If you’re serious about getting your finances into great shape, you have to be serious about getting out of debt. For the vast majority of Americans, debt is a normal, accepted part of life. But it really shouldn’t be. Without a focused debt reduction plan, most people stay on a never-ending treadmill of endless payments and thousands of dollars lost to high-interest charges. Outside of a mortgage, one of your goals for creating a healthy financial future should be to wipe out your debt.
So what are the most typical reasons people do stay in debt? There are many in fact; let’s examine some of the most common, and take an honest look at your own reasons for still being in debt –– do they match any of the following reasons?
Becoming Debt Free Isn’t Prioritized
No matter how intently you say that you want something, if you don’t take steps to prioritize achieving it, it simply isn’t going to happen. The veritable can keeps getting kicked down the road. Days turn to weeks, which turn to months, and soon another year has passed without any change in circumstance. This really is true of any goal, but especially for paying off debt.
Putting a plan into place, and taking action on paying off debt will likely involve sacrifices. You may have to give up some of your expensive meals out, or forgo a vacation for a year or two. Whatever it is, you’ll need to come to terms that if you’re serious about prioritizing paying off your debt, then you’ll likely have to make some subtle or even dramatic sacrifices to accomplish that goal. There’s no immediate gratification. The real reward comes months or even years later when you begin to see your efforts pay off in the form of more disposable income, a better credit score, and more financial freedom.
Confusion About Where to Begin
Even with the best intentions, and the resolve to eliminate debt once and for all, it can feel like an endless maze without a well-structured plan in place. A plan will act as a road map, providing a starting point, ending point, and the most efficient route to get to your destination of becoming debt-free. For many people with large amounts of debt, it can seem like an insurmountable hurdle to wipe out their debt, but a plan helps clarify the steps that need to be taken.
There are multiple ways to strategize your debt elimination. You’ve likely heard of popular approaches such as the debt snowball or debt avalanche method. The snowball method involves listing your debts from smallest to highest and focusing on applying as much discretionary budget that you’re able to pay off the lowest debt first while maintaining minimum payments on the remainder. Once the smallest debt is paid, repeat the process with the next smallest, until you’ve wiped out all of them.
The debt avalanche method is similar but instead of starting with the lowest debt amount, begin with the debt that has the highest interest rate. Then once that’s paid off, go on to the next highest interest rate, and so on.
What’s best for you? It really depends on how much debt you have in total, and how many different accounts you have. If you only have one or two credit cards to wipe out, it’s fairly straightforward. If you have multiple high debts with various interest rates, you’ll probably want to begin with the debt that is costing you the most money. Whatever the case, putting a plan in place will help you feel organized and ready to tackle your debt.
How can you realistically develop a debt reduction strategy if you’re not even clear about how much disposable income you have every month to do so? One of the most common mistakes most people make in regards to improving their finances is skipping out on budgeting. A budget gives you a macro-view of your money, and it is the starting point for planning your debt reduction strategy. A budget basically gives marching orders to your money, otherwise, you’ll find that you often don’t even realize how you’re spending the money that you are every month.
Another benefit of budgeting is it gives you a feeling of being in control of your finances, rather than being reactionary. It’s one thing to track your spending, but it’s a whole different experience when you understand and control where every dollar is going. Remember good financial management involves discipline, and that starts with figuring out what your monthly budget is.
Believing it’s Unaffordable
Often many people simply fall back on the belief that they don’t make enough money to climb out of debt. This is where budgeting comes into play and so important in a debt reduction plan. The reality is most people can get out of debt no matter how much money they make. It’s more of a behavioral problem than anything. Spending mindlessly –– often more than their income would allow –– will no doubt keep you in debt. This can be a result of a number of factors from an addiction to shopping, wanting to maintain “appearances,” or even perhaps ingrained, unconscious beliefs that were picked up in childhood. Most of these are behaviors that can be changed with some self-awareness and combined with a budget, you will likely find that you do make enough money to wipe out your debt by following a plan.
For those people who legitimately can point to income being an issue, there are still possibilities. Finding part-time, gig-focused work is quite easy these days, whether that’s driving a few hours a week for a ride-share service, grocery shopping, or even tutoring online. Picking up a side income even as little as five to ten hours per week, and committing those earnings exclusively toward debt reduction will help knock out that debt quickly.
Feeling stressed financially, especially in regards to high, unmanageable debt undoubtedly can lead to feeling like there’s simply no hope. Sadly, there are multiple studies that have even shown correlations between high debt and suicide. Even if you’re making minimum payments every month, and your balance isn’t decreasing, it can feel demoralizing very quickly. If you’re buried under a mountain of debt and feel like there is simply no way of overcoming it, remember there’s still hope.
There’s a saying –– too much analysis causes paralysis. This is often true when people carry large amounts of debt; they simply never take any action. The best thing you can do in this circumstance is to remember, there are many, many people who have been in the same position and have ended up turning their financial lives around. The next best thing you can do is to seek out professional help. There’s no shame in admitting that you simply don’t know where to start, or feel overwhelmed. Working with a professional on a debt reduction strategy will help you regain a sense of control and in many cases can actually slash the amount of debt you owe, and help you get it paid off sooner.
There are many reasons people stay in debt, but why not focus on the reasons to get out of debt? Yes it’s hard, and can take time, but it is possible. If you want to wipe out your debt for good, make your plan and start taking action today. You’ll be one day closer to becoming debt-free!