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Paying Off Debt By The Numbers
Numbers. According to statistics, nearly 80% of adults in the United States have consumer debt. Owing money seems to have become a way of life, even though 70% of people with debt consider their debt to be undesirable. The question begs to be asked, “why do people put themselves in such a situation to be in debt when they don’t want to be?”
The answer to the question is not simple and clear. In some cases, it may involve personal spending habits while in other cases, it may be related to an unforeseen set of circumstances. Either way, debt can cause unhealthy stress, and people can sometimes be quick to judge. Neither being stressed nor being judged is particularly helpful and can lead to depression, feelings of failure, and strained relationships, among other negativities. So maybe a better question to ask is, “what can a person in debt do to change their situation and get out of it?”
A pull in different directions. Kind of like raising kids, there’s no one “right” way to do it, but everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject. As a consumer looking for answers, it becomes very easy to get caught up in one camp or another when it comes to which diet to follow. There’s no shortage of financial experts, books, and methodologies targeting people who need a little financial wisdom. The problem is that many pre-packaged debt repayment programs treat the journey to debt freedom as a religious cult rather than a progression to financial literacy and financial independence.
Rather than taking a “one size fits all” approach, it’s important to consider debt, income, expenses, and financial goals in the context of the individual’s household, habits, and goals. There are two parts to the debt repayment equation: the calculations and the individual’s lifestyle. To be effective, any debt relief solution must address both.
The method. The math is the easy part. Mathematics is sterile. Mathematics is cold, down to earth. He is not influenced or affected by opinions or emotions. It’s predictable, no surprise. Unfortunately, however, it is also very misunderstood or perhaps intimidating to people who are not mathematically or analytically savvy.
the way of life part is what is difficult. Anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution (and failed) knows exactly what that means. People have the best intentions of improving their lot in life, but with the temptation and emotional ups and downs of triumphs and setbacks, people’s “wants” often outweigh their “needs”.
Between the two, it is essential to find a viable balance. Here’s the meat and potatoes of a good, solid, viable plan to get out of debt and start making progress toward healthy finances:
- Brainstorm and scale quantities. People rarely succeed if they make drastic changes or give up their habits, cold turkey. Small cumulative changes make big differences. Order the medium instead of the large. Lower the thermostat two degrees in winter or raise it in summer. Figure out what’s not being used, like landlines or premium TV channels, and cut back. Then calculate the monthly savings and, rather than spending them elsewhere, apply them to debts.
- Create a budget. Creating a budget is more than putting planned numbers into rows and columns and then trying to stick to them. Effective budgeting involves thinking about ways to reduce costs without reducing quality of life. This is an example of finding the pay between the math and the way of life. By applying savings from brainstorming and reducing amounts to debt repayment, the household budget allows progress toward debt elimination without drastic lifestyle changes.
- Redirect cash flow. Rather than deposit paychecks directly into a zero-interest checking account, perhaps open a high-yield online savings account at 2% to 3% interest. Let the money accrue interest in the account, then transfer money in batches once or twice a month for bill payments. The end result, simply by redirecting the direction of cash flow, will add substantial resources to repay debts without any effort.
A few simple changes in habits can make it easier to pay off debt without having to live on beans and rice at every meal. In most cases, minor changes that require little or no sacrifice will save years and potentially thousands of dollars in consumer debt interest.
As a rule, people adopt habits that do not deprive them of what they want. So a math/lifestyle balance is the key to sticking to a debt repayment plan rather than systems that rely on raw willpower or require self-deprivation. Take the time to improve financial literacy can make it possible “to have your cake and eat it too”.
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