Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
5 minutes reading time (1076 words)

Freedom From Debt

Living from paycheck to paycheck? Using your credit cards to pay your monthly expenses? Wondering how you'll ever get on top of your debt when the credit card balances seem to grow little by little each month?

You're not the only one. Though it may be possible to play the game for some time, it's important to take back control of your finances now, before the problem grows any bigger.

Small steps will get you back on track. But, it won't be easy. What's easy, is delaying the full payment of purchases by putting them on a credit card, and dragging out payments for years. It's easy to give in to marketing ploys and the human instinct to possess material items. It's easy to go somewhere to enjoy fun nights out and meals prepared especially for you.

Taking charge of your financial situation will take realistic planning and solid discipline. It may mean giving up some of what you're used to; it may mean less shopping, more home-cooked meals, and learning how to actually save for the things you really want.

It will also take time; you didn't get this far into debt overnight, and it may take months or even years to eliminate it. But the reward will be true freedom from worrying about how you're going to get through every month.

Change your spending habits.
The first step may be the hardest, coming to realize that you need to change your financial habits. And, if you're reading this article, then chances are that you've already overcome the most difficult hurdle. From this point, take action to reduce your debts and get your finances back in shape.

There's a good chance that you'll have to do without some of the things you're used to for some time, but keep in mind that it doesn't have to be permanently, and making some sacrifices now will give you a better life later. You're likely to be able to afford some of the things you enjoy once you get your debts under control and become free from debt.

Stop incurring new debt.
Forget the points, miles, and rewards on your credit cards. If you are carrying your balances from month to month, then the interest you're paying on those credit cards is way more than the value of the rewards. Go to strictly cash, check, or debit for all spending.

And until you build up an emergency savings, keep one, single credit card in your wallet for true emergencies, such as an auto break-down requiring a tow. Take all your other credit cards out of your wallet and put them in a safe.

Draw up a realistic budget.
List your monthly income from all sources, and all your expenses. When it comes to your credit card and other revolving accounts, only list the minimum payment; you'll be able to pay extra to those accounts when you know how much you have left over at the end of the month.

If your expenses total more than your income, it's a sure sign that you've been living beyond your means with the help of credit cards or other loans. It may require a drastic change in your lifestyle if this is the case.

Live within your means.
This simply means don't spend more than you make. You may need to reduce some unnecessary expenses, like cutting out some extra cable channels and nights out. You may need to take shorter vacations closer to home. You may have to give up your fashion or electronics addiction.

Or, if you feel like you just don't have anything that can be cut, you may have to consider taking on more hours at the office or even a part-time job.

Save enough to get you through a small emergency.
This may mean $1000-$2000, or a month or two worth of rent or mortgage payments. A small emergency fund won't last very long if you were to lose your job, but it will help you get through relatively minor emergencies, such as a car breakdown, or an emergency room visit.

The purpose of this fund is to prevent you from having to run up new credit card charges if you run across unexpected expenses, so it should not be tapped into for unnecessary desires. Once you have this saved up, you can take that last credit card out of your wallet.

Pay off high-interest debt.
First, assess your debt situation. Gather up all your credit card statements so you know how much you really owe. Include all your other revolving debt, such as for financing companies or bank lines-of-credit, since they also tend to be quite expensive. Continue making the minimum payments to all your other credit accounts, but make the largest payment you can to the account with the highest APR.

Each month your debt will become smaller, while knocking out the account balance that's costing you the most in interest. Pay off your high-interest revolving accounts, but don't worry about low-APR car loans, student loans, or especially mortgages until you have more cash saved.

Save enough to get you through a major emergency.
Financial experts often recommend three to six months' worth of living expenses, but the actual amount depends on your job stability, the size of your family, whether you are the sole earner in the family, and the types of financial obligations you have. Only you can decide how much you really need to save to feel comfortable and secure.

You'll be able to fall back on your emergency fund in the case of a job loss or major unexpected expense, such as needing a new roof for your home or surprise medical bills. This money should not be used for any purpose other than a true emergency.

Start your luxury fund.
Once your revolving debts are eliminated and your emergency savings is fully funded, you can again begin to enjoy the extras, as long as it is within reason. There's no dollar amount on what's reasonable, as long as you can afford it without incurring new debt.

Your luxury fund can be used to save for your dream vacation, a hot tub, or even a day of shopping. Keeping a luxury fund separately from your regular expense account will help you in your budgeting, and also rewards you by showing you how much you really can save when you don't depend on credit for the things you need and want.
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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

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