Facing a large or even small amount of debt? You’re far from alone. In fact, a staggering 80% of Americans have some sort of debt. Of course, some of it is “good” debt, like a mortgage. But many others are struggling with a mountain of credit card debt or student loan payments that may seem almost impossible to erase.
But, believe it or not, it’s possible to escape the debt treadmill. Check out these tips from people who were struggling to get back on solid financial footing – and succeeded.
Reduce Your Largest Expenses
We’re not talking forgoing a daily latte or weekend movie – even though baby steps are always good, they’re not going to make the solid dent you likely need. Instead, we’re talking about making big changes to your largest expenses, such as selling or downgrading a vehicle to minimize car payments or bringing in a roommate to reduce living expenses.
“If you truly want to get out of debt, just know there is no way around making drastic changes,” says Cornelius Davis of Atlanta, who has been debt-free for three years. He continued driving an older vehicle much longer than he would have preferred in order to avoid a car payment, as well as the accompanying higher insurance premium. And while he didn’t seek a roommate at the time, in hindsight, he wishes he would have, as it would have erased the debt that much faster.
Some people go even further, like Kelly Hayes-Raitt, who found herself $90,000 in debt when her political consulting business tanked after 9/11. “I rented out my own home for income and lived elsewhere as a house sitter, rent-free in exchange for caring for people’s homes and pets while they were on vacation.”
While she paid off her last credit card balance in April 2010, she realized she loved the house-sitting lifestyle so much that she has continued and has now been traveling full-time for nine years, to locales such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Gibraltar, Africa, Hanoi, Osaka and Kuala Lumpur, with no house payment to contend with.
While that might not be for everyone – with jobs, kids, whatnot – there are other ways you can pay far less for housing, whether it’s moving to a lower-cost area or renting out your larger home and downsizing to a smaller space, at least for a while.
Stick to a Budget
If you don’t track your money, you won’t have any idea where it’s going or where you can cut expenditures, points out Davis, who considers his budget the foundation for getting out of debt. “My budget allowed me to stay on top of every dollar I had coming in and allocate that money to the different expenses I had.”
Davis searched for a free budgeting spreadsheet, picked one he liked and customized it to fit his needs. While you can find fancy apps or software, a good old-fashioned notebook can work just as well.
Make More Money
Asking for a raise is a great place to start, but you also might consider a side hustle to augment your income. With the holidays approaching, finding seasonal employment could be a good way to watch your income surge. And 2018 is particularly promising: The National Retail Federation reports that retailers are expected to hire up to 650,000 seasonal workers this holiday season.
If retail work isn’t your thing, or you know that being at the mall is too tempting, think of other ways you can put your talents to work, whether it’s catering parties, photographing babies or helping others declutter.
Use a System to Pay Off Your Debt
“You have to become the bully when it comes to your debt, and pick on the smallest guy,” Davis says. In other words, pay the minimum payment on all your debts, except the smallest one, and then take all of the money you generate from reducing expenses and your additional streams of income and apply it to your smallest debt so that it gets paid off quickly.
Once that debt is paid, you go pick on the next smallest one. “This approach, known as the ‘snowball’, will help keep you motivated and allow you to see good progress,” Davis says.
Another potential system is the “avalanche,” where you focus all your excess money on the debt that has the highest interest rate.
Consolidate Your Debt
If your debt is fragmented to different companies, open a separate bank account that you pay all those debts from, suggests Edward Woodcock of London, England. That’s exactly what he did when he was struggling with debt.
First, determine what you need to pay each month on the debts, and then set up automated monthly payments from this bank account to your creditors. On payday, transfer the amount you owe, plus a little extra, to this account and use it solely to repay the debts.
“Doing this is a psychological win because once you’ve transferred this money on payday, you now have a full, clear understanding of how much you have left to spend each month,” he says. In addition, it helps ensure that you don’t miss any payments.
Transfer Your Credit Card Balance to a Lower-Interest Card
When Alexa Amador of Houston was drowning in debt, she transferred four balances to a credit card that offered 0% interest for 18 months. “This made me feel so much better about the amount that was getting paid off and especially lowered the worry that I would miss a payment on one of those balances,” she says. Just stay vigilant to watch when the interest kicks in because it could be higher than what it would be on a normal card.
However, just because your payment looks lower with no interest, don’t decrease how much you’re paying each month, Woodcock warns. “This will increase the speed at which you’re paying your debt with no noticeable impact to your day-to-day budget,” he points out, adding that it’s best to specifically devote this card solely to clearing debt.
Debt can feel like a huge weight dragging you down, but taking these steps can help you start 2019 a whole lot lighter. What are some strategies you plan to employ to reduce debt? Let us know in the comments below.
If so, subscribe now for tips on home, money, and life delivered straight to your inbox.