Fed up with being in debt? Congratulations. Rearranging your mindset is the first step to managing, then eliminating, your money troubles.
Dumping debt may require a lifestyle change, but we’re going to give you a look at some new ways to do it, jobs and opportunities that are updated from the old and tired advice to be a bartender at night or work weekends at a retail store.
The process for how to get out of debt is a lot like getting rid of weight, only in reverse: Where slimming down depends on steadily and persistently expending more calories than you take in, successfully paying off debt involves taking in more money than you’re obligated to send out.
There are, essentially, three ways to achieve this:
- Earn more, and use every extra dollar to whittle away your debt burden.
- Spend less, and, again, use freed-up dollars to attack debt.
- Or do both: Earn more and spend less, and go after your debt with an evangelist’s vengeance.
Start Earning More With The Click of a Mouse
The modern gig, or side-hustle, economy offers abundant opportunities to bank extra cash. Everybody knows about Uber and Lyft. But there’s more, and there are, of course, apps (and internet sites) for that.
- Gigwalk guides you to small jobs that you can accomplish in your spare time.
- Field Agent pays users to check prices and scan barcodes.
- Kango allows users (who have passed thorough background checks) to earn by carting school-aged youngsters around and providing childcare.
- Instacart links people who’d rather not go to the grocery with shoppers who pick up and deliver the goods.
- Find a wide array of odd jobs with TaskRabbit.
- Rent your house/apartment or merely a spare bedroom with Airbnb.
- Find freelance gigs through sites such as Upwork, Guru, Freelancer, Fiverr, and Folyo — to name only a tiny handful.
- Snagajob collects part-time opportunities in one place, with a simple search feature.
And that’s just to get you started. Enter “money-making apps” or “freelance opportunities” or even “part-time jobs near (your ZIP code)” in your favorite search engine.
Best place to start: Stop spending
Just as losing weight requires a fresh approach to eating, getting out of debt requires a new approach to, well, budgeting. Take a hard look at where your money goes. Now, look harder.
Keep a spending diary, either the traditional kind in a handy notebook, or with an expenditure-tracking app, such as PocketGuard, Home Budget with Sync, Wally, Dollarbird, and/or Honeyfi.
You might be — you should be — alarmed. Now, whack away. Big stuff and little. Postpone major purchases until the last of your credit card debt is paid. If you have a fat car/truck/SUV payment, sell the vehicle and buy a reliable, less expensive used conveyance.
Get organized so you’re eating at home, rather than eating out or getting takeaway. Stay out of convenience stores when you buy gas. Retrieve that Thermos bottle from the closet and take your own brewed coffee to work. Every little expenditure is money you could be sending to your creditors, delaying the date you are debt-free.
If your mortgage interest rate is at least a point higher than the current rate (you can compare online), you should look into your mortgage refinance options. How long you plan to be in the house is a key factor in the mortgage you settle on. If you’re moving on in a few years, you may want to consider a mortgage with a variable interest rate; if you’ve found your forever home, lean to fixed-rate, preferably 15 years, but a 30 year fixed mortgage if that’s the monthly payment you can afford.
Be proactive: Prevent Future Debt
We all love to whip out a credit card or present our credit-linked smartphones to make purchases. Unless you’re paying off your balances each month, knock it off. No more adding to your debt. Make your cards inconvenient to access, or cut them up; remove the credit-linked app from your phone. This includes removing credit-card information from the online places where you shop.
You also should prepare for the unexpected — a car or home repair, a doctor’s bill — by building an emergency fund. Arrange with your bank or credit union to have a portion of each paycheck diverted to a savings account to be tapped only for contingencies.
Establish a Budget and Stick To It
Budgets aren’t fun, but not having one is a surefire way to wind up spiraling ever deeper into debt.
To reiterate: Study your past spending habits. Review three months of checking, debit, and credit card statements to see where your money goes.
This is a good moment to say you should not be doing this alone. If you are married or otherwise in a stable domestic relationship, enlist the help, cooperation, and support of your significant other. For this to work, there has to be buy-in by the principle partners.
