If you live in the Western world, you’ll almost certainly have debt of some kind – the average American has a debt of over $100,000! (No wonder they call us ‘consumers’ instead of ‘people’ or ‘citizens’.)
This particular statistic was worked out by averaging the national personal debt of everyone in the US between each man, woman, and child.
So working on the assumption that most kids probably don’t have any debts yet, the average debt per person is actually substantially MORE than $100,000. Scary stuff.
In this guide, I will share some powerful ways to payoff or reduce debt quickly and live a debt free life.
Understand that debt is good as well as bad.
On the surface, debt might not seem like such a big problem. ‘Logically’, there’s no reason why it should be a bad thing: you’ve traded some future earnings for the sake of getting something that you highly desire (or need) right now. What’s the big deal?
I’ll tell you: it’s because the REAL problem with debt comes with the debt-creating mindset that got you into this particular situation in the first place.
Or they want to buy a house, which is technically an investment in the future (as well as being what’s called a secured loan, which, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t actually count as debt anyway, since collateral’s backing up the bank’s investment in you as a lendee.)
Or they take out a student loan so that they can get a good job someday.
These are SMART debts, for 2 reasons:
1. They’re debts that actually go towards increasing your future quality of life (with bonus points for dream fulfillment along the way);
2. In situations like these, it doesn’t make any sense to wait until you’ve saved up the money on your own, because these are time-sensitive issues.
For example, if you wait to get a tertiary education until you’ve saved up the necessary $30, $40, or $100 grand for your study fees, you won’t even set foot on the bottom rung of the career ladder until you’re middle-aged at least by which time it might be pretty difficult to reap all the financial and psychological benefits of a good education, since you’ll be retiring soon anyway!
These types of debts are what I call ‘smart debts’: it makes good sense to take out a loan for any of these purposes (in fact, you’d almost be foolish NOT to.)
But they aren’t the debts that I’m talking about in this article. The kind of debts that are ‘bad’ are the debts that come from a debt-creating mindset, which is essentially what happens when someone goes into debt out of:
A) Genuine desperation, because they’re in crisis mode and didn’t have an emergency fund saved up;
B) Impulse, because they basically suck at managing their own money;
C) Optional desperation, because their life isn’t any fun right now and they feel the need to ‘treat themselves’ to some instant gratification.
Example For Type A Debt.
Example A might be characterized by the kind of spending that happens when someone gets divorced, gets made redundant, or gets sick: they need that money now, just to get over the hump (and unfortunately, for whatever reason, they haven’t got enough of a nest egg to see them through.)
Example For Type B Debt.
Example B might be characterized by someone who goes out to buy some new athletic socks, and ends up charging 2 pairs of new jeans (because they’re on sale), a lunch at the food-court (plus dessert), and a surprise gift for their new girlfriend (because she’s cute, and she deserves something nice) on the credit card – along with the original pair of socks that they actually set out to buy.
Then on the way home they top up their car at the gas station and maybe go to a movie, putting these things on the credit card also.
Example For Type C Debt.
Example C might be characterized by someone who works most days, whose discretionary income is taken up buying groceries, paying for utilities and gas, and coughing up for daycare.
And who, every couple weeks or months or years, gets ‘sick of it all’ and decides to ‘treat themselves’ to something nice: a vacation in Bora-Bora, an upgrade on their cellphone, a new car, a new home entertainment system.
And who puts themselves into debt in order to enjoy these ‘pick-me-ups’ because their regular budget doesn’t afford for these kinds of mood boosters.
The type of mindset that creates debts like these, whether in line with example A, B, or C, is a mindset composed largely of the need for instant gratification – whether that’s the gratification of spending all of one’s income on the present moment (instead of saving a bit against a rainy day).
The gratification of enjoying a large popcorn and Coke at the movies whether you have the cash this week for extras or not, or the gratification that comes from saying ‘the hell with it’ and making a large purchase to improve your life, whether or not you can actually afford to do so.
This is the debt-creating mindset. How to get out of it is a story for a different issue and a different column but what to do about it, in the ‘real world’, right here and now, is something that I can absolutely help you with today.
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30 Days to Debt Free Life.
Here are 3 tips to help you reduce your debt quickly, and significantly improve your mind-set about money, in the next 30 days.
Not a bad deal, huh? Here goes:
1. Spend only a SMALL part of your money on reducing debt.
I know this runs counter to what just about anybody will tell you about reducing debt.
But there’s actually some pretty water-tight reasoning behind this logic, so listen up.
First, a small personal story to illustrate: I myself had my first ‘scary, real-world’ experience with debt when my marriage ended.
I was 22 years old – we’d married young - and very inexperienced with money; I’d spent the last couple years working for minimum wage in various soul-destroying telemarketing jobs (yes, I was one of those people who call you up on a Sunday afternoon with a spiel about life insurance.)
