens the state of our finances, thus creating even more pain and financial issues. But the bottom line is that we must confront our debt in order to control it and ultimately eliminate it. We must tackle our debt in order to feel truly like grown n’ sexy.
The reality is that you can’t kill your debt overnight nor do you need to in order to feel like you are making progress in your money world. Committing to financial freedom is a life-long journey, starting with tiny, baby steps. Take these five baby steps to increase your financial confidence. These steps will help you become debt-free before you know it:
Locate all of your bills. While this step may seem like a no-brainer, one of the reasons that our bills go unpaid is simply because forget about them. To get a quick, small win, elect a shoebox or folder where you will drop your weekly snail mail bills. (This will be a temporary system, which should be replaced with something more comprehensive like Excel, Quick Books, or Quicken Books.)
Keep this ad hoc filing system close to where you drop your mail when you get home. If you get your bills online, create a virtual folder called “bills” and within that folder, you can create sub-folders for categories like insurance, phone, or rent.
Schedule a time to pay your bills. Do you go to work everyday? Yes, I am assuming. Do you go months without getting your hair done or catching-up with your girls? No, I don’t think so.
Well, in the same way, that you attend to the needs of your professional and social lives, it is the same respect that you must give to your financial life. Set a day and time that you will pay your bills weekly and honor that commitment. Use your phone to schedule a reminder about your date with your finances. Ask a financially literate friend, if you need to, to send a “pep-text” to get you pumped about doing right by your wallet.
Get Your Stats. Once you know what debt you have and are committed to getting rid of it, you need to have a financial plan-of-attack. On a sheet of paper, a spreadsheet, or a downloadable expenses template, write down all of the debt that you have. This includes but is not limited to credit cards, student loans, auto loans, charge cards, and personal loans. Place your outstanding debt in order from least to greatest in terms of their balance. Tabulate your total. When I was getting out of debt, I was looking for ways to feel victorious by achieving small wins. Instead of paying off debt that had a higher balance and/or higher interest rates, I set my sights on the “low-hanging fruit” which was debt with smaller balances. (I really did not care about the interest rates; I just wanted to see progress). When you line up your debt using this approach, you are more likely to feel successful because you will be able to get rid of one source of debt almost immediately.
Create a Budget: “Budget” is another one of those financial words that makes many of us cringe. But a budget will be your saving grace when you are focused on being financially free. To create a simple budget, use the 50:30:20 rule of thumb. Fifty-percent of your budget goes for “needs” like food, housing, insurance, and transportation; thirty-percent goes towards your “wants” like clothing, services, and entertainment; the twenty-percent goes for savings.
But when you are in debt-elimination mode, part of that thirty-percent for “wants” should be going toward eliminating debt. While it is up to you to decide how much of that thirty-percent will go toward debt elimination, make sure you are using enough as to make visible dents in your debt but not so much to make you feel deprived and discouraged about moving forward with your plan-of-attack.
Automate Payments: If you know that you will have difficulty paying your debt on time and consistently, speak with your bank representatives to set up monthly reoccurring payments to the institutions to which you owe money. This is especially true for bills that you hate to pay. (For whatever reason, I hate paying my cell phone bill and made sure that I automated this payment to avoid interruptions in service.) This structure takes some pressure off of you because payments are automatically withdrawn from either your checking or savings accounts. With automation, though, it is still important that you are regularly checking and reviewing your accounts to make sure payment amounts and dates are accurate.
Ladies, the key to becoming debt free is focusing on a series of small wins. Small wins create big change.
Good luck with your journey. With structures and commitment, I know that you can do it.
Frugalistas– Which baby steps can you commit to?