Now establish a budget to get a long-term fix on managing your new spending mindset. Carve out everything that isn’t a necessity, and review areas, such as entertainment — we bet there’s plenty of free stuff to do in your community — where you could make trims.
Consider setting up certain recurring bills for autopay. Knowing money is going to leave your checking account on a certain date can brace your ability to avoid spending temptation.
Consider, too, an envelope or wallet system for paying other bills, such as gas and groceries. Paying cash for each limits the allure of frivolous side trips or splurges.
Start Cutting Expenses
Unsecured debt, on credit cards and personal loans, is the area many of us get into trouble. If this describes you, pick a method for whittling them down, and stick to it.
One tactic, the debt snowball method, involves picking off debts from the smallest to the largest, building momentum (and good feelings about your progress) as you go. This method pays no attention to the interest rate claimed by each debt, but instead aims at reducing the overall number of creditors one at a time.
If saving money overall appeals to you, attack the debt with the highest interest rate first, and work your way down.
Make Minimum Payments
Whichever method works best for you, be certain to make at least minimum payments on the other revolving debts; falling behind on some debts and racking up late fees while you reduce the balance on others isn’t helpful.
Besides, one key idea behind getting yourself financially healthy is to boost your credit score, and that won’t happen if you let minimum payments slide.
Manage Your Student Loans
Burdened with student loans? Check with your human resources department. Increasingly, employers are bowing to reality: Millennials, in particular, are more likely to take jobs that offer student-debt repayment assistance. More and more companies are investing in their workers by helping them pay off student loans.
Getting a lower interest rate on your student debt is a great first step. Begin by comparing Earnest, makers of unsecured personal loans.
Negotiate Interest Rates
You may want to sit down for this. Did you know some credit card interest rates are negotiable? Yep. Contact your creditors and ask about getting a reduced rate. This works best where you have been a long-term client with a history of timely payments.
Other ways to reduce interest rates include credit cards that charge zero interest for transferred balances (check the transfer fee and grace period), and personal consolidation loans.
If negotiation isn’t one of your skills, consider contacting a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Working with creditors to get you better terms is right in their wheelhouse.
Use the extra money freed up from lower minimum payments (the result of lower interest rates) to reduce your debt balances.
Find Additional Savings
Certain parts of your budget are absolute necessities: car insurance, homeowner’s/renter’s insurance, cell phone, cable, and internet. This does not mean you can’t get a better deal. Sometimes research is involved. Shop around. Even if you don’t want to leave your current provider — some of our best friends are insurance agents — knowledge can be power.
And sometimes all you have to do is ask. Service companies frequently run unadvertised specials or have incentive programs for their sales staff designed merely to hang onto current customers. Call them; tell them you’re thinking of switching. Ask them to do something to make you stay.
Sell Your Stuff
Getting out of debt quickly means leaving no stone unturned. Inventory your stuff. Do you love it all as much as when you acquired it, or is some of it mere clutter (even if it is in good condition)? Cleaning out stuff that is merely in the way, and getting cash in return, can be useful to you spiritually as well as financially.
Have a traditional yard sale, or stage one virtually via eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook, to name just three. After all, you’ve already downloaded all your CDs and backed them up on the cloud. Why continue to devote all that shelf space to the legacy hard copies?
Use Found Money
Until you’re debt-free (with the possible exception of your mortgage), devote unexpected receipts to killing off your credit monsters. This includes your tax refund. You’ll have others. Use the next one to help you climb out of your debt hole.
Relocation as a Debt-Reduction Tool
Not tied to your current location? Think you could find joy in a small- to medium-sized town? If you have, or are willing to acquire, marketable skills, look into the incentives being offered by counties and municipalities in flyover country. You could land lucrative, lasting employment while a local government helps foot your expenses for relocation, including subsidizing the purchase of a house, or your rent. Some even throw in offers to help with student loan debt.
Get Help From a NonProfit Credit Counselor
We mentioned nonprofit credit counseling services. This was not an idle recommendation. If your wheels are spinning in a debt rut, set up an interview; you may be closer to getting traction than you could have imagined. They’ll help you establish a workable budget, and keep you coached up as you work your way back into the black with the help of a debt consolidation plan.