So you’ve realized you’re spending more than you earn and you want to stop borrowing money. It can be a hopeless feeling—one that I personally know very well. How to stop borrowing money, of course, is simple—but actually doing it isn’t easy. But there is good news—if you’re asking the question, you’ve already taken the first step toward solving the problem.
The solution is figuring out how to live below your means. Again, this is something that sounds easy, but personal finance isn’t easy. There are two ways to start living below your means:
- Increase money coming into your life (usually income)
- Decrease the money going out of your life (usually spending)
Doing them both is ideal, but getting there from a big financial mess will take time so look for low-hanging fruit and quick wins to get the ball rolling.
You probably can’t just push a button and increase your income tomorrow. Although, you can ask your boss for a raise. If you aren’t at least asking, it’s probably not going to happen, and the worse they can say is no.
But, you probably have an easier way to quickly increase your cash flow and stop the financial bleeding: You can sell all the junk you bought with debt. I suggest using Amazon (you can sell used stuff on Amazon), Ebay, and Craigslist. Anything small-ish (easy to ship) and worth more than $10 should get listed on Ebay or Amazon. The best approach is to search both sites for the item you want to sell and get a feel for prices. Generally, I find selling on Amazon to be a lot less hassle than Ebay, so I prefer to list there if I can. If you bought the item you want to sell on Amazon, just search for it in your past orders, click the link, and check used prices. You can get right to listing your item for sale from this page. Bulky things you can’t or don’t want to ship should go on Craigslist.
The most common debt problem is credit cards. If you are serious about getting out of debt you need to stop using credit cards and that probably means you need to cut them up too. If cutting the credit cards isn’t enough to stop you from using them, then close the accounts. This decision comes down to personal responsibility and how well you can resist the temptation to use your credit cards. *Important- don’t destroy or close all of your credit cards until you have an emergency fund! Lets be real here, most Americans have no savings- what would you do if your car broke down tomorrow or you lost your job? Cash is the ideal way to handle these emergencies, but most of us can’t just snap our fingers and have an extra $1,000 in the bank.
If you have accounts that are behind, make getting current your top priority. Late fees or over the limit fees are only going to bury you further. Call the banks and try to negotiate. It costs you nothing but a few minutes of time and aggravation to ask for help. They are likely to at least cut some of the fees and give you a chance to get current. You will have more luck here if you can also promise to send an immediate payment when making the phone call (just don’t give them direct access to your checking account).
Once you have stopped using the credit cards and everything is current, you will have gone a long way toward slowing the growth of your debt balance. However, you are likely still being charged monthly interest on your credit cards. Make a list of your cards and order them by interest rate. Start calling the high rate cards to ask for a lower rate or look at transferring balances from high rate cards to low rate cards that you already have (consider the balance transfer fee first) . You can even go out and apply for new credit cards if you can get a better rate- a 0% introductory rate would be wonderful if the terms are decent. Just be aware of fees for balance transfers and how long these lower rates will last. Do a little math to see if you will really be saving money when all is said and done.
Putting an end to your borrowing is the most important step toward getting out of debt. Look at every dollar you are paying in interest as your enemy. Compound interest is a wonderful thing when it is working for you, but against you it is devastating. If you haven’t already, take the time to total up all of the money you spent in interest over the past month. On a personal note, I was really sickened when I did this. I had no idea how much interest was really costing me. Think about the number of hours you have to work in a month just to pay interest if you need some extra motivation to stop borrowing.
This step is where you ‘stop the bleeding’ and figure out how badly interest is hurting you. Without doing this, all other efforts would just be covering up the real problem, possibly making the symptoms look less menacing yet not treating the source of the pain. The next step, making a budget, is where you can start to take control of your money and treat the debt problem at its source.
9 Steps to Get Out of Debt
- # 1 Stop Borrowing Money
- # 2 (a) Why You Should Make a Budget
- # 2 (b) How to Make a Budget
- # 3 Turn Your Junk Into Cash
- # 4 Create an Emergency Fund
- # 5 Live Below Your Means
- # 6 Track Your Spending and Update Your Budget
- # 7 Visual Reminders to Track Your Debt
- # 8 Make Yourself Accountable
- # 9 Be Patient and Don’t Give Up