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Debt Management: A Complete Guide

Debt ManagementAs we all know, debt is money that you owe someone. We all borrow money at some point, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. You may borrow money to go to college, start a business, buy a house or a car, or simply meet your daily expenses. The first two types of debt on the list can be looked upon as investments that can help you make enough to repay your debt along with interest, and save some money for yourself.

Even buying a house may earn you a fair amount of money if you sell it with a good profit a few years down the line. The last type of debt is an unproductive one, though. If not repaid on time, it will become an increasingly bothersome liability that you could well do without. However, the sad reality of our times is that too many Americans are far too much in debt than what is good for them. The fact that millions of people are sailing in pretty much the same boat probably does not make them see things in a serious light.

It is estimated that about 40% of Americans will not be able to rustle up even $400 if faced with an emergency! Based on the US average household, credit card debt stands at $16,748, which adds up to a whopping $779 billion nationally. What has caused this? There's a host of reasons like living beyond your means, spending like there was no tomorrow, thoughtless and wasteful spending, and having a wrong sense of priorities, which places instant gratification above saving for the future. This kind of lifestyle may be pleasant while it lasts, but clearly, it is not sustainable forever. The sooner people realize this, the better it is for everyone concerned.

You as an individual can choose to do the right thing and step out of this debt dance. Instead of rampantly spending on everything that you desire, spend only on what it is that you need and can afford after paying all your bills and saving some money for future use. Life is all about achieving a balance between what is important for you to have in life and the occasional indulgence and luxuries. Get this equation wrong and you could easily slide into a debt trap, which is unfortunately what millions have done.

One should think about the dangers of debt and desist from living dangerously. Unfortunately, this
is not the case. It has been proven from the fact that living under perpetual debt and beyond one's means has been depressingly common from the days of the ancient Romans and Egyptians right up to the present.

There are instances of nations living beyond their means and not biting the bullet, ending up resorting to the tough economic decisions needed to be taken to remedy the situation. Greece is a fine example of that. While nations have international financial institutions and even foreign governments to lend a steadying hand to some extent, individuals do not have that luxury and cannot allow their debt to reach unmanageable and catastrophic proportions.

This guide teaches you the skills to better manage your money and save, as well as extricate yourself from the debt trap that seems to have ensnared millions. It does so by guiding you on how to cut back on your expenses and eliminate debt by creating a budget and saving money. Getting out of a debt trap is liberating in more ways than one. Not only does it take a huge burden off your mind, it also frees you up to pursue your true desires in life.

Anyone can be weaned off the debt diet if they are ready to take the required medicine. This post delivers it by guiding you to take the right steps and measures to not only get a firm handle on your debt situation but also develop the ability to eliminate it from your life ultimately. For too long has the culture of easy availability of debt inured people of the need to talk to themselves and ask, "Hey, wait a minute. What am I doing? I am sinking in debt. I need to stop this mindless spending and start 
thinking of paying back." 

This guide will help you have that conversation with yourself and hopefully find all the right answers.

Setting Financial Goals 

When you talk about setting financial goals to help you get out of debt, you might want to rethink your strategy a bit. Instead of thinking of getting rid of your debt as your ultimate goal, think of one that involves doing things with your life once you are debt-free! This could be something like moving into a bigger house, traveling to all the places that you ever wanted, or having enough money for your retirement. Going about it this way keeps you motivated not just to knock off your debt, but also reclaim the life that you have always aspired to lead.

Debt has a fancier cousin, Capital. Unlike the former, capital does not have any negativity attached to it. We are, above everything else, a nation of capitalists. But we should not forget that even the premier capitalistic nations of the world can get into a debt trap if they do not plan and set sensible financial goals for themselves. Our nation's recent financial history is a sobering reminder of that. It is also a fine example of what can be achieved by sensible planning and the setting of financial goals. This is as true of individuals as it is of nations. The setting of financial goals is the first major step in the fight against debt.

Goals Should Be Realistic and Attainable 

While it is good to set financial goals to help one scale the mountain of debt, it is important that you go about doing it in a rational and achievable manner. The first thing you should do is to set goals that are precise and specific in terms of what you plan to do going forward, and what you hope to achieve by that. For instance, you may want to clear your credit card debt over a period of six months. Are you in a position to do so considering that it might leave you with no money for emergencies? Maybe a year is a better time frame.

Secondly, whatever steps you might have outlined should be quantifiable.

For example:

  • What is the exact amount of money you need to pay off your credit card debt in six months' time?
  • How will you break up the payments? Will you pay back equal monthly sums or in some other manner? 


