How to get out of debt is one of the primary things I enjoy teaching here on the CFF blog. In fact, it was my experience with getting out of debt that originally inspired me to start showing others how to get out of debt too! Through this experience, I discovered how having a solid get out of debt plan changed my wealth, my marriage, and my overall outlook on life for the better.
Over the years I’ve written dozens of blog posts with hundreds of tips for getting out of debt that have helped literally millions of people… what a great feeling to be able to share these life changing debt freedom concepts with the world!
The Ultimate Plan for Getting Out of Debt
So today I decided to write the most comprehensive post I’ve ever written on getting out of debt- The Ultimate Plan for Getting Out of Debt. It’s an all-encompassing guide to achieve debt freedom, touching on everything I’ve taught over the years about getting out of debt and living a debt free life. This process for debt freedom works even if you have no money, a low income, bad credit, or other obstacles standing in your way.
Here’s What You’ll Learn
I’ll show you every single step to completely pay off your debt, plus answer some of the most important questions most people tend to ask me when putting together a get out of debt plan.
- How to get your mindset right to start getting out of debt.
- The 6 steps you need to take to get out of debt for good.
- How to put together a debt freedom plan customized to your individual situation using these steps.
- The three types of resistance you will encounter on your debt free journey.
- Common mistakes– why people fail at getting out of debt.
- How to get out of debt even if you have a low income, no money, and no credit.
- How to get out of debt faster by doing just a couple of simple things to accelerate the process.
- Why some popular options for getting out of debt don’t work.
- What to do after you get achieve freedom from debt.
This is a seriously long post, but the payoff is huge! So let’s get started…
How to Achieve a “Get Out of Debt” Mindset
You’ll never succeed at paying off your debt unless you have the right mindset going in. That’s why it’s massively important to understand a few basic things about the debt freedom process. You have to prepare your mind for what’s ahead, understanding at the beginning that you have to do a few basic things to set yourself up for success.
4 Ways to Achieve a “Get Out of Debt” Mindset
Here are four of the most important things you’ll need to do to get started with the right mindset:
- Take Responsibility- Be honest with yourself. It’s easy to deceive yourself into believing that being in debt is not your fault- most of the time it is. Take responsibility for what you’ve been doing wrong, even if you’re not totally sure what that is yet.
- Decide You Will Never Go Back- Tell yourself that you’re done with old habits and it’s time to change. Your brain is extremely resistant to changing established patterns, so you have to repeatedly do things to force your brain to change. Tell yourself out loud “I’m done with (debt, credit cards, overspending, etc.)” and “I’m going to (cut up the cards, spend less, etc.)”. There’s something about saying it out loud that helps your brain to change. The more senses you engage, the better effect it produces on your mind and spirit.
- Do What You Say You’re Going to Do- Once you engage your brain to start a new way of thinking, it’s time to start taking action. Start spending less, saving more, doing a budget (I’ll show you how below). Do whatever you’ve been telling your brain you need to do to succeed.
- Stay Committed- Any time you commit to change, challenges are inevitable. Stick to your guns, resist temptation to go back to your old habits, be consistent, and keep moving forward.
Your Money Mindset Makes a Difference
Getting your mindset right makes a huge difference in whether or not you succeed at getting out of debt, so pay close attention to the tips above. I’ve also written a ton of posts about money mindset. Here are some of the best ones:
You Have to Get Mad
One thing I recommend that works well with changing your mindset, is to get mad at your debt. This means you should get angry about your debt and the negative effects it’s having on your life. Decide that once and for all, you will stop living the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good!
When you get your emotions involved, it gives you extra motivation to change.
You 100% have to decide that you want to get out of debt no matter what, and once you're done you'll never go back. It's time to take no prisoners, and get mad enough at your debt to kill it for good.
You Have to Go Naked
Another important thing I highly recommend before you start getting out of debt, is to go naked.
No, this has nothing to do with moving to one of those creepy “clothing optional” communities! What I’m talking about is going naked with credit.
If you really want to get out of debt for good, you gotta kick credit to the curb! This means cutting up credit cards, paying cash for your stuff, and never using consumer debt to finance your life.
Going Naked with Credit is Uncomfortable
Just like going naked in public, going naked with credit feels really weird. I remember when Angie and I cut up our last credit card- We felt like something was off kilter. Even though we had an emergency fund to fall back on, it was just strange.
