Like losing weight, getting out of debt can be a long and toilsome process. However, piling on debt is easier than piling on the pounds. There aren’t any quick and easy fixes, so I’ve listed 5 tips that will help you stay motivated while you climb your way out of debt.
Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, “I want to get out of debt” doesn’t meet the criteria of a S.M.A.R.T. goal. A cursory acknowledgment of wanting to get out of debt isn’t going to get you very far. In isolation, a statement like that reveals your lack of conviction.
You want to get somewhere? Say “I’m going to sacrifice cable, soft drinks, and my overpriced apartment to apply the freed up cash towards paying off $13,843.52 of credit card debt by December 31, 2009.” You don’t have to tell everybody your business, but you understand where I’m going.
Your income, obligations, and level of discipline are key factors in determining whether your goals are realistic. Don’t make too many excuses for yourself. If anyone facing similar circumstances as you has ever accomplished a goal as lofty or loftier than the one you’ve set, then it’s definitely attainable.
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. – Lewis Carroll
Develop a Plan
It’s cool to set S.M.A.R.T goals, but a carefully devised plan is your blueprint for debt freedom. An essential component of that blueprint is a budget. Yes – I said budget. Don’t like the word “budget?” You can call it a spending plan, a financial forecast, whatever. You can get real creative. Anyway you slice it, it’s still income minus expenses over a specified period of time.
After you’ve prepared your budget, I want you to take a close look at your expenses. Identify ways to eliminate or reduce each line item. Even those “fixed” expenses aren’t spared from this fat trimming process. Any money you find will be applied to your debts.
If your situation is really dire, consider picking up additional work freelancing or delivering pizzas. Before doing so, consider whether the extra effort is worth it.
The thought of fessing up to the wasteful spending you’ve participated in over the years can be disheartening. Keep it simple. Use any or a combination of the following tools to prepare a budget:
Personally, I prefer Mint. Use what works for you.
There are two ways to determine which debts to pay off first. Some say give priority to liabilities with the highest interest rate to minimize costs. Others say pay the smallest balances first to garner a sense of accomplishment. What do I say? I say I’ve presented you with two options. Pick one.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. – Who knows?
Continually Gather Relevant Information
Knowledge is a powerful tool. Immerse yourself in financial information. Listen to podcasts. Read books, blogs, and magazines. Discuss money saving techniques with the cheapest person you know over tea. Constantly listening to or reading about personal finance will keep you focused.
I’m a huge proponent of frugality. In order to save money, you need to know how to get what you need for as little as possible. But, don’t go overboard spending money to save money. Do your best to go without what you really don’t need.
Some of my favorite money saving, debt obliterating information comes from the following sources:
- The Dave Ramsey Show
- Marketplace Money
- The Color of Money
- Liz Pulliam Weston
At some point, I’ll get around to sharing my tried and true frugal strategies, but for now, know that the list above is nothing less than pure gold.
The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant. – Richard Cecil
Track Your Progress
At least twice a month, I want you to evaluate your progress. It’s not enough to devise a plan, you also have to stick to it. This is why it’s essential you assess whether you’re on track to accomplish your goals. Seeing your debt decrease and your corresponding net worth increase is encouraging.
If you’re not getting the results you hoped for, then that simply means there is a flaw in your plan or a flaw in your follow through. It’s likely the latter, so you should probably adjust that first.
If you can actually see the fruits of your sacrifice, then you’re much more likely to press forward. Perhaps this glimpse of freedom will compel you to spread the gospel to all who’ll hear the importance of simple living. Hold on to that enthusiasm.
Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. – Henry Steele Commager
Surround Yourself with Positive People
You don’t need people around who’ll beat you up when you veer off course. Don’t get discouraged if a moment of weakness or an unexpected event causes you to deviate from the plan. Whenever I have a particularly undisciplined day of spending, I say to myself, “tomorrow is a new day.” Try it. Whatever you do, don’t quit.
If all your friends are financial misfits, find people with similar debt-free ambitions on social networking sites like Meetup or MEETin.org. Don’t get put off by the fact that these websites encourage (*gasp*) actual face to face interaction.
People are like elevators. They can take you up, or they can take you down. – Zachary Tims
If you’ve paid off a significant amount of debt, what’d you do to stay motivated? If you’ve been unsuccessful getting out of debt in the past, what are the areas that caused you the most trouble? I’d love to hear your thoughts.