Debt Free seems like one of those things that is to describe only rich people or those with the best jobs. The reality is that anyone can be debt free. I’ll tell you how we are doing it so you can too!
Debt Free ASAP, Keel Associates, & A Plan
First thing you may have noticed is that I didn’t say ‘in X number of years’. Not all budgets and debts can be eliminated in a five or ten year span. This is the exact reason I didn’t put a time limit on it. Things happen, emergencies or mistakes or whatever all of the time. Our main goal is to eliminate our debt, not set ourselves up for failure. After all, quitting out of frustration is far too easy.
Let’s face it, we all fall into debt and everyone hears things about Dave Ramsey and others being completely debt free. Oftentimes, young people are on those lists. Personally, I want to be a candidate for one of those lists myself. Don’t really want to be ON one, but I’d sure like to be able to say I’m one of them.
For the last 4 years, my husband and I have been working towards that goal. While we aren’t there quite yet, we have managed to save a good bit of money and are looking forward to accomplishing that goal in the next 5 years, ideally anyway. At this point in our journey, the only debt we have is our mortgage and student loans.
Our goal is to be completely out of debt and have savings by the time we reach 40. The clock is ticking and we’re chomping at the bits!
Where to Start
When we started this journey, we had no savings whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. We met our savings goal and then increased it a few times and are consistently meeting those while still eliminating our debt. Now, where to start!
First off, sit down and get some totals. You’ll need to know what money goes out and what money comes in every single month. That will be your starting point. If you don’t know exact amounts for things (my electric bill, for example, varies), then estimate high. This list should include housing expenses (mortgage/rent, electric, gas, water, insurance), vehicle expenses (insurance, gas, maintenance), personal expenses (groceries, entertainment, health and hygiene items), as well as any club dues or donation amounts. Add in an amount to put into savings every month as well.
You’ll also need exact numbers on your take home income. These numbers are your base point. Estimate high on outgoing things and, if your income varies, low on income. Trust me, you’ll appreciate it later.
Keel Associates is a company who provides low interest rate loans to consolidate credit card debt. If you have a lot of credit card debt this may be an area you want to look into.
Ensure that you are paying less interest on the total loan than the credit cards and, if you choose to go in this direction, eliminate those credit cards. You should know that cancelling them outright will cause a negative hit to your credit. What we did was pay off the cards and then we cut up the cards. The accounts are still open so our credit isn’t negatively impacted but we are unable to create more debt. If we don’t have cash it doesn’t get purchased. Period.
Formulate a Budget
Now that you have your information it’s time for a plan! Go through your budget and figure out what expenses can be eliminated or minimized. Things such as the highest speed internet, eating out, unnecessary grocery items can be minimized or eliminated. For us, we’ve found that making a grocery list from a weekly menu helps us to avoid buying ‘junk’ that we don’t necessarily need. We also switched to kool-aid and tea rather than buying sodas. TV subscription, unfortunately, got the ax for a while but after we met our savings goal and felt comfortable, we added it back at the minimum cost possible.
Whatever you don’t have to spend, gets cut. Once a month, however, you can budget in something fun to splurge a little if you’d like. Although, once you get bit by the bug you may very well enjoy watching the bank account grow and the debt dwindle enough that you choose not to splurge. That’s cool too. For us, it was best to not splurge for the first 3 months. The reasons are two-fold: it forced us into the not spending money habit and it enabled us to build our savings and lower our debt faster.
Build Your Savings
You’ll need to have a savings account for emergency. Figure out how much you need to save in order to be able to make it 3 months without income. Once you hit that savings goal, switch it to 6 months and so forth.
Every penny not in the budget goes into savings. This will ensure that if there’s an emergency you have savings so that you don’t turn to credit (thus getting into more debt) while providing you with security. Savings are absolutely not to be touched unless your tire falls off or your engine blows or a thunderstorm takes out your house or…. well… you get the picture. It’s absolutely only for emergencies. Otherwise, train your brain to think it doesn’t exist at all!
Remember how we estimated high on the bills and low on the income? Let’s say you estimated $200 per month for the electric bill and the bill for this month is $160. That $40 is a bonus for your savings account. Put it in savings and convince yourself that it went to the electric company.
Eliminate that Debt!
After you get your savings to a comfortable level, it’s time to get rid of the debt! To do this you’ll want to start paying your debt down as fast as possible. At this point, if we’ve followed our plan, the money that would have gone into savings can go toward debt. We’re still not touching the savings, that’s our emergency fund.
We looked at all of our interest gaining debt and began paying off the smallest debts first. That way we could slowly get rid of things. It also helped to make us feel good that we no longer had one of the debts. You’ll get that same excited feeling. Once a debt is paid off, take whatever amount you were previously paying on said debt and pay that additional amount on the next debt you are going to eliminate.
Now, if your car explodes or is just too far gone, don’t go out and finance a new car! We are getting RID of debt, not getting new debt! At that point, find an inexpensive used car you can pay cash for with your savings. You’ll be able to build up your savings again while still eliminating debt faster if you aren’t paying out $500 a month to the car people. It’s better to have to pay a mechanic and be done with it than to land yourself into a monthly payment.
We purchased a car for 4k and have put another 5k of work and maintenance in it in 3 years. (I will note that we put a ton of miles on our cars.) However, if we had bought a car at $21k paying it off in 3 years with NO interest (good luck finding that scenario, lol), then we would have been paying $584 a month. At this rate, we’ve basically paid $250 a month and have had no payments whatsoever.
Debt Free ASAP
It’s a slow process and it takes discipline and sacrifice, but you can do it no matter what your budget is. After all, you are simply saving money rather than spending it with a goal to focus on. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 10 years or 2 years so long as you focus on the goal.
If you accidently spend extra in the wrong place, then learn from it. At the end of the day, the goal is to be able to be out of debt eventually with a focused plan. There’s no deadline except the one that you set that fits your budget. So, stay focused and you will get there. You will be debt free.
I wish you the best of luck and truly believe this is a doable plan, as we’ve done so and trust me we are not rich by any means. Plus, we give money away like it’s growing in the backyard and I have a bit of a couponing habit. If we can do it, so can you!
How do you lower your expenses or increase your savings?