Editor's Note: A version of this article was previously published on Debt-Free Mormon Blog. It has been reprinted here with permission.
Are you sick and tired of being in debt? Yeah, me too. I hate debt. That's why I decided to eliminate it and avoid it for the rest of my life.
So how exactly does one go about eliminating debt?
It can be a daunting task. Especially if you're in a situation like I was — at one point having over $50,000 of debt — but it is possible to get out of debt. And you can do it.
Here are 7 things you can do that will help you dump your debt.
1. Decide you're done with debt
If you aren't fully committed to stop using debt, it is going to be very difficult to get yourself out of debt. You have to change your mindset and completely overhaul the way you operate your personal finances. You cannot dig yourself out of a hole if you continue to dig out the bottom. Stop using debt, cut up your credit cards and start filling in that hole.
2. Get an emergency fund
Begin by setting aside a small emergency fund of about $1000 dollars. This will give you a little bit of cushion as you wean yourself off the credit cards. Having some money available for unexpected and unplanned events in your life will help keep you from running back to the plastic. It's not only an emergency fund, it's a security fund. It will help secure your personal financial life and give you the foundation you need to begin making some serious get-out-of-debt progress.
3. Use the budget
Budgeting is always going to be part of anything personal finance. It is the key to achieving all of your personal financial goals. Without budgeting, you won't get very far. Use the budget to minimize spending and track expenses. Squeeze every extra dollar possible out of your income. You might want to consider cutting your cable, reducing your internet or cell-phone plan, or avoiding restaurants until your debts are paid off. A good, detailed budget is the catapult to debt elimination.
Doing too many things at once can dilute your get-out-of-debt progress. If you are trying to save, invest, give and eliminate debt all at the same time, you're going to struggle. Instead of doing a bunch of things all at once, focus on being excellent at one thing at a time. I would recommend not contributing to retirement while you are getting out of debt. I'm not saying to unplug your investments forever, but just for the interim while you get out of debt. If you're serious about eliminating debt, on average it should take about 24-48 months.
Think about it... What is the best way to get an 18 percent return on your money? Get rid of that 18 percent interest credit card. As soon as your debts are gone, you can restart your retirement, and you'll have a bunch more money to contribute.
5. Use the debt-snowball method
Snowballing your debt is the fastest way to get out of debt. If you're a math person, you might argue that it isn't always the best way, or it doesn't always offer the biggest savings in the end. But you're math equation is missing one important factor — momentum. You cannot underestimate the power momentum has in getting you out of debt.
To snowball your debt, list all of your debts from smallest balances to largest balances. Pay the minimum payment on all your debts except for the smallest debt and put every extra dollar you have on your smallest debt. Once that debt is paid off, roll the minimum payment into the next debt. Your new minimum payment would be the sum of those two debts. For example, if you're smallest debt had a minimum payment of $25, and your second smallest debt had a minimum payment of $50, once the first debt is paid off, you've freed up that $25 and your new minimum payment on the second debt would be $75. And so it goes, your minimum payment gets bigger and bigger as you pay off your debts. The snowball creates momentum.
A lot of people look forward to getting that big tax refund when tax season rolls around. Many people even use that refund to pay down debts, which is great. However, I think more debt reduction could be done on a monthly basis if more of that income was coming home rather than withheld by the government without interest. Getting a tax refund typically means you overpaid, and the government is refunding you the difference. You should adjust your allowances on your W-4 so when April comes around you don't owe anything, but you don't get a refund, either.
What could you do with an extra $200 or $300 a month? I think it could definitely boost your debt elimination plan. Plus, the sooner you pay off your debts, the less interest you will pay.
7. Find extra income
OK, I know it isn't easy to find extra income. And I'm not saying you need to take on another full-time job or put your wife to work. But find some quick, simple ways to get a little extra cash you could dump on some of your debts to speed up the process. Every extra couple hundred bucks helps and gets you there that much quicker.
Maybe you have some things around the house you can sell. Are there extra shifts you could take on at work, or is there overtime available? What about delivering pizza on the weekends or a couple nights a week? Starting a small business on the side is also a great way to make some extra income. Nowadays you can even make a couple hundred dollars a month donating plasma — I know, because I've done it. Get creative in finding a little extra money you can put towards the debt. Faster is better.
I can tell you from experience that getting out of debt is not easy. I've paid off over $50,000 of debt, and I'm still working through it. It takes a lot of work and even more sacrifice. It takes paying attention. Learning to tell yourself "no" is hard. But in the end it will all be worth it. Just think of what you will be able to do if you free up that $400 car payment or that $275 payment you send religiously to Mastercard. What if instead you paid yourself $400 per month?