How to Slow the Debt Train without Going off the Tracks

09. November 2016

The following piece is a guest post from Evan Rather that I feel elegantly portrays many of the same ideals that I’ve been trying to ram down your throat myself. Evan is what you might call a “decent person” so his writing contains less cursing and name-calling than that of yours truly – but it still gets the job done. Invest ten minutes into his content then get back to conceptualizing what a Trump-led America is going to look like.

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If you are like most people, it doesn’t take long to account for a large share of the money passing through your home each month.  Again and again, without any extraordinary spending, monthly obligations consistently run close to exhausting your resources.

At the end of the day, if you earn more than you spend, you are on the right track.  But without substantial cash reserves, a single unanticipated expense – car repair, insurance renewal, medical bill, failed appliance, or other untimely cost, can push your spending beyond affordable levels.

Debt builds as the pattern repeats itself, over and over, yielding a little more ground each billing period – until interest and finance charges make it even harder to keep up with the cost of credit.  Fortunately, it is possible to break the cycle of unmanageable debt, without making major concessions.   If you are ready to slow the debt train and take control of your financial life, start with these simple steps.

Know Where Your Money Goes

Unexpected expenses are a natural part of personal financial management, challenging money managers to squeeze extra funds from the household budget to cover pop-up costs.  Not every expense is a surprise, however, so problems with unanticipated spending should be temporary and infrequent.  If you are consistently taken off-guard each month, wondering where your money goes, it might be time to track the flow of cash through your home.

Effective financial planning accounts for income and deposits, tracking your pay as it moves through the bank and ultimately gets divided among creditors.  For the best results monitoring income and expenditures, break your household spending into sensible categories you can easily digest.  As you track spending, before long, noticeable patterns may begin to emerge, shedding light on your financial habits.  Are discretionary purchases pushing your debt burden higher?  Is a single monthly bill (car payment, credit card) dragging-down your budget?  Are food costs out of hand?  Answers to these and other important questions provide direction, steering you toward money saving moves and a manageable cost of living.

Change Your Spending Habits

Armed with a record of recent purchases, it may be possible to slow runaway debt and regain control of household spending.  Credit spending, in particular, should be put under close review – at least until your debt obligations are reduced to comfortable levels.

Freeze credit card use

Credit cards yield mixed results.  On one hand, credit accounts are a modern convenience, simplifying the point of sale and making it easy for consumers to conduct business in varied settings.  On the other hand, purchases made with plastic don’t represent money you’ve already earned.  Instead, you may be months – even years from paying-off today’s purchases, which will continue accumulating interest along the way.  If you are serious about changing course, freeze your credit cards until you have a handle on your finances.

Apply a waiting period

Life unfolds at a hectic pace, so it’s no surprise; some purchases are made in haste.  To make the most of your financial resources and slow growing debt, give yourself time to assess each purchase – before committing.  Can spending be delayed, until you have cash on hand to cover the cost?  Is the best available financing in place, to keep your credit costs as low as possible?  Are you able to justify a particular purchase?   A built-in waiting period gives you time to consider all the possibilities, before devoting precious resources to ill-advised buys.

Get everyone on board

Growing credit card balances and other debt most likely required help from family members, so getting back on track is also a group effort.  With the help of committed spouses and children, you’ll have greater focus and enjoy faster results, correcting debt imbalance.  If possible, provide incentives for family members willing to cut back and keep lines of communication open, sharing financial lessons each step of the way.

Make do…for now

Meeting extraordinary financial demands calls for drastic measures.  When cash flow slows and personal debt weighs heavily on your household finances, change your consumer behavior.  Rather than replace a serviceable, but outdated item, delay purchases until absolutely necessary, instead directing resources toward debt repayment.

Facing unmanageable debt impacts every aspect of your financial life. Until you have a debt reduction plan in place, the train rolls on, repeating unhealthy financial outcomes, again and again.  For the best results finding balance, slow spending and enlist family members in a frugal, proactive effort to pay down debt.

 


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