We got over that real quick!
We realized it was because we've been conditioned to think that we need credit to make it in life. We've been told that if we don't have credit available we could end up in financial disaster.
But the total opposite is true! When you cut up the credit cards and decide you're never going back, you become more financially free than you've ever been!
You Have to Have a Different Mindset
Going naked plays a huge role in changing your mindset. It’s the total opposite of what most people do. But if you want to get out of debt for good, you must be a little different. Normal is for broke people!
I know going naked sounds like it might not be achievable, especially if you have a low income. Don’t worry, you can do it- just follow the plan I lay out for you. I’ll talk more about getting out of debt on a low income later in this post.
More Tips for a Debt Free Mindset
Here are a few more tips you can use to start changing your mindset about money as you begin your debt free journey:
Stop Worrying About Your Credit Score
The media and corporate America will tell you that you need a credit score to rent or buy a house, purchase a car, or get a job.
That is complete B.S.!
A credit score is not necessary to live in the modern world- it’s only a measure of how well you use debt. Here are a few articles I wrote that will explain why this financial mindset is so pervasive, and how you can overcome it:
Don’t Believe the Myth That You Can’t Get Out of Debt on a Low Income
Too many people believe debt is just a normal part of life. They buy into the financial myth that the average person with a low income will never be able to live debt free. They believe the system is rigged and that it’s impossible to get ahead.
It’s not true!
When it comes down to it, it’s not about how much money you have or don’t have, it’s about the plan. With the right plan, some intestinal fortitude, and time, anyone can become debt free, even with a low income and no money.
Debt freedom is not just for people with a high income or some special knowledge. Anyone can achieve debt freedom if they really want it!
Learn the Difference Between Wants and Needs
I think a lot of people are in debt because their ideas of wants vs. needs are skewed. In prosperous countries (especially here in the US) we’ve become so comfortable that we don’t know what our needs really are.
What we need are the basics, and everything over and above those are wants. Here’s a quick list of needs to help you reset your financial mindset:
- Spiritual connection
You don’t need cable TV, a new car, a big house, a credit card, a big TV, good credit, or expensive clothing. Those are wants that you can have if you can afford them. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having nice things. I own some high-end luxury items myself- paid for with cash!
But when your things are owning you instead of you owning them , you need to reevaluate what your wants vs. needs really are.
Learn the Difference Between Abundance and Scarcity
I used to be guilty of having a scarcity mindset. At one time, I was so defensive financially that I missed out on several opportunities to make a lot of money. Unfortunately, my money mindset was so focused on not spending money that it ended up costing me money and opportunity in the long run.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that God made this world a place of abundance, and we have to be willing to tap into it. Learn to have an abundance mentality and it will serve you well while you’re getting out of debt (and long after!). Here’s a great post to help with that:
Abundance vs. Scarcity -Your Mindset Makes All the Difference
The 6 Steps for Getting Out of Debt for Good
So now that I’ve covered the preliminary stuff, I’ll give you a quick overview of the six steps to get out of debt. Then I’ll cover each one in-depth and show you how to create a step-by-step, customized get out of debt plan for your unique situation.
Here are the six steps:
- Make a budget
- Create a starter emergency fund
- The Debt Rocket
- Create a large emergency fund
- Tackle the big stuff
- Build wealth like crazy
Step 1 to Get out of Debt- Make a Budget
What, you thought the first step for getting out of debt would be something fun like throwing a “get out of debt” party for all your friends? I’m afraid not- sorry to disappoint.
But hey, you can do that later, when you really are out of debt. It'll be much sweeter that way!
Seriously though, I know learning to make a budget doesn’t sound fun. But trust me, it's well worth the effort!
And don’t worry, even if you haven’t had success with budgeting in the past, I can help you with that.
Why Do You Need a Written Budget?
The number one reason you need a budget is because you need to know where your money is going. Most people think they know how their money is spent. In reality, most have no clue where their money really goes every month. That includes you, by the way.
A Budget Answers 3 Important Questions
But when you take the time to make a written plan for your money, you automatically gain total control over it. You will use it much more efficiently than you otherwise would have, saving hundreds of dollars a month on average.
Doing a written budget answers 3 important questions:
- How am I spending my money? (Most people only have a vague idea).
