Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Get Out of Debt

I despise debt. It makes me crazy.  Crazy anxious and nervous.  It feels overwhelming, and makes me fear the worst.

What if I lose my job...
What if I lose my house...
What if I can't feed my kids...
What if I can't take care of my kids...
What if I have to live in my car...
What if I have to live in my car, and then I lose my car....
What if it's winter when all this happens...
What if I freeze to death in a back alley behind a Chinese restaurant?

Rational? Maybe not, but it could happen. IT really COULD.

After my divorce in May 2013, my debt was at an all-time high.

June 2013: -$27,706.  Seriously stomach nausea, and insomnia. AND I was technically a homeless, single, mother of three.  I was not okay.

Here's was my debt breakdown:

Credit cards and student loans: $18,168 - Most of which was credit cards.
Car loan: $4,038
Balance due to my divorce attorney: $3,600
Charges for necessary items: $1,900 (mattresses for me and my kids)
Total: -$27,706

As of Today: September 20, 2014 my TOTAL debt is -$2,500 (aside from my mortgage.)

Yes, I have eliminated $25,206 of debt in 15 months.

When I posted this about a month ago on Facebook so many people asked me to write about how I did it.  So here you go.  I am not an expert, but these principles worked for me, and I hope thy can be helpful to someone else.

Everyone's situation is unique.  Income, outside circumstances, ability to change... these all vary. However, I think these principals could work for anyone.

1.  Reduce living expenses.  This is the number one most important change I made.

I will acknowledge this was easy for me because I was in a transitional period. I didn't have to proactively make hard decisions to change because the change part was already in motion. I just had to make the right choice to alter my lifestyle.

I should mention that prior to the divorce I was paying 79.4% of all of my families living expenses and still paying extra against my debt.  It wasn't necessary for me to change my lifestyle.  I could have elected to maintain the same standard of living-- and take a long time repaying my debt.

  • Buy a house. Unless I wanted to continue the transient lifestyle, I needed a place for me and my kids to live. I did not want to rent.  In my opinion, renting is just as bad as debt because you are paying someones return on investment and getting very little in return. When there isn't an option except to rent, then rent CHEAP and save your hard earned money to buy a house.

Off my soap box... I looked for a smaller, efficient home, to save on mortgage and also utilities.

Prior home: 2030 sqft
New home: 1850 sqft.

My new home is super energy efficient.

Prior home: average monthly gas and power bills: $270.00
New home: $90.00
Cash Flow: +$180.00

The mortgage obligation. I don't want to publicize the actual numbers, but here's the monthly cash flow: +$250.00

Eliminated services I no longer needed with a smaller house and yard.
Home Phone: +$40.00
Pest Control: +$40.00
Lawn and tree services: +$47.00
Cash Flow: $127.00

Add to this the my budgeted allocation for debt reduction: +$600.00

Cash flow: $1157/ month.

2. Meticulously track the debt. I downloaded a Debt Reduction Calculator from this website: http://www.vertex42.com/Calculators/debt-reduction-calculator.html
Credit goes to Vertex42.
  • I entered all my debt and interest rates. This made it so easy to focus on the debts with the highest interest rates. More importantly, the constant knowledge of EXACTLY how much debt I had-- and the total cost of that debt in interest, made it really easy to make wise financial choices.
The spreadsheet lets you choose paying off the lowest balances first (instant gratification) or highest interest rate first.  Now really?  Most of us get into these situations based on instant gratification, so just toss that.
3. SAVINGS!  Contributing to a savings account was critical.  I like to consider a savings account "budgeting for incidentals,"  With a savings account established, I never had to add to my debt for unexpected expenses.
  • I started out moving $200.00 a month into savings till I had about $1,500 reserved. That's not much, but it was enough to keep me in the black.  
4. Expected and unexpected "extra" income. Extra cash flow such as tax returns, escrow account adjustments, insurance losses, selling personal property... and of course then the divorce settlement check finally through.
  • It's so easy to take what feels like "free money" and go PLAY.  Vacation, shopping, new furniture, boob job, tummy tuck....  All the typical things a newly divorced woman wouldn't mind spending money on.  Instead apply huge payments against the debt.
This is one of the hardest disciplines for me. I feel like I have been so good about everything else, I deserve a reward.  I worked hard for this extra money, I deserve a reward.  This money wasn't planned into my budget so it won't effect my goals, I deserve a reward....

What I deserve is to get rid of the debt burden.
What I deserve is a financially sound future.
What I deserve is my money working for me.
What I deserve is peace of mind.

I think I would rather have these things than a new couch.

5. Don't cut yourself off.  I still wanted to have fun.  I still wanted to eat out on occasion.  I wanted to take my kids on vacation.  I wanted to be able to go shopping. At first, these purchases where a little tight, but once I got debt reduction under way I started to build a little room into the budget for frivolity.  Everyone should be a little frivolous, so long as they are not going into debt to do so. 

Here's some personal perspective from my past behaviors:  

As long as I was paying cash for the frivolous then it was okay.  I was completely blind to the fact that I was running out of money at the end of the month and having to charge gas for my car.   

I'm not saying it was easy, but once my goal to be debt free became more important to me than having the latest and greatest the mental battle ended.  

I'm so close I can almost touch it.

xoxo Cam


queenann said...

Hooray for getting out of debt. We are working on this, too, right now. We've paid off more than $18000 in 7 months. Some of it I can explain to you--how we did it, etc. But some of it is just plain leap of faith stuff. Gonna be done by March!

Keep going. You got this.

Sandi Keene said...

Congrats, Cam! You have taken on a huge goal and you have made amazing progress. You must be so proud!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. I'm impressed. Love your website.

Tiashaun Brown said...

I began my journey to Debt Freedom in August 2014. Since then I have removed judgements, outdated and incorrect information from my report. Doing this raised my score by 60 points in the 1st 30 days.

I have just created a Snowball spreadsheet and it is an eye opener. I look forward to enjoying the feeling of paying of the first debt. We don't have interest to worry about so we have decided to start from smallest to highest.

Thank you for your post. It gives me reassurance that it can be done.