First, get a clear picture of your debt and overall financial health. An online tool such as Mint can be a helpful resource to get that full-picture view. If you prefer to do things manually, look up your accounts online and gather all of your paper bills before the next step.
If you’re doing it the old-fashioned way, you’ll need to enter all of your outstanding debts into a spreadsheet. In addition to student loans, car payments, and consumer debt, be sure to include any other bills you have such as, medical expenses, personal loans, etc. After you’ve got it all down on a single sheet, list your debts from smallest to largest. This should give you a holistic grasp on your finances and total debt.
You’ve likely started a budget once or twice after wondering where did all my money go? When you proactively track your spending with a real budget (not an abstract one in your head), you can easily get a sense of you’re spending habits.
There are lots of ways to build a budget, but start by keeping it simple like the approach above. Make a list of all of your monthly payments, including recurring ones like your housing, utilities, phone bills, car insurance, healthcare, food...you get the idea. Every charge should be listed.
You can get granular later on by adding sections for vacations, holidays, memberships, haircuts, etc. At the top of your budget, write how much income you have coming in. If you’re salaried, this step should be easy, but if you work on commissions, tips, or as a freelancer, you can use a monthly average.
Once you have an overview of your spending habits and a budget, it’s time to take some real action. This may include making major lifestyle changes, and that’s okay.
Saying “no” to yourself takes will-power, but that word is going to have to become a major part of your vocabulary. If you are feeling tempted to use your credit card to shop for something nonessential, think about if you really need that item (and the added stress it will cause by adding to you balance). Does that feeling outweigh the instant gratification you’ll get from swiping your card? Maybe you had a rough day at the office and it seems like it will, but the “treat-yourself” mentality is how people get into trouble.
It’s pretty easy to find a side hustle nowadays. From taking on part-time gigs posted on Craigslist and Upwork, to driving for Lyft, delivering groceries, working for Taskrabbit, picking up a restaurant job, and so much more; making extra cash should be a no-brainer if you want to quickly pay down your debt. Even if you only make a few hundred dollars per month, every little bit counts.
The trick with taking on an extra job and upping your income is avoiding the temptation to spend more. You should also take into account the taxes that will be deducted your freelance pay come tax season.
It’s simpler than it sounds. Working a little extra, combined with scaling back your lifestyle and living on less than you make, will ultimately get you out of debt so that you can start investing in your future and creating the life of your dreams.