Do you dream of living without the burden of excessive debt hanging over your head? It’s possible, but not easy. Living debt free requires financial discipline, all the time. To become debt free and maintain a debt free life, try the following three steps:
1. Get rid of existing debt. This is obviously your first step to living a debt free lifestyle. Cut up any credit cards that you currently have in your wallet, purse, or desk drawer and do not apply for or accept any other cards. Pay your bills on time, sending as much as possible to one account while paying the minimum due on all of your other accounts until the account is paid off. Do this until all of your debt has been paid off.
2. Create a budget. Every single person who lives without debt has a financial budget and follows it. Without budgeting for expenses and incidentals, people overspend on unnecessary items and then when things just “happen” unexpectedly, (otherwise known as unplanned for expenses) these individuals rely on credit cards to make ends meet. Make a list of every monthly expense you can think of. Then, make another list of every incidental expense that you pay throughout the year but not necessarily on a monthly basis. If you usually get 3 oil changes a year at $20 a piece, you need to plan for $60 a year for oil changes, which is the equivalent of $5 per month. Once you have a comprehensive list, subtract your total monthly expenses from your total monthly income and see what is left over. Be sure you include savings accounts in your “expenses”. Pay yourself first is a good rule to live by. If there is still money left over, congratulations! Use it to pay more on each individual account until everything is fully paid off, or invest in IRA, 401K’s, or even a money market account with high interest rates to help your money earn more money.
3. Avoid credit like the plague. Make all of your purchases with cash and you will never fall into the debt trap again.
Manage Your Money
As you are starting the process to a debt free life, you should be extremely mindful as to where your money is going. It’s important that you track your spending habits for a period of time in order to see where money is being wasted, or where you can cut costs without completely changing your lifestyle. Keep a notebook where you list every single item you purchase, including the amount you paid, where you purchased it, and the reason. Include all bills that were paid, how much you paid, and how much you still owe. After a few months of tracking your spending habits, you will be able to determine exactly where all of your money is going, and you may be surprised at how much your little purchases are adding up and eating away at money you could be using to pay off debt to enjoy a debt free lifestyle! That cup of coffee you grab every morning on the way to work could be costing you $10 or more each week- about $40 per month, and brewing your own coffee at home could save you considerably since you can purchase a can of coffee for about $4 and it will last you about a month!
How to Remain Debt Free after Recovery
One of the biggest mistakes people make after making a financial recovery is to allow themselves to fall back into old habits. Before they know it, they’ve racked up another few thousand in credit bills, and they’re heading down the same path to having a desperate situation where they just can’t make their payments on time each month.
You do not need to have credit cards in your wallet. Yes, it is a very odd feeling to go from having several cards available to you to none, but it is the safest way to avoid overspending. You may want to keep one credit card in a safe place in your home, for purchases that do require a credit card. Think long and hard before using the card, and if it is possible to buy it with cash, than do that instead. A credit card should not be used for every purchase, nor should it be used when you want to buy something unnecessary that you don’t have enough cash to purchase. If you want a luxury item, save your money until you can buy it- if after several months of saving you decide you don’t need it, then you’ve saved the money on an item you previously may have purchased on a credit card, discovered you didn’t really need or want it, and then had to pay back three to four times what the item is worth after all the interest and finance charges were added!