Thirdly, it is important to set goals that you can achieve. If you plan on achieving more than you realistically can, you are bound to deviate from your stated objective, which could lead to frustration and loss of focus. If you had planned to pay back $5,000 of your credit card debt in six months' time and manage to achieve only half of that figure, you are obviously at sea regarding the flow of your funds. This doesn't augur too well for your attempts at eliminating debt.

Lastly, there is no point in setting a financial goal if you don't set a time frame and adhere to it. That is the whole point of setting financial goals, Isn't it? If you plan to be totally debt-free by the end of the year, you must factor in all the information pertaining to your incoming funds and expected expenditure within this period for you to work out a debt repayment schedule that helps you achieve your target.

Create Monthly Financial Goals 

A good way of getting a total handle on your debt repayment situation is to add up all your debt first. The next step is to set a realistic time frame in which to knock it off. Once you have done that, calculate the total amount (inclusive of interest) that you need to repay. Lastly, divide this figure by
the total number of months in which you plan to pay back the debt.

Having this organized monthly payback plan in front of you will give you the most precise idea of the schedule you absolutely need to adhere to until the time your debt gets totally eliminated. It always helps to be on top of a situation with regards to facts and figures, if one is serious about its resolution. Creating monthly financial goals does just that.

Smart Spending 

Rather than curtailing your spendthrift habits, it would make far more sense to learn to spend smartly. You might scratch your head and wonder what it is that you could do differently to fall into the category of the smart spender. It so happens that there are indeed a number of small steps you
can take to curtail the needless outflow of money. These include the following important ones:


  1. Draw up a monthly expenses budget: This helps you obtain perspective on your spending and helps you make rational decisions. If you are the kind who has no idea as to how much you spend monthly, drawing up a monthly expenses budget will be a much- needed reality check. 
  2. Use credit cards sparingly: This will help you to overcome your habit of impulsive spending, which if  left unchecked can ratchet up debt like anything. Try keeping your credit cards locked up for a very long time and see how that impacts your spending pattern in a positive way. 
  3. Negotiate a lower rate of interest with your credit card company and always pay your bill on time to avoid late payment charges: This is bound to have a salutary impact on your debt and will also prevent a similar escalation in the future. However, this will only happen if you make an attempt to talk to your credit card company and ask. It is not going to happen on its own. should the credit card company want you to pay them less? 
  4. Always use your bank's own ATMs to withdraw cash so as to save on charges that are levied in case you use another bank's ATMs: On average, most banks charge about $2.60 as a withdrawal fee to customers of other banks. In addition, your own bank will charge you $1.53 for using an ATM which is not theirs! That's a lot of money you can save by simply using your bank's own ATM. Instead of making many small withdrawals make bigger and fewer withdrawals. 
  5. Spend less on recurring expenses like magazine subscriptions and cable and cell phone bills: Seemingly small recurring expenses add up to quite a lot over the months and years. You would be amazed at how much you would save if you had a good and rational look at these and made an attempt to trim the fat. For instance, in the digital era, you can simply cancel your magazine subscriptions. If you don't spend all your waking hours watching television, opt out of that super-premium cable package of yours. Likewise, you could opt for a cheaper cell phone plan that is more in tune with your actual requirements. 
Apart from these, there are certain specific measures you can initiate to start knocking down debt in a systematically concerted manner. Here is what you can do:

  1.  Make consistent small payments towards your credit card debt: Throwing up your hands in despair because you face what you perceive is a mountain of credit card debt won't solve anything. Take proactive steps to knock back your debt by making consistent small payments regularly. These payments could be made on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on what you are comfortable with. In time, you will gradually see your debt reduce. It makes a lot more sense to pay back a debt of $5,000 in two years, making weekly payments than paying back only the minimum amount for the next quarter of a century. 
  2. Pay back faster: This makes a lot of sense when you are repaying a mortgage. Try and accelerate this process by repaying more than just once a month. Try a biweekly or weekly mode of payment. Not only will you pay back the debt faster, you will also save interest. This could just as successfully be used to reduce your credit card debt. 
  3. Don't be a spendthrift:  Impulsive spending has led more people to debt than has anything else. If you are a spendthrift who just can't seem to be able to stop yourself from splurging, you have got to put a stop to things if you are serious about getting out of debt. It might not be a bad idea for you to open another account into which you can deposit any sum of money which you would otherwise have spent on an impulsive purchase. Not only would it keep a lid on wasteful and unnecessary expenditures, it would also save you a bit of money. 

