According to this study, three-quarters of Americans are experiencing financial stress. A quarter of Americans experience EXTREME financial stress.
What is fascinating to me, this financial stress doesn't seem to favor certain income groups. Stressing over money affects many people in with many different income levels. And this stress is affecting our health and our relationships.
How do you overcome this stress? How do we manage to strain of bills and debt?
One tactic to relieving financial stress is to reduce debt. Fewer bills to pay each month frees up your income. As you pay off smaller bills first, you have more income each month to pay off new bills or save.
I know this is easier said than done. Paying off debt is a HUGE commitment! It is not a fast process.
It takes grit.
Brad and I get a lot of questions about how we paid off $18,000 of debt so fast. A stressful season combined with limited income left our finances in a wreck. Thankfully, we were both on the same page in terms of paying off our debt. We were determined to pay all our debts off as fast as we could.
We think there are five basic things we did to pay off $18,000 in under two years. Any family or individual can customize these five things to YOUR situation.
Check out our 5 best tips for diving into your debt and reducing financial stress in your family!
1. DEFINE THE GOAL. What is your "WHY"?
Before you decide to pay off any debt, I think it is important to decide "why". Why are you doing this?
What is the goal after we pay off this debt? How are we going to celebrate? What will our lives look like after this debt is gone? Get specific. Write it down.
If we don't think through our goals, then when the journey gets hard - and believe me it will - you will give up. You simply won't have the motivation to finish paying down all your debt.
For Brad and I, we were ready for a fresh start. We wanted to travel with our kids and give more. We dreamed about putting our kids through college without loans. This dream motivated us when things looked bleak.
It motivated us to take extra jobs and not buy things we didn't NEED. We had this crazy big dream to pay off our home and take our kids overseas for a trip of a lifetime. That big-crazy-dream is now 22 months from happening. UPDATE 9/8/17: We are on track to pay off our home in the summer of 2018!
The dream pushes you. The dream motivates you. What's your big crazy dream?
2. GET A PLAN
We followed Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover Plan for getting out of debt. His philosophy really spoke to us. His plan is simple to follow and broken down into 7 baby steps. When you complete baby step ONE, you move on to baby step 2 and so on.
We read his books. We listened to his radio show. We focused on his plan and did the work. It works and I would HIGHLY recommend it.
3. MINIMIZE YOUR MONTHLY BILLS
Once we decided to pay off our debt really quickly, we realized that if we minimized all our monthly bills we could put all our extra monthly income at the debt. This may sound obvious, but think through all your monthly bills.
Are they all necessary? Remember, this is only for a season. Once your debt is paid off and you can afford things, add them back into your budget!
Do you have some monthly expenses you could pay yearly at a discount? What bills could you cancel for this season? Monthly gym memberships? Cable bill? Could you lower your food bill by using coupons or using a meal plan?
We got rid of all the automatic payments that were not necessary. We cut our food bill by 1/2 and used coupons to buy our household cleaning supplies and other needs. We only bought clothes we NEEDED. We didn't take any vacations during that 18 months and we stopped eating out regularly.
4. MAKE PEACE WITH THE ROADBLOCKS
Once you decide to pay off your debt you will have setbacks. The car will break down and the baby will get sick. Termites will eat your porch and your income will unexpectedly get cut.
Decide ahead of time that these setbacks will not derail you from your plan. Make the commitment to NOT use credit cards to deal with the unexpected. Push through with cash, it is worth it. I promise.
Simple math would tell you that if we paid off $18,000 in 18 months that we paid off $ 1,000/ month, but it didn't work that way. Life happened to us too. Some months we were able to put $1200 or more towards our debt. Other months, we would only be able to do $500. At times, I was super tempted to give up. We stayed focused and eventually reached our goal.
5. DON'T LOOK BACK
We paid off all our debt so we could be out of debt forever. In our minds, this wasn't a short-term thing.
Once you work this hard, keep moving forward. We permanently changed our minds about debt. There is a peace that settles in your life once you pay off everything you owe.
So when you're tempted to take payments again, think about how much more you can give and be generous when you don't owe anyone a dime. Remeber your "why".
The journey is challenging but worth it. Someday you'll be able to give that big donation to your favorite charity, start that business you always wanted to have, or pay cash for that trip you've always wanted to go on. You can do those things and MORE. Don't look back.
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