Although not a traditional four-letter word that would get you into trouble if you said it as a kid in school, there is no doubt debt is one of the worst words in the English language. Financial debt affects your sense of self, your present lifestyle, and your hope for the future. Getting out of debt is a daunting, time-consuming task, but the process can be easier when you attack it with a clear plan and focused mind.
Create a complete picture
Debt is a financial and an emotional problem. Since debt is associated with negative feelings, even failure, it may hinder your willingness to address it. In order to tackle and conquer the beast, though, you have to face your debt head-on. And, with any successful attack, you have to know your enemy completely.
“Before you can devise a debt paydown strategy, you should compile a list of all of your current bills and loans. Go through your bank and credit card statements for the past six months and write down all the recurring loans, bills and other fixed expenses,” advises Bankrate writer Zina Kumok.
Your credit report also provides valuable insight into your financial life; she recommends getting it from all three credit bureaus so you have the full picture on your credit activity.
Pick a method to eliminate debt
Once you have a comprehensive view of your debt, you can formulate a plan to pay it off. Two of the most popular approaches to debt are the snowball method and the avalanche approach. With the snowball method, you start small, paying off the least costly debts first. The avalanche approach is the opposite, with the focus on debt with the highest interest rates.
“Popularized by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, the snowball method is all about small victories on the way to total triumph. It’s less about pure math and more about momentum, positive psychological nudges and ultimately, behavior modification,” according to AARP writer Adam Shell.
Whether you choose the snowball, avalanche, or combination of both approaches is up to you, and what fits best with your debt-reduction goals and abilities.
Visualize a future free from debt
Sometimes focusing on the reward can make hard work easier and keep you going when you want to quit. Envision what your life would look and feel like when you are debt free. The money you are spending to get out of debt can eventually be put to better use.
“Once you become debt free, you’ll have more room in your budget to work on becoming financially secure,” according to The Balance writer Latoya Irby.
Record every win
Just as important as knowing your debt completely is to recognize every win along the way, big and small. The best way to do that is to keep a detailed account of your debt-reduction efforts. You can use an app, spreadsheet, or write notes in notebook, says U.S. News & World Report contributor Andrea Woroch. With a tangible record of your hard work, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and stay motivated to keep eliminating your debt, she adds.
With these tips, the right mindset, and a clear plan, you can find your way to a debt-free life.