I’ve been reflecting on how much progress we’ve made towards reducing our debt in the past several months, and why we’ve been so much more successful this time in reducing our credit card debt. I’ve come up with some attitude and behavior shifts that have really helped it work this time. Here are ten relatively small changes that anyone can make that can add up to a huge difference.
1. Be Accountable: Having this blog keeps me accountable, as I blog about the details of money that goes to debt, savings, and gets spent. You don’t have to be accountable to the world on a blog, it could be your spouse, a family member, or a trusted friend. Before I started the blog I used my spouse as my primary sounding board and that was working well too.
2. Have a Plan: Trying to accomplish any goal without an idea of how to get there is setting yourself up for failure. Make a plan to get out of debt. Figure out how much a month you can pay towards debt, and have a list of your priorities in regards to payoff. Which debt are you paying off first? How much over your minimums are you committing to paying, no matter what?
3. Snowflake: Snowballs are great but to build up momentum to a snowball, start with snowflakes. You can read my primer on what is snowflaking here. Basically, commit any extra money to debt, and squeeze extra money out of any place you can find it. You could use coupons and apply the difference to debt, take surveys online, pick up a short-term extra job, collect the change from in your couch cushions – there are dozens and dozens of possibilities to find a few extra dollars through reducing expenses or increasing income. The key is – they must immediately go towards paying down debt. Online bill pay can greatly facilitate this.
4. Make Smart Choices: A lot of life is choice. It may not be obvious, but when you choose to buy something you don’t need vs paying that money to debt, you’re making a choice that whatever that is you are buying is more important to you than reducing your debt. We all need a little bit of “want” in our lives, even when we’re buried in debt, but make sure you have chosen the “wants” that truly enhance your quality of life. And pay the rest to debt.
5. Increase Your Income, but Don’t Increase Your Lifestyle: Try and find ways to increase your income. They could be big ways like taking on a part time job, or small ways like decreasing your tax withholding on your paycheck if you generally get a refund. But do not increase your lifestyle accordingly – all of the increase in available money must go to debt. Once you’re dependent on that money for everyday expenses it is no longer an increase and is now part of your necessary income.
6. Slow and Steady, but Take Advantage of Opportunities Too: I truly believe being consistent and slow and steady payments is a key to debt reduction. Commit to an amount to pay to debt per month, and don’t compromise on it unless absolutely necessary. But take advantage of opportunities. If you get a windfall, large or small, pay it to debt. All of it if you can make yourself do so, but at least a large portion of it. A bonus at work, a cash present from a relative, any unexpected money can go to debt.
7. Abandon ‘All or Nothing’: Sometimes if we realize we can’t meet our goal, we abandon the effort altogether. It doesn’t have to be that way. Some is better than none. If you can’t put everything you planned towards debt one month, just do the best you can and keep going. It is better to hit part of a goal than none at all.
8. Substitute: When appropriate, see if there is a less expensive alternative to whatever you are buying without sacrificing quality. The simplest place to do this is in the grocery store – many store brands are very similar to name brands in quality and taste, they just differ in price. Calculate your savings, and send that money to your debt in a snowflake.
9. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask: There are many discounts available if only you ask. From an additional markdown on a slightly damaged piece of merchandise, to a discount to bring a price lower than the competitor’s, be assertive. Ask. that’s the only way you can take advantage of any hidden markdowns that might be available to you. Again, this money saved is now available to go directly to debt.
10. Budget: Last but not at all least, use a budget as a tool for debt reduction. A budget can help you clarify what your priorities are. A budget should be a flexible tool that adapts to your life, but helps you really understand what your life’s priorities are as well. Knowing your income, expenses, and available money for debt reduction can really jumpstart your debt reduction process. you may be able to make a lot more progress than you think!
I hope you’ve found at least a little inspiration in this list, and please add your own tip in the comments if you have a secret to your success!