How To Save 

The most important thing to remember about saving is that a penny saved is a penny earned. This means that every attempt to save will reward you with a little extra income which eventually will go a long way in helping you eradicate debt and have enough left for your old age. For sure, the 
question you will ask is "How does one go about doing that?" When you are already involved in the process of knocking off existing debt, trying to save money becomes a tricky proposition. However, you can strategize and find ways to go about it. Here they are: 

  1. Allocate a percentage for saving: Let's say you are paying $100 every month to service your debts. You could consider apportioning $5 out of that to be placed into a savings account. As your debt becomes smaller, you could incrementally increase the percentage of money that you deposit into your savings account. Likewise, a part of any windfall gain you might make from time to time could be similarly apportioned. 
  2. Create an extra stream of income: In the ultimate analysis, while your ability to service a debt and save money is limited by your earnings, how much you earn does not need to be limited. Nothing would give you a bigger leg-up in your savings than the creation of a parallel revenue stream. This is so much easier these days with the freelance economy gathering steam. Maybe you could start creating content for people or give cooking lessons on YouTube. Anything that augments the money inflows would alter your situation dramatically. 
  3. Save all change: When you are in debt and hard-pressed for cash, you must look at every possible option to squeeze out a little savings to improve your financial position, if only by a bit. This includes the time-honored method of saving all small change. In fact, you can do this a little proactively and start depositing the small change that you come by from time to time in a coin bank or something similar. Apart from that, you could consider even depositing a weekly fixed amount, like maybe $5 or so. You will realize that as the weeks turn into months, you would be sitting on a growing heap of hundreds of dollars. 
  4. Watch your grocery bill: You would be amazed at the kind of savings you can make by simply buying the in-house brands of your grocery store rather than the fancy brands that most people are used to consuming. We are talking about serious savings here it's something like 50% of your usual grocery bill. Considering that groceries need to be purchased on a consistent basis, you could save a fair amount of money regularly. 
  5. Identify low-cost entertainment and eating out joints: Just because you are paying off a debt does not mean that you won't hang out with friends or eat out. However, you can try and identify places that are fun but not necessarily expensive. You can zero in on restaurants, which have happy hours during which you can have large meals that cost far less than usual. Similarly, you could check out buffet options instead of a la carte. These measures can save you a fair amount of money while ensuring that you still have decent ways of keeping yourself entertained. 

Using Your Savings 

Once you have made a fair amount of savings using the suggestions given in this guide and any systems that you might have implemented, you should think of deploying these savings. It goes without saying that if you still have outstanding debt, you should start by repaying it. 

  1. Pay back your debts strategically: Use your hard-earned savings judiciously in servicing old debt. Pay off the smaller debts first. Doing this will help you clean your slate faster, apart from giving you the satisfaction of having paid off some of your debt. Once you are through with these, turn your attention to the bigger ones. In time, you will make similar progress there. 
  2. Pay off your credit card debt: Credit card debt is the most pernicious form of debt because it is so easily incurred. Try and knock this off as fast as possible because the interest payable is so high. The more you pay above the monthly minimum, the better it is for your financial health. There cannot be a better utilization of your savings than taming this beast of credit card debt. Being the easiest way of incurring debt that has a very high rate of interest, credit cards are designed to rip you off. Be wary of them! 
  3. Create an emergency fund: Quite often in your quest to reduce your debt, you divert a sizable portion toward its repayment, leaving you quite vulnerable in case you were confronted with an emergency. Initially, you might be better off creating an emergency fund out of your savings than using them all up on debt servicing, especially if the loan that you are repaying is a low-interest one. In this case, not only would you have funds to delve into if required at short notice, you could also earn a bit of interest income by keeping the emergency fund in your bank account. 
  4. Fund your children's education: There is no better gift to give to your children than to fund their education. With the high cost of student loans that people end up paying for the major part of their working life, a little financial help from you would make things a lot smoother for your children going forward. This is one legacy for which they won't be able to thank you enough.
  5. Secure your post-retirement future: If by the time you retire you have been able to eliminate your liabilities and saved a tidy sum for your post-retirement life, you will not have to scrimp and compromise on your lifestyle once your regular paychecks stop coming. Your golden years will be golden in the truest sense. 

The Essence of Debt Reduction and Elimination 

By now, you would be quite sure of the absolute necessity of debt reduction and ultimately debt elimination in one's life for anyone who aspires to live a quality life in the future. If you are free of debt, you can focus your energies to pursue things that really matter rather than worry endlessly at an ever-growing mountain of debt. 

