Whether your debt has three, four or even five zeroes attached to it, you’re going to need to follow some simple basics in order to successfully pay it off. That’s because paying off debt requires planning, endurance, safety precautions and taking it one day or one step at a time.
To successfully pay off your debt also requires lifestyle changes that you can maintain for years or even a lifetime. It’s really the only way to keep your debt in check and your financial life on the right trajectory.
Here are six debt management basics that can help you establish good money habits, get out of debt and stay that way.
Yes, the B word. Budgets are about as boring as watching paint dry for a lot of us, but they’re an absolute necessity if you want to be in control of your finances. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It can literally be a piece of paper with two columns showing your income and outgo each month.
By writing everything down, you can assess whether there are things you can live without, cut them from your budget and apply that money elsewhere, like your credit card payments, student loan payments or even establishing an emergency fund.
At the end of the day, you can be the most frugal person you know and, if you aren’t bringing in enough money to make ends meet, you’re never going to get out of debt and get ahead financially.
This can be tough for many people, but really assessing how you can bring in more money each month is genuinely helpful. Should you ask for a raise at work? Do you have any skills that would let you earn extra income through a side hustle? What about additional education? Is it financially worthwhile to seek a degree in your chosen field, or to get additional certifications or training? (Here’s how one financial blogger brought in more money and paid off her debt quickly.)
Consider your options and your available time and get to work on your own personal plan to earn more income.
3. Safety Net
Sure you can put all your money toward paying off any existing debt you may have, but if you don’t have a safety net like an emergency fund or at least a savings account, chances are good that one unforeseen major expense will put you right back in debt. So, before you start paying off all your debts, make sure you can build your future self a nice little cushion, because that rainy day will come along and you’ll be happy you were prepared when it does.
4. Plan of Attack
Once you’ve put all the previous basics in place, you can focus on knocking out that debt. To do so, you’ll need a plan of attack. There are any number of ways to do this, but two tried-and-true methods are the debt snowball and the debt avalanche approaches. Here’s a handy primer on how to pay off debt.
5. Outside Help
If you’ve tried repeatedly to pay down your debt and haven’t been completely successful, you may need to ask for help. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available, including tools that can help you automate your debt payments. If you’re seriously in debt and are considering serious action like bankruptcy, you may wish to seek the advice of a credit counselor. As with any financial advice, it’s important to do your research and ensure the person you’re speaking with is qualified, licensed and isn’t going to charge you an exorbitant amount of money.
Finally, to get rid of your debt once and for all — and to stay out of debt in the future — you’re going to need to be diligent. Just like losing weight and then gaining it all back again, going back into debt can be frustrating. But by establishing good spending and savings habits by applying these debt management basics, you’ll be putting yourself on a path to a debt-free life.
[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]