- Where is my money being wasted?
- Am I making enough money? (You may need to work on increasing your income in addition to budgeting).
A Budget Helps You Get Control of Your Money
When you have a written plan in place, you're able to answer these 3 questions easily. You're no longer flying by the seat of your pants financially, and the result is you start to gain total control over where your money goes with nothing being wasted.
Your budget paints a picture of your money situation that helps you control the flow of each dollar to where you want it to go.
Budgeting also ensures that you never spend more than you make. Because a proper zero-based budget makes sure the dollars going out are equal to the dollars coming in.
A monthly budget is the number one tool in your arsenal that will help you achieve permanent, life changing financial freedom!
Use The Envelope System Along With Your Budget
A cash envelope system is something you absolutely need to use in conjunction with your budget. Remember, at this point you’ve gone naked (sworn off the credit cards) so you have to be able to pay for stuff without going into debt.
The envelope system works in conjunction with your budget to ensure that you never spend more than you make. When you transition to a cash only lifestyle, it’s impossible to overspend!
Converting over to using cash in envelopes is quite a change in mindset for most people (I know it was for us). It’s a new habit that takes a little getting used to, for sure. Angie and I have been using the envelope system daily for well over a decade now, and I can tell you from personal experience it’s the best thing we ever did (along with our budget) to get total control over our money!
Before You Start a Budget
Before you start a full-blown monthly budget, the first thing I recommend is to write down every single purchase you make for the next 30 days. You can write it in a little notebook you carry with you or enter it in a note taking app in your cellphone. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it.
At the end of the month, you’ll have a pretty good snapshot of how you spend your money. This will be a huge help to you when it’s time to fill out your first monthly budget (I’ll show you how below- free budgeting forms provided).
Discipline is the Key
Writing down every purchase for 30 days is an easy way to start developing the discipline to start budgeting. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take a superhuman effort to start budgeting, but you do have to be motivated if you want to succeed with it- no excuses!
Budgeting Takes Practice- Stick With it!
Now that you have 30 days of purchases under your belt, you have the info you need to make your first attempt at a monthly budget. One thing I want to realize before you get started- your budget is going to suck the first time you do it!
So, now that you know that, don’t freak out and get discouraged the first time you fill out your budget.
Budgeting With a Variable Income
Doing a monthly budget when your income varies from month to month presents a few challenges you don’t have with a steady income. In the resource list below, I provide a link to a blog post on how to budget when you have a variable income that shows you everything you need to know. You’ll find Variable Income Budgeting Forms for you there as well.
Your First Budget is NOT FUN!
Your first budget will be confusing, and it will take you way too long to fill it out. But here’s the deal- the more you do it, the better you’ll get!
I remember the first time I did our family budget. It took me several hours to get the budgeting forms filled out, and I really had a hard time wrapping my head around it. It was NOT FUN!
But I stuck with it. I started doing a written budget every month, and each time it got easier and easier. Now it’s as easy and routine as brushing my teeth! Our family budget literally takes only about 30 minutes of my time every month. So don’t worry, stick with it, you’ll get there too!
How to Start a Budget
Now that you have your head in the right place and 30 days of expenses at your disposal, it’s time to attempt your first budget. As I said above, it won’t be easy, so don’t get discouraged. If it takes too long and you get too frustrated, set it aside for a few hours (not days or weeks) and come back to it with a fresh mindset.
It takes a good 3-4 months of doing a monthly budget before it starts getting easier. Stick with it and you will see HUGE benefits to your bottom line in the future!
I won’t give you detailed instructions here for starting your budget- this post is already long enough! However, the resources below will give you all the forms and instructions you need to start budgeting right away.
Learn more about my Ebook “Balance- The Quick and Easy Guide to Financial Stability Using a Budget”
Step 2 to Get Out of Debt- The Beginner Emergency Fund
Ok, at this point you’re getting used to doing a monthly budget and starting to use the envelope system. It probably still feels a little weird starting all these new habits, but your beginning to get the hang of it.
You are not attempting to pay off any debt just yet.
Now your focus should be on getting together a small emergency fund of $1,000 (or $1,500-$2,000 if you have a high income).
Yes, I know. You’re in serious debt and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, how can you be expected to come up with $1,000 cash? I’ll address that in a few minutes. First, let’s talk about why you need an emergency fund in the first place.
