You’ve been meaning to get out of debt. You (and society) have been telling yourself that for years! The bad news is that someday never comes. The good news is you get to decide on what terms this happens. But, do you actually know how to get out of debt?
There are two important points to make upfront as it relates to debt-freedom.
- Debt freedom should never come at the price of your values
- Your life doesn’t get magically better because you have no debt or you become rich. You have to commit to personal growth and redefine your values as part of the journey.
Below is a list of what I believe to be the 8-core principles on how to get out of debt. If you don’t where to start, try these first before you read another boring article on budgeting.
1. find your debt payoff date
Knowing the month you make your final debt payment is your most powerful weapon. It provides you with the excitement, anger, and motivation you need to get going. It changes the statement “I’ll never be out of debt” into an exact month. And it becomes your responsibility to make it happen by then.
Fortunately, this information can be found for free and takes little effort. No more excuses.
The point of knowing this information is to help you on your journey of self-discovery and to put your life in perspective. Forget about all other pieces of information I’ve written on this blog for a moment. This step right here is the most transformational thing you can do for your financial situation. Combined with a commitment, you will be unstoppable. I promise. All you have to do is input the numbers.
Action: If you really want to become debt-free, you need to know when you actually will be debt-free, even if you keep on the path of business as usual. I wrote an entire article on how you can use a free tool to find this out. It’s so simple to do, guys.
Look at the video. It will help I promise. I’m begging you to do this. Start paying attention to the interest, the years of your life, the extra payments you can make, and everything in between. If you see it for yourself and you play with it, you will believe it can happen. And if it doesn’t help you, stop reading my stuff, call me to yell at me that I don’t know shit about personal finance or send me hate mail to vent your frustrations. I’ll post a video of me begging you to do this if I have to.
2. set up and automate the tracking of your spending.
I’m not saying build a budget here. I repeat, don’t do that. Put aside everything you’re thinking about your budget at this point. All you should do at this stage is get a free Mint account, link your cards and accounts. The program will compile everything you’ve spent over the past 90 days and try to categorize it.
Hell, feel free to go to then live another 2 months doing what you’ve been doing. Just set it and forget it and let the program do its job behind the scenes. That’s it. It’s done.
Action: Sign up for Mint and link all of your stuff. Slowly, start looking and playing around it over the next month categorizing stuff and get an idea what the hell you’ve been spending your money on. Don’t start budgeting. Don’t start adding ridiculous shit the program also provides. Set it and forget it.
Then, slowly start to see the impact and the totals. Slowly become more aware of your tendencies and spending habits.
3. Review recommended budget spending categories.
You’ve heard build a budget a million times yet it hasn’t worked for you. That’s fine. All I am suggesting here is to look up the recommended spending as a percentage of your income in a number of different categories. Although they are based on averages, the category spending averages help you understand and benchmark your current spending to help you determine your priorities and how you might think about making a change.
Let me be perfectly clear. Everyone is different. If you are purposefully choosing a higher percentage in any category because it brings you joy, i.e. housing or car, and deliberately spending less in another category, then you do you. The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of your current habits. And if you are overstretching and shit hits the fan, will you be able to pay your rent/mortgage?
Action: Take a look at some basic information and budgeting styles. What are people suggesting? Find a baseline that you’re comfortable with. Even if it means just saving or investing 5%. You have to start somewhere and any adjustment can be an improvement in the right direction. Check out the following:
- Budget categories
- Recommended budget percentages – version 1
- Recommended budget percentages – version 2
If you want to make a budget after looking at these, be sure to make it in a way that works for you.
4. Get Right with your values and cut the fluff.
When I say this, I’m suggesting you find the meaningless purchases you have made over the past months. The ones that provided you zero value, made you upset, resulted in a fight, or the ones you ended up scratching your head over.
Think about these purchases as the ones you have to justify buying. The 3’s, 4’s, or even 6’s (out of 10) that you could have lived without. What you need in your life are the 10’s. Whether it be financially or with any other aspect of your life. The 10 spot decisions or choices are the most impactful and are what lead you towards greater happiness and alignment with your true self.
Please note that I suggest avoiding seeing financial freedom solely through the lens of sacrifice. You don’t have to cut out your daily coffees, your cable subscription or the number of shoes you buy. If these are part of your “guilt-free” spending money, then have at it and frame it that way. If these are your 10’s, then let’s go.
Action: Take a look at your mint budget and categorized transactions and think about the meaning and the value behind them. Are you fooling yourself into believing your shopping spree made you happy? Look around your house. Is the stuff in it just noise and clutter? Check your calendar. Are your priorities providing you value? Check out minimalism, intentional living, and similar ideas for starters below:
Start paying attention to the shit you buy and the value it’s providing you. More importantly, evaluate every decision in your life this way as well! This is the only way to figure out what you can live without and what is a necessity.
