I had been doing quite well with money. I had just gotten a new job where I was being paid an extra $20,000 a year! Each month, I was seeing an extra $1,000 in my bank account without even trying to save. Overtime I stopped paying attention to money and started focusing on enjoying my life.
I started to upgrade my life. I got a new apartment, Invisalign to fix my teeth and replaced my junk mobile with a used car. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t notice that I had added hundreds of dollars of monthly bills to the point where I was no longer saving money. Instead, money was rapidly disappearing at an alarming rate. I was blissfully unaware of this until a couple of weeks before I went on a cruise and when I went to pay my credit cards only to find there was nothing in my bank account. I decided to deal with it when I got back from the cruise and I racked up big bills on that vacation. I started to try and save money, when I came back, and I paid off about $250 of my credit card bills. Shortly after that I had to go to a remote family wedding and went thousands of dollars further into the red as a result. When all was said and done, previous credit card debt, along with debt I had added totaled $25,000. I was left wondering if I was going to go bankrupt and, quite frankly, I was scared.
18 months later I was completely free of credit card debt. This is my story of how I accomplished that feat, and hopefully it helps you to quickly get out of debt as well.
The Credit Card Debt of the Average American
The average credit card debt of Americans is $14,353, and it grows every year. We live in a debt society and often times the people around you, who appear to be well off, are actually eyeball deep in debt. It could be mortgage debt, car debt or credit card debt. Cutting back can make you can feel like you are the odd person out, and you just might be! Being debt free is worth it. Don’t let yourself get peer pressured by your friends and family to spend extra money.
How to Escape Credit Card Debt Quickly
Figure Out Where Your Money is Going
I was bleeding money. In order to figure out the best way to get out of debt I needed a clear picture of where that money was going and also a way to tell if my expense cutting tactics were working. The first thing you will want to do in this case is to get personal finance software. This software will help give you the big picture of what’s going on. Here are three possible options you could go with:
Mint – Free software to automatically track all of your expenses. If you don’t want to spend any extra money, Mint should be more than enough to get you going.
YNAB – You Need a Budget (YNAB) is more focused on budgeting then tracking net worth. It costs 84 dollars a year. There is a steep learning curve, but if you can get past it then people typically find it to be better software then Mint. This is the software I currently use.
EveryDollar – This is budgeting software, by Dave Ramsey. If you manually enter in everything it is free, but to have automatic data entry it will cost you 99 dollars a year.
Once you import your financial data in you are going to classify all of your expenses into buckets. Most financial programs have default buckets, so you can start there and customize as needed. When you customize the buckets you don’t want them to be too small. Smaller buckets will make it harder to get the big picture of where your money is going. Here are some examples of how you might break your expense catagories down:
- Auto Insurance
- Registration (I actually save monthly for car registration, so it’s not a big surprise bill)
- Car wash and detailing
Once you have your expenses put into buckets, start cutting expenses in the categories where you spend the most money, because that is the place where you can make the biggest impact.
Stop Paying Credit Card Interest
It’s an uphill battle to pay off your credit cards when you are getting hit with interest fees each month. One of the first things you want to do is stop these interest payments. This way the money put towards paying off the credit cards is actually going to the debt itself and not the interest.
One way to do this is by consolidating all of your credit cards into a lower interest loan. This way less of your money is going to interest and more to the down payment. I don’t love this method for two reasons. The first is that the loan is due every month and credit cards have a more flexible payment schedule. Secondly, the interest rate is still somewhat higher than I would prefer to pay. If you go this route, please do not charge your credit cards back up again. I have seen this happen more than once and the result of getting a loan was actually more damaging, because it allowed the person to further put themselves in debt.
My preferred way of accomplishing this is by getting a 0% interest rate credit card offer when getting a new credit card. Am I saying that the way out of credit card debt is to get more credit cards? Yes I am. When you transfer to a zero interest credit card the rate is typically 3%, and then you are not paying anything for the next 12 months and everything you put down will go to the principle. The second trick here is that the monthly payments are often lower than the card you transferred from. To avoid the temptation of charging your old credit cards, I suggest you chop them up as soon as the money is transferred.
By the time I had paid off my debt I had 12 credit cards. There were times that I had to open up two credit cards, due to credit limits, in order to get the full amount of the debt transferred. I also had to be on watch to get more 0% interest transfers lined up before my other cards expired. In the end it was worth it and doing this technique greatly accelerated my ability to pay off the debt.
Get a Cash Back Credit Card
You will want to get a cash back credit card. My preference is the Citi Double Cash Card which provides 2% cash back on every purchase. The key here is to not charge anything to this card that you cannot fully pay back that month. Once you get charged interest on a card the rewards benefits evaporate.
Figure Out What Your Hard Expenses Are
There are certain expenses that are hard expenses, meaning that you cannot cut them. However, spending on almost everything can be reduced with some creativity. Here are some examples of expenses that I cut:
- Moved out of my apartment into a cheaper apartment, once my lease had expired.
- Cancelled my cable TV and survived on Netflix alone.
- Downgraded to a discount cell phone provide. Walmart Family Mobile is an example of a discount cell phone provider.
- Cut back going out to eat at restaurants to once a month and started cooking from home.
- Cut back on buying new clothes.
- Called my car insurance company and internet company and told them I wanted them to lower my bill. To my surprise, they actually agreed!
Those are just some examples and for each person, it’s going to be different. Also be open to what you can do to reduce expenses. For example, your car may seem like a hard expense, but you can often get out of a lease or sell the car and buy a cheaper one. Sometimes you can even survive without a car.
Finding a Side Hustle
Although, I did not have to do this in my journey sometimes it can make sense to pick up a side hustle. For example, I once bought a block of Parmesan cheese and grated it by hand. It took me 15 minutes and I saved 2 dollars. There is a law of diminishing returns on savings and after a certain point it may not be worth it to trade your time for money. In Parmesan cheese case I was making 8 dollars an hour grating when I could be making 15-20 dollars an hour doing Uber. So keep that in mind that sometimes making more money is the answer. Here is a list of 50 side hustles that can give you some options, if you decide to go that route.
Ask for a Raise
Along the sames lines of asking for my cable bill to be lowered, sometimes getting more money is as simple as asking your boss for a raise. If you do this, knowing what outside companies are paying can help give you some bargaining power.
Quit Your Job
If you can’t get a raise, finding a higher paying job is also an option. Oftentimes you can make more money by getting a higher paying job elsewhere and then returning to your old company vs loyally working at that company for the entire time. I’ve seen this happen as well. The reason is that the HR in most companies has different rules for giving an existing employee a raise vs setting a new employee’s starting salary.
Take It One Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to pay off so much money. Try to set small goals for yourself and take it one day at a time. An example of a goal might be to pay down your total debt by $250 a month and then shoot to incrementally increase your savings to $275 the next month. Before you know it you will be saving thousands of dollars, and you will be on your way.
Don’t Cut Back Too Much
In conclusion, I would like to say that you should not go too far with your spending cuts. The reason is that it can take months, if not years to pay off the debt, and you want a lifestyle that is sustainable. If you cut all of your expenses and are no longer having fun then you will eventually crack and go on a spending spree.
The other area that you do not want to cut back too far on is safety. Don’t leave your apartment and move into an unsafe area of town or sell your car and get a junk mobile that disintegrates on the highway!