Why You Need an Emergency Fund
Emergencies are going to happen. Especially if you’re trying to get out of debt! Your beginning emergency fund ensures that you can deal with most emergencies with cash instead of being tempted to add to your debt.
An Emergency Fund is Insurance
Remember, you’re naked now! You’ve sworn off using debt to fund your life, so you have to do things differently now. A cash emergency fund is insurance against the inevitable bumps in the road that can derail your plan for getting out of debt.
Your Emergency Fund Changes Your Mindset
Two thirds of people live paycheck to paycheck, which means most people don’t have two nickels to rub together. Because of that, the average Joe is forced to resort to credit cards and loans when the inevitable emergency comes along. Of course, that results in more debt!
But you’re not doing things the average Joe does anymore. An emergency fund helps you change your mindset about how you deal with the unexpected. You are now self-funding your life instead of relying on other people’s money to get by. It’s yet another step you’re taking to become financially self-reliant instead of being a slave to the lenders.
How Do You Get Money for an Emergency Fund?
I completely understand- you have a ton of debt, maybe your income isn’t where it needs to be, and you don’t believe you can come up with a cool grand for an emergency fund.
You can do it… you may just need to get a little creative, that’s all!
Read “9 Ways to Build Your $1,000 Emergency Fund Quickly”
Clean out your closets and your attic, then sell all the junk you don't need in a yard sale or on EBay. Maybe you can pick up a few extra hours at work. Clean some houses, cut some yards, babysit, or bake cookies. Use any job skills you have such as computer skills, accounting, or bookkeeping, to make extra money to put into your emergency fund.
There is always a way (Here’s a list of my favorites)!
Your Budget Helps Build Your Emergency Fund
By the way, at this point in the process, you're already doing a written budget. My experience has been that when you started doing a budget, you started using your money much more efficiently. Inevitably, you’ll find at least a couple hundred dollars every month you didn't know you had. You can use that to help build your emergency fund as well.
What Constitutes an Emergency?
When you know you have money available to fall back on, it can get a little tempting. Your best bet is to know what an emergency really is before it happens, so you don’t screw up.
An emergency is not:
- A sale on those cute shoes you’ve been wanting for 6 months.
- A new scope for your hunting rifle because deer season starts next week.
- A new game system because your current one died unexpectedly.
- A busted TV.
- A broken IPad (unless it’s absolutely necessary for work or school).
- Spending money at a restaurant because your friends wanted to go out and you had no money.
A real emergency is:
- When little Johnny breaks his arm.
- Your hot water heater dies.
- The basement flooded.
- You lose your job.
- The refrigerator dies.
- The roof springs a leak.
- Your HVAC dies.
- You get injured and have to go to the ER/see a doctor.
Don't Be Tempted!
Real emergencies are the ones that affect your health, the roof over your head, your safety, your ability to eat, or your ability to work. Never be tempted to use your emergency fund for anything else!
Yay, that’s it for Step 2- Let’s move on to Step 3 for Getting Out of Debt!
Step 3 for Getting Out of Debt- The Debt Rocket
Now that you’ve started budgeting and put together a starter emergency fund, it’s time to make your own customized plan for getting out of debt. I call it a Debt Rocket Plan.
At this point, you are probably more organized financially than you have been in a long time (if ever!). Since you have worked diligently on these preliminary steps, getting out of debt will come so much easier now!
The Debt Rocket Plan
So, what the heck is a Debt Rocket plan? Well, you may have heard it referred to by others as a Debt Snowball, Debt Avalanche, or some other name. I like to call it a Debt Rocket because, just like a rocket lifting off:
- It starts off very slowly.
- It takes a lot of energy to get liftoff.
- Once you achieve lift off, acceleration becomes exponential. Small victories eventually add up!
- This plan will rocket you into the blue sky of debt freedom!
Sure, I realize no one else calls it a Debt Rocket. But hey, this is my blog so I can call it what I want. Snowball schmowball- I like Debt Rocket better!
What Does the Debt Rocket Do?
Building your own customized Debt Rocket plan accomplishes some extremely important things that accelerate your debt free journey like nothing else:
- It Gives You Hope- You have a plan unique to your situation, on paper. You have concrete evidence that getting out of debt is truly possible. It allows your rational brain and your spirit to dial in to a new financial reality. You now have hope where you didn’t have it before.