Long story short, due to my lack of experience with money plus a general financial ignorance that comes with youth (and with always having had a safety net of husband and family there to help me out when I really needed it), I had zero funds saved up to bail myself out in an emergency.
So, when I made the decision to end the marriage, and moved out of our house into a small apartment on my own, I had literally nothing with which to pay the deposit on the apartment; nothing to pay the movers with; nothing with which to buy a new bed, fridge, couch, or cookware.
And I had to put it ALL on my credit-card. Do you know how long it took me to pay off the thousands and thousands of dollars that I spent in credit until I got back on my own two feet?
YEARS. Years and years and YEARS. But! The reason why it took so long is very simple: it’s because I was trying to pay it off in the wrong way.
At the time, I subscribed to the ‘pay it off quick, before you drown in interest!’ mindset; and as a result, I was throwing about 80-90% of my take-home pay (after rent) at the debt.
The result of this approach was that I spent just about every single waking moment thinking about money, how I didn’t have enough of it, and when was I ever going to be able to get out from under this crushing debt boulder.
And of course, what happened was that I got really stressed out about funds, totally bought into the ‘poverty consciousness’ mindset, and basically found myself completely unable to stick to my ‘budget’ each week because it made me too unhappy to do so.
It went something like this: Payday came around; I took out the money for rent, and threw about 85% of what was left over into my credit-card.
For the rest of the pay cycle, I was then in the kind of financial position where I had to do things like turn down social invitations from my best friends because I couldn’t afford to pay for the petrol it would take to drive the 10 minutes to get there
And I didn’t have the time to take the bus, because I was working so many overtime hours trying to pay off the debt that the 30 or so minutes I’d spend waiting in a bus-stop would just detract too much from the measly amount of time I had left over at the end of each day, and would actually stress me out MORE than not going in the first place.
It wasn’t a fun place to be. I barely had enough money to keep myself in toilet paper and cornflakes until the next pay-day, and if I got so much as a library fine for a couple bucks, my whole week would be thrown out of balance.
You can see where this is going. I’d end up using my credit card to buy small things here and there just to ‘make ends meet’ - $100 of groceries here, a glass of wine there after a particularly bloody day at work
And before you knew it, huge lumps of the progress I’d made with my ‘drastic’ pay-back plan had been eaten up by ‘unforeseen necessities’, and I’d feel compelled to put even MORE of my NEXT pay-check into my credit-card to try and make up the short-fall, thus making things worse and worse for my day-to-day lifestyle (and sanity.)
This went on for about a year, until I finally figured out what I was doing wrong: I needed to pay my debt off, sure, but I also needed to leave myself enough over each week to have a decent life right now.
Putting off fun, food, and dental checkups until the day when I’d paid off thousands of dollars in debt was not only alarmingly pauperize and demoralizing as hell, but also, it was literally impossible.
As long as I was trying to get it all paid off as quickly as if it had never happened in the first place.
I was going to stay trapped in this weird financial limbo of feeling like I had no money because I was ‘paying off my debt’ but still needing to use my credit card enough that, actually, I was barely paying off anything at all (while experiencing a lot of financial deprivation, not to mention lashings of guilt anxiety each time I whipped my card out to pay for cat food or a box of cereal.)
So here’s what I did: I got real. Instead of shoving huge lumps of my income onto my credit card and fooling myself that I’d be able to both live and make progress on my debt in this way, I decided to get interested in life right here and now and live as though the debt just didn’t exist at all.
I don’t mean that I buried my head in the sand and ignored any concept of repayment, or that I shackled myself to ‘minimum repayments’ every month for the rest of forever.
I mean that I set aside a small amount each week for the debt repayment – and I mean small, like five percent of my earnings, enough to just rise above the ‘minimum repayment’ requirement – put that repayment on ‘automatic transfer’ through the bank for payday each week so I wouldn’t even have to think about it and then went about living my life as though that credit-card debt had never occurred in the first place.
I didn’t think about it. I didn’t fret about it. I definitely didn’t talk about it. I just chilled out, because I knew that, as long as I didn’t use my card any more, and as long as that weekly repayment kept going in, some day it would all be paid off so I might as well relax until then.
This is the easiest, most effective, and without a doubt most pleasurable way to repay any debt you might have.
Start paying it off, but pay a SMALL amount – with enough left over that you can live your life right now, without having to think about that debt (or seriously stressfully begrudge the amount that’s going into repaying it.)
Then, just live your life like you have no debt. Because one day, you won’t.
2. Attack the SMALL Debt balances first.
Again, sounds almost nonsensical, doesn’t it? EVERYBODY knows that you should pay off the debt with the highest interest first, no matter how big it is, while making only minimum payments on all the other debts – and that you should be hurling everything you’ve got at that high-interest debt until it’s all gone.
Then, you should start on the next one. And so on.
The problem with this is that it’s pretty depressing if your highest-interest debt is also your biggest one. For example, if you have a $20,000 personal loan at 18%, and a $4,000 credit card debt at 12.5%, it makes sense – on paper, at least – to start chipping away at the high interest personal loan first, right?
But paying off your debts this way takes such a long time that you can make payments for MONTHS and see virtually no changes in the balance owing.
It’s massively demotivating. Meet Dave Ramsey’s ‘debt snowball’ theory.
I love this theory for two reasons: 1) it works, and 2) it works.
Oh yeah, and the third bonus reason: it sounds so weird and illogical that most people are willing to at least try it for themselves, if only because it’s so refreshingly different from all the other advice they’ve gotten about money.
Here’s a basic overview of how the Ramsey Debt Snowball works.
1. Figure out how much money you want to spend paying back debt each month. (I advise you to keep my first tip in mind when doing this.)
2. Order your debts from the smallest balance to the highest balance, disregarding interest rates and any other information or numbers except the actual balance owing.
3. Start paying off the amount with the smallest balance FIRST, making only minimum repayments on all other debts. (Note: Ramsey also suggests that you hurl ‘everything you can’ at this first debt, but I’m modifying his advice to suggest that you hurl everything you comfortably can.)
4. Once you’ve paid off the first debt – which will happen pretty quickly – don’t shrink or expand the amount you’ve chosen to repay; just transfer it to the next-smallest debt, and watch that one whittle down, too.
5. Continue until debt-free.
I know that it sounds like you’ll end up paying more, what with interest rates and all; but the beauty of the ‘debt snowball’ concept is that it relies on human psychology instead of mathematics to make it work, so it works better and faster.
It works, because it’s gratifying to see yourself succeed.
Thus, you actually end up SAVING money, because you take care of your debts faster instead of chipping away for years and years and getting so disheartened that you just stop trying after awhile.
3. Pay YOURSELF first no matter what (i.e. SAVE.)
Savings = freedom. When you have dollars in the bank, you’re free from the uncertainty of the future.
You can afford to do what you want, whether that’s go on vacation, quit your job, get out of the renting vortex and make a down payment on a real house … or just to take a friend out to lunch some sunny Saturday afternoon.
You have choices. This is a fact that, when it becomes a daily reality of your own life, has a surprising ability to help you sleep the night through, worry less about day to day mishaps, and laugh harder when someone tells you a joke.
Do not underestimate the relaxing effect of savings on your psyche. The problem with savings is that they don’t sound very exciting until you have some of your own.
The concept of not spending all your money each week is kind of scary (until you start doing it and realize how reassuring and calming it actually is to save.)
If you’re afraid of saving, go back and read the first paragraph again until the message sinks in: savings equal the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Then start taking a small percentage of your income and putting it aside somewhere – preferably somewhere it will grow as quickly and safely as possible, whether you hire someone to figure out where that is or just bung it in a high-interest savings account.
Here’s the thing you’ve got to know about saving: DO IT SLOWLY.
If you’re not used to paying yourself first – before you pay the landlord, the supermarket, the gas station, the vet, the kindergarten – then you’ve gotta ease into it.
New priorities take time to take hold, so don’t get competitive and try to walk before you can crawl.
This is what that means in day-to-day terms: take a SMALL percentage of your money and put it away. 10% is a nice number to aim for one day, but if that amount puts you into panic mode, start off with 1% or 2% - or even a fixed dollar amount like $10 or $20.
Trust me, you can do this. I know it sounds like crazy talk if you’re already having trouble just making ends meet; but you only have to do it a couple times until the security-blanket factor kicks in and you actually start to want to grow your savings faster.
I have a friend who, at the time of writing, is 34 years old and $50,000 in debt (she bought a retail business with her partner when she was 31, and it didn’t work out.)
This friend can barely buy groceries each week. Her partner pays most of the rent and constantly bitches at her about how she should be contributing more to household bills.
But she still puts aside $100 each week in a private checking account somewhere (and when her savings reach the minimum amount required for a high-interest savings account, she’ll put it there instead.)
If she can do it, you can do it – and you can spare 1% or 2%, even if FEELS right now like you can’t.
The bottom line: when your money sucks, everything else sucks too. It’s hard to enjoy life, be a good lover, partner, friend, and parent, eat healthily, sleep well, and relax on weekends when you have money worries.
These three small tips are all things you can start doing right now, today – and if you can start taking care of yourself financially today, then all your tomorrows will magically take care of themselves.
By the way: this ‘one day at a time’ mentality is a key component of addiction counseling (like the kind they have in AA), and since debt and spending are, like alcohol, both highly addictive substances in their own right,
I think it’s appropriate to employ a similar method of recovery to your financial habits. Start today. Your tomorrows will sort themselves out.
I will stop here. I believe you loved reading this guide on how to payoff or reduce your debt quickly, if you enjoyed reading the tips please do not forget to share and comment your ideas.