To enable you to do this, you must establish some ground rules in life: 

  1. Do not acquire additional debt: It is bad enough that you have reached a stage where debt has become a problem. Not acknowledging it and continuing to add to it will make a bad problem worse. Admitting to yourself that there IS a problem is the first step towards redemption. The next important thing to do is to start tackling the problem immediately. Tackling debt is much like treating alcoholism or drug addiction. The sooner you start the better. 
  2. Rein in your spending: You must find ways and means to rein in your spending. The most obvious way to do that is to hide away your credit cards. Once you have gotten used to not spending so much like you're used to, you will realize how much money you had been simply sending down the drain. Credit cards devastate you with a double whammy of easy credit and high interest. Steer clear of them. 
  3. Spend money on necessities, not luxuries: Until the time you get out of the hole that you have placed yourself in, spend only on necessities like groceries and utility bills. Try and use discount coupons wherever possible and let eating out be a rare event or better yet, a thing of the past until things improve. Opt for cheaper cable TV and cell phone plans. Getting rid of debt is serious business. Half measures won't do. You must grab the bull by the horns before it throws you off. 
  4. Make provisions for an emergency fund: While cutting expenditure and paying back debts are of primary importance, it is as important that you don't overlook the fact that you could be visited by an unforeseen emergency. Therefore, you must create some sort of contingency fund out of your savings, even if it means paying a little less towards your debt. Discovering that you owe a huge amount of money can be disconcerting and emotionally wrenching. Many people are just not able to cope and even need counseling. It is, therefore, a good idea to share your worries with people close to you so that you can come to grips with the situation and get down to the important task of grappling With it. That is always the most important part of the process of redemption. Once you start on the path of paying back your debt, you will get there, even if it takes a little time. 
The steps described above will make it possible for you to approach debt repayment in a cool, calculated, and measured manner. This way, you would not only be able to service your debt in a time-bound manner, but you would also save a little for any emergencies that might arise. Above all, the golden rule is that the more you pay and the quicker you pay, the easier it will be for you to climb out of debt. 

Summary

Debt has been the bane of many. Though it truly should be a no-brainer that a debt trap is the worst kind of trap to get into, things are not as simple as they appear to be. You need debt for you to do certain important things in life like buying a house, going for higher education, starting or 
expanding your business, or even buying a car. 

If you plan well for these loans and make the necessary repayments in an orderly and timely fashion, you should have no trouble with debt. In fact, you could end up creating assets for yourself. Not only that, your credit rating would be quite good, enabling you to avail of further debt if necessary. 

The problem mainly arises when you throw caution to the wind and start living beyond your means on borrowed money. The consumerist society that we live in compels many of us to start indulging in blatant conspicuous consumption. The easy availability of credit cards makes things worse by blinding us to the fact that comeuppance is just around the corner. 

However, like most problems that are the result of our missteps, the solution lies in retracing those and slowly but surely getting ourselves out of the hole that we have dug ourselves. This guide has detailed in quite an elaborate manner, as to what is required to be done. From setting financial goals and teaching ourselves smart spending to learning how to save alongside knocking off debt and teaching ourselves how to deploy our savings, this post guides you through the stage of indebtedness to the stage of being debt-free. 

Difficult as it is to get rid of debt, it is far from being the impossible task that many people assume it to be. As long as you are ready to acknowledge that there is a problem and possess the willingness to work toward its redress, notwithstanding how painful the process might be for a period of time, it is doable, and the payoff is definitely well worth the effort. 

Think of getting rid of your debt as trying to climb Mount Everest. You can't scale the tallest mountain in the world without careful planning. Your ascent must be gradual and in stages. To succeed, you must have the right clothing and equipment, but above all the will and commitment to 
succeed. The climb itself will be long, arduous, and tiring, but in the end, it's well worth the trouble. Once you reach the summit, you will forget all your tiredness and exult in being on top of the world. 

Being debt-free is similarly wonderful not just from the point of view of eliminating your outstanding debt or making you stress-free. It frees you from spending most of your time watching over the funds-flow status, apportioning expenditure, sacrificing your myriad wants and desires on a regular basis, and living a life that is nowhere near what you always desired for yourself. A debt-free status, in fact, goes way beyond by freeing you to pursue what really makes you happy - a bigger house, a 
foreign holiday, a secure post-retirement future, or something else. 

Our time on Earth is limited, and we can sure find a better use for it than to be trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt. Unfortunately, that seems to be the fate of millions of people, which is a pity for all of them can be guided to a better debt-free future. To that extent, this guide can be more than an eye-opener, it can be a lifesaver. 


1 comment:

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