- It Gets You Organized- As I mentioned before, flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t work. A written Debt Rocket plan keeps you organized and on track to pay off your debt.
- It Makes Getting Out of Debt Easier- Because you have a prescribed path to follow that you can stick to, getting out of debt is easier. When you have a plan that you put together yourself, that is customized to your situation, you're more likely to stick with it and get the job done.
- It Gets You Out of Debt Faster- The great thing about the Debt Rocket is that it accelerates the process. You will pay off your debt much faster than if you didn’t have a Debt Rocket plan.
How to Put Together Your Own Debt Rocket Plan
- The first thing you need to do is put together a list of every debt you have (except for the mortgage, we’ll get to that later), how much you owe, and how many payments you have left on each one.
- Next, you’ll need to download the free Debt Rocket forms. You can also download an example Debt Rocket form I’ve already filled out to help you get a feel for it.
- Print out the Debt Rocket forms, as you’ll need to do some writing to get your plan in place.
- Now start filling out the form. List your debts from smallest to largest in the “Item” Then, in the “Total Payoff Amount” column, enter the total amount you owe for each item.
- Next, in the “Minimum Payment” column, enter the minimum payment for each item. If the item costs the same amount every month (like a car payment) just write down that fixed payment amount. For items such as credit cards, you can find how much the minimum payment is on your monthly credit card statement.
- Now that you have the columns above filled out, continue paying each debt payment every month as you have been, sending in the minimum payment on each debt.
- Any extra money you have to pay down debt should go completely toward the smallest debt only. Obviously, the more money you put toward that smallest debt, the faster you'll get it paid off.
Now Accelerate Paying Off Debt
Once the smallest debt is paid off, continue paying your other debts each month as you have been. But the money you were sending to the smallest debt is now added to the next smallest, which allows you to accelerate getting that one paid off.
Repeat this process as you pay off each debt until all the debts are completely paid off.
As you continue the process, the speed of paying off each debt accelerates, just like the rocket I talked about, and launches you into the blue sky of debt freedom!
How to Speed Up the Process Even More
One great way to speed up the process even faster is to find ways to make extra money to put exclusively toward paying off your debt. You may have already been doing this to raise money for your emergency fund. If that’s the case, keep it up! It will massively accelerate your Debt Rocket plan. You’ll shave months, or even years, off your Debt Rocket Plan!
Common Questions About the Debt Rocket
At this point I'm sure you probably have some questions about the Debt Rocket, so I'll go ahead and address two of the most common questions people tend to ask.
“Why should I pay off my debt this way? Can't I just keep paying my payments normally until all the debts are paid off?”
- You should use the Debt Rocket technique because first and foremost, it allows you to have a written plan to work from, instead of flying by the seat of your pants. You will be able to see visual progress as you check each debt off the list.
- As I explained earlier in the budgeting section, flying by the seat of your pants just doesn't work! It’s the primary reason most people end up in debt in the first place.
- The Debt Rocket plan ensures that you to pay off your debt much faster than if you didn't use the plan at all.
- You will begin seeing results quickly. Paying off the smallest debt first usually happens in a short time. There is nothing like getting a couple of quick wins under your belt to keep you motivated and on track to becoming completely debt free.
“Why wouldn't I pay off the debt with the higher interest first?”
- Getting out of debt is all about changing habits and behaviors. Paying off the smallest debt first helps you see more immediate progress toward your goal, giving you a positive psychological boost that helps you stay motivated.
- I completely understand that the math doesn't work. You may end up paying slightly more in this scenario, but the difference is usually minimal. Successfully changing your behavior is the most important thing at this stage of the game.
So now that you understand how the Debt Rocket works and what it can do for you, go ahead and download the forms (if you haven’t already), fill in the blanks, and start the countdown toward your launch into Financial Freedom!
Be Consistent and Persevere- You’ll Get There!
To get your debt paid off completely, it will take you a few months to a few years, depending on your situation. There will be times when it seems like you’re making zero progress. That’s a normal part of the process, so don’t let it get you down. Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated and on track. With consistency and perseverance, you’ll git ‘er done!
Now let’s move on to step 3!