5. Analyze what you need to live on and how you can make more.
Maybe after you’ve identified your categories and your spending, you realize you’re pretty content with your current income and expenses. In that case, stick to your plan! Otherwise, start looking at what’s essential to live on, the baseline number. Then, picture and plan out what you actually would like to live on beyond the essentials including investing 10-15% of your income. Maybe an extra 5k is all you need to justify your current spending habits and live more comfortably. Most excellent!
As for making more, I’m not talking about “the 30 ways to make extra money” doing odd jobs that take a lot of time. I’m talking about the big-ticket items like negotiating a higher salary at your current job or finding another that pays more.
There’s more than one way to build wealth aside from just cutting your expenses. Sure, you can always make more money doing odd jobs but is that how you want to spend your free time?
Action: There are some fabulous scripts out there that will demonstrate how you might negotiate a raise. Here are a few eye-opening resources to check out:
- I will teach you to be Rich – Ramit Sethi
- 2-Questions to ask in a salary negotiation
- How to negotiate a higher salary
Or you might just work towards creating or picking up a fun side gig. Take a look at these things before you start blindly cutting things and “reducing” your current standard of living.
6. Remove negative influences in your life.
Do you honestly believe that you can trust your willpower after a poor night of sleep and wake up early (or late) to deal with a child and making yourself lunch and getting ready and dropping the kid off and working 8-10 hours a day at a job you might not like and commuting home 45 minutes and cooking dinner instead of something easier and available? Not unless you’ve built the right habits or have the right systems.
A strong habit or system will beat strong willpower over time. Remove the triggers like the junk food, credit cards (if you’re paying interest), the online shopping accounts, the negative phone calls where you complain to your friends, the social media on your phone, the blankets you cuddle up on the couch that make TV appealing. Unplug the tv, cut the memberships or whatever it is for you that is making it too easy to backslide and eliminate the triggers.
Or, the reverse can be true. If you want to do something, make it easier. Put all your gym clothes out on your floor before you go to bed and put your gym shoes at the base of your bed so this is the first thing you see and have to react to in the morning.
Action: Identify a negative influence or (positive) trigger in your life whether financially or not. Commit to removing it for a bit and see how it goes, a micro-sacrifice if you will. Or, think about what you can add in your life that would make this easier. Try testing the following:
- Unplug the TV and put a book on the coffee table to get you to read because it’s easy and available and turning the tv on and hooking the shit up is not.
- Leave your credit card turned off or on hold through your banking app. This will make you really think and make it painful to pull out your phone, log onto the app to turn it on before you choose to buy something
7. Connect to something deeper.
Why are you reading this article? What destination am I hoping to get to with my money? Try thinking about these things questions more in your life. Get a journal. Write about them. It’s time to do what I call schemin’ and dreamin’.
What is your financial freedom? Buying guilt-free guacamole or appetizers? Paying for a round of drinks? Or paying for your child’s college so they don’t end up in the same hole you were once in. Remember the 10’s you defined above.
Action: How can you scheme your way into becoming debt-free and living an amazing financial life? How can you get your cake and eat it too? Schemin’ and dreamin’ are not about finding ways to cut the shit. You have already done that. It’s about being optimistic about this thing working and what that means for your new life. Were looking to trigger that moment when you think holy shit, this could actually work if I do….
8. Set aside a small amount of time each week to do any of the above things.
Think about something real quick finishing this article. Could you or would you set aside just 20-30 minutes of undivided attention each week towards creating a better financial future? Because many of these tasks can be done at your own pace and still have a meaningful impact. It may sound like an infomercial but just 20-30 minutes of dedicated, uninterrupted time to do these things may be all you need.
Action: Set aside the time and pick any one or multiple of these steps above and start working. Tell your spouse, friends, girlfriend, children about this time. This is your sacred time for finances. This time is what you need to commit to your financial freedom and rich life. Make it fun. Do it over coffee at your favorite place. Make it whatever you want it to be. Start by doing or continuing any of the above 7-tips and making them work for you.
Starting is the hardest part sometimes and it can be overwhelming but, you get to choose the pace. Becoming debt-free is no different. While everyone and their brother will suggest doing it right now, which you probably should, they are just opinions and they don’t matter.
But if you do want to be wealthy and financial security is important, statistically speaking, the wealthiest people in the world don’t spend more than they make and pay excessive amounts in interest. The happiest people are often the most intentional people. They understand their values and live by them at all costs.
Managing your money smartly helps you live more true to your values and take greater risks that lead you to a happier life. There’s a delicate balance we are all searching for and I believe that eliminating your debt intentionally will free you up to take better care of the other areas of your life.