Getting into debt can happen seemingly overnight. Digging your way out can take much longer. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you're carrying credit card debt, car loans, student loans, mortgage debt or all of the above. While there's no magic spell that will instantly erase your bills, you and your spouse can get rid of debt slowly but surely. Taking the time to formulate a plan for paying it down is the first step.
Stop adding to the debt. You can't really start tackling your debt until you stop borrowing money. Keep one credit card for emergencies and cut up the rest or put them in the freezer. Commit to paying cash to cover expenses.
Figure out what you owe. You and your spouse or significant other have to know exactly how much debt you're in, no matter how intimidating the final number may seem. Add up everything you owe, both individually and together. Make a note of how much interest you're paying on each debt and what the minimum payment is each month.
Create a budget if you don't have one. Your budget tells you how much money you're spending each month compared to what you're taking in. Write down all of your expenses, including fixed payments for your home and utilities, debt payments and the amounts you spend on variable expenses, such as clothing or eating out. If you and your spouse are spending more than you're making, look for areas where you can cut expenses. For example, consider downsizing your phone plan or eliminating cable TV services. Use coupons to cut grocery costs and consider carpooling or using public transportation to save on gas.
List your debts in the order that you want to pay them off. Paying your debt off based on the interest rate can help you save money if you start with the highest first. Tackling smaller debts first, regardless of the interest rate, may give you the push you need to move on to the bigger debts on your list.
Make all the minimum payments to your debts, except the debt that's at the top of your list. You want to pay as much to that debt as you can each month until it's gone. Once you pay off the first debt, roll the payment over to the next debt on the list.
Continue rolling your payments over as you pay off each debt. This is called snowballing your debt. As your snowball gets larger, you should see your debts begin to disappear more quickly until they're gone altogether.
- Set aside a line in your budget for savings each month. Having a cushion of cash on hand means you won't need to whip out the plastic if an emergency comes up.
- Give yourself a small reward whenever you reach a debt milestone. Celebrating even the smallest accomplishment can motivate you to keep going with your debt repayment.
- Track your progress using a spreadsheet or chart that you can use as a visible reminder of how far you've come in paying down your debt.
- Don't make your budget too restrictive. If you or your spouse feel deprived, you could end up overspending out of frustration. Set aside a little money for fun so you don't end up resenting the budgeting process.
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer and virtual assistant living in the southeast. She has been writing professionally since 2009 for various websites. Lake received her master's degree in criminal justice from Charleston Southern University.