Step 4 to Get Out of Debt- Create a 3-6 Month Emergency Fund
Once you get to this point in the process, you should be free from all consumer debt! You got mad and naked, did your budget every month, built a small emergency fund, and rocked your Debt Rocket plan- you are officially a financial ROCK STAR!
At this point you have no consumer debt (except for your mortgage- Be patient I’ll get to that later). You're completely done using all forms of credit whatsoever. You’re feeling good because you have some financial breathing room. Now your mind starts working overtime, thinking what you could do with all the extra money you have now.
Hang on a minute!
Don't start thinking about Jimmy Choo's or custom fitted golf clubs just yet. Buying a bunch of stuff or increasing your lifestyle or is not what you need to be doing right now. You still have more work to do.
Build a Large 3-6 Month Emergency Fund
Now it’s time to insure yourself against a larger disaster, such as a lost job, major illness, or other major unexpected event that could throw your finances into a frenzy.
You’ll need to build an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses such as food, housing, electricity, water, gas, transportation, etc. This is money you will keep in liquid, easily accessible accounts so you can get to it quickly when you need it for an emergency.
An Emergency Fund is Self-Insurance
When you have a large emergency fund in place and available during a crisis, it keeps you from being tempted to use debt to “fix” the situation.
Without an emergency fund, you become vulnerable. You'll be tempted (or forced) to use credit cards or other debt when the inevitable emergency comes and you're desperate.
The result is that you end up paying for an emergency for months or even years to come, maybe even causing you to be in debt when the next crisis comes- trapping you in vicious debt spiral! You definitely don’t want to end up back in debt after you fought so hard to get out!
A Couple of Questions About Emergency Funds
Here are a couple of common questions people ask me about emergency funds:
That's a Lot of Money, Shouldn't I Invest it Instead of Letting it Sit in Cash?
No, because money invested in the stock market or other investments can be volatile and go down in value. Trust me, if you need money for an emergency, you can pretty much guarantee you'll lose a big chunk of it in the stock market right before you need it the most!
Keep your emergency fund as cash in a savings or money market account. That ensures that it doesn't lose significant value and is easily accessible. Do not put it in CD's (illiquid), Stocks or Mutual Funds (volatile and illiquid), and especially not Real Estate (very illiquid).
What Happens if I Need to Use My Emergency Fund?
Only use enough to get you through the crisis. It can be extremely tempting to use it for “extras” not related to your emergency. Spend your emergency fund money wisely and conservatively as you use it. Don't let it leak away drop by drop.
Once your emergency has passed, make it a priority to replenish it back to the proper level ASAP. This means that all money available over and above your normal living expenses should go to rebuild your emergency fund so you can be ready when the next emergency catches you by surprise.
Read 6 Tips for Dealing With a Financial Emergency
Building a Large Emergency Fund Doesn’t Take as Long as You Think
It may seem like a daunting goal to build such a large stash of money. From my experience, that’s not usually the case. Since you paid off all your debt before you started this step, you should be able to save money fast to build your emergency fund. Therefore, it usually doesn’t take long at all to completely fund your emergency account.
Let’s move on to Step 5…
Step 5 to Get Out of Debt- Build Wealth
Step 5 is where things really start to get interesting- now it’s time to start building wealth like there’s no tomorrow! When you have no consumer debt sucking you dry, it’s easy to start building tons of wealth and watching it grow exponentially!
There are a few things you can do at this point to fund your future:
- Aggressively put money into savings and investments for the future.
- Pay off the house faster.
- Save more for college for your kids.
- Or a combination of the ideas above.
Some Suggestions for Building Wealth and Funding Your Future
Remember, getting rid of your consumer debt is just the beginning. Now you can start multiplying your money, building your future, and gaining financial freedom. This is the fun stuff!
Here are a few ways you can do it:
- Invest- Put all your money into savings and investments, continue paying the house payment, and let the kids pay for their own college.
- Pay off the Mortgage- Put all your extra money toward the mortgage, thus paying it off years ahead of time. Once the house is paid for, then fund investments and college.
- Save for College- Save aggressively for your kid’s college education. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift for your kids to start life after college with no debt?
- Do all three- Send some to investments, some to pay extra on the house, and put some away for college. Once the house is paid off and the kids are through college, put everything into investments.
Once you're able to start saving and investing the money you once used to pay off debt, you can make compound interest work for you in a HUGE way and build your wealth to new heights you never dreamed possible!
Be Careful- Don’t Get Stupid!
By the way, once you get to this stage of the game, it’ extremely easy to lose your focus if you’re not careful. Here are a few things that can creep up on you and put you right back where you started when you don’t pay close attention. Avoid these at all costs!
- You Stop Doing a Written Budget– You finally got control of your money when you started doing a budget every month. If you get lazy and go back to flying by the seat of your pants, it won’t take long to lose control and start spending more than you make. Do a written budget every month, for the rest of your life!
- You Start Using Credit Cards Again- It’s an easy habit to get back into. You rationalize that you'll use credit cards “just for gas and groceries” because it's more convenient. Don’t lie to yourself! Eventually you’ll end up using them for other things. You will end up right back in credit card debt. If you want to continue to be financially free, don’t do what everybody else does- NO CREDIT CARDS, PERIOD!
- You Increase Your Lifestyle- You have all this extra money now that you’re out of debt. Then you start spending more money on eating out, hobbies, travel, or other items. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your money, but be aware that lifestyle creep is extremely sneaky. Keep your focus on your money goals.
Keep practicing the good habits that got you out of debt in the first place, and you will continue winning with money forever!
So remember- DON’T GET STUPID!
Step 6 to Get Out of Debt- The Big Picture (Building a Legacy)
At this point you should be crushing it financially! But now that you are out of debt and have begun building wealth, it’s time to decide what comes next. You’re building wealth month after month, year after year, but for what purpose? Are you just going to build a huge bank account and die rich?
One thing you should realize is that getting out of debt and building wealth serves a much larger purpose than just fattening your retirement account. Your freedom from debt can do big things in the world if you’re intentional about using your money wisely.
Debt Freedom Can Change Your Family Tree
When you’re out of debt and building wealth, you become an example to your kids. They see what you’ve done, and if you taught them during the journey about how and why you got out of debt, they are more likely to follow in your footsteps. They will get a great start in life because they’ll know how to avoid debt when the opportunity arises.
Also, when pass away, you can leave a legacy to your kids- money and valuable assets instead of a pile of bills with claims against your estate.
You Can Be More Generous
When you are out of debt, you can increase your generosity because you have excess. When you're not worried about how to pay the bills, you are unencumbered financially, so you can freely give when you're led to do so, and you can give more money when you do. Debt freedom can also help you free up time to volunteer rather than working overtime or extra jobs just to feed your debt.
You Can Teach Others to Get Out of Debt
When you finally become debt free, you'll be excited to share your journey with others who want to do it too! Inspiring others to become debt free will always have a positive impact beyond just you and your bank account. Teaching and inspiring others changes the world, leaving a legacy far beyond you and your family.
Debt Freedom Has Far Reaching Effects
I'd like to take the world changing theme a little further by sharing a story that I use in my Celebrating Financial Freedom online course. This story vividly illustrates how your decision to get out of debt results in a cascade of events that literally changes the world for the better for generations to come.
You made the decision to get out of debt and followed it through to the end. Now that you're debt free, you have a totally different outlook on life. Your friend Tom notices how your life has changed, and is encouraged by your debt free example. Tom decides to become debt free as well, and follows through with the process.
Later, he gives the same help and encouragement to his friend Jenny, who also commits and becomes debt free over time.
Pretty cool! Your decision to get out of debt changed two lives for the better so far.
Now let’s dig a little deeper.
More Lives are Changed
Now Jenny has the financial ability to do something she’s always wanted to do, but couldn’t afford to. Jenny grew up in an extremely poor home. Because of her experience, she's always had a heart for feeding hungry children. But because she was deep in debt, she felt like she couldn’t spare the money. She was living paycheck to paycheck, and had no money to spare.
Now that she no longer lives paycheck to paycheck, she sponsors an intelligent young boy named Tomas in Central America. Now that Tomas has enough to eat, he can better concentrate on his schooling and he begins to excel academically. As Tomas grows and attends high school, his academic accomplishments are recognized with scholarships that allows him to achieve his dream of going to college.
Tomas has always loved science. He grows up to be a top researcher, performing medical research that eventually saves thousands of lives all over the world! This incredible, unforeseen sequence of events only happened because you chose to and get out of debt and follow through with the process!
Never Underestimate the Power of Debt Freedom
Does the story above sound a little far-fetched? I don’t think it is. Everything we do has an effect on the world every day. But we rarely think about how our decisions affect the world at large. Mostly, we only focus on the effects our decisions have on us and the people immediately around us.
When you understand that your actions have incredibly far reaching effects, then maybe you will be more thoughtful about the decisions (or non-decisions) you make in your life.
Never underestimate your power to change your life and your finances for the better. It’s your money and your life. Ultimately, it’s up to you what you do with them.
Never underestimate what your decisions and your actions mean to the rest of the world.
To reiterate the title of this step, always remember that what you do matters, and that you are a very important part of the big picture. Build a legacy that matters!
Types of Resistance You’ll Encounter When Getting Out of Debt
In this section, I’ll highlight some of the most common reasons why people fail at getting out of debt. Unfortunately, far too many people quit the process as soon as they encounter a little resistance or make a mistake.
But here’s the deal- whenever you try to make a major life change, there will always be obstacles to overcome- you should expect them. There will always be beliefs, habits, people, and even physical processes that will work to derail you at every turn. The more you know about these potential obstacles, the more you’ll be able to avoid them. So, let’s talk about some of the most common obstacles to getting out of debt I see on a regular basis.
To Get Out of Debt, You Have to Overcome Resistance
As I see it, there are 3 types of resistance people generally encounter during the process of getting out of debt. All three types of resistance might not affect you, but they are common enough that you'll probably encounter at least one of them, if not all three.
- Resistance from People-
There may be people in your life that are resistant (intentionally or not) to you getting out of debt. They might say things like “No credit cards? You’re crazy!” or “You can't get out of debt, that's too hard.”, or “ I tried that, it doesn’t work”, or any other excuses for why you can’t do it. Don’t let other people get in your head and make you second guess what you’re doing. Broke people want to keep you at their level, because what you’re doing makes them uncomfortable.
It could even be your friend who calls you up for dinner at a nice restaurant or a day of mindless shopping. When you tell them it's just not in the budget right now, they try to convince you to do it anyway, saying “Just this once” or “Don't you want to have any fun?”.
These people mean well in their own strange way, but if you let them have influence on your finances, you will fail at getting out of debt before you get started!
How to Overcome Resistance from People
You must let these people know, in no uncertain terms, that getting out of debt is your top priority, and you'd really like them to be on board with your goal. If they refuse to stop the negative talk and/or peer pressure, you may have to limit your contact with them for a little while or keep your conversations light, avoiding talk about money and getting out of debt at all costs.
- Physical (Brain) Resistance-
Your brain naturally resists forming new habits. Old habits tend to be well established, so your brain wants to continue doing the same old thing it's always done. It’s a protective mechanism that convinces you that new thing you're trying to do is too difficult, it won't work, it's not worth it, etc.
How to Overcome Physical Resistance: Tell yourself a different story. Actively tell yourself that getting out of debt is the best thing you can do to change your financial life for the better. Use consistent positive talk and do battle mentally every day. Tell yourself you can do it, it is worth it, and that you WILL succeed, come Hell or high water (Read more about why brain resistance happens and what to do about it here).
- Spiritual Resistance-
Just like physical brain resistance, your spirit may try to convince you that getting out of debt is too hard, you'll never make it, or you're not worthy of living a debt free life. Much like the physical battle in your brain, the spiritual battle can be just as difficult.
How to Overcome Spiritual Resistance
Stay close to God through prayer. He wants you to live a life free from financial struggle, and the closer you stay to Him and follow His ways, the easier it is to overcome any obstacle in your way.
Any time you attempt to make your life better, change habits, or overcome adversity, there will always be resistance. Whether it’s internal or external, you must recognize that resistance WILL come and that there is always a way to overcome it with God’s help.
When I think about overcoming obstacles, I like to think about the Biblical story of Jacob and his struggle at the stream of Jabbok (Genesis 32: 22-29).
Jacob was leaving a difficult situation for the land that God promised him. But before he could cross over, he met with resistance, wrestling with a man throughout the night, and never giving up. After he overcame, he was allowed to cross over. God changed his name forever to Israel, and he became great.
You have the same power within you!
10 Common Mistakes Why People Fail at Getting Out of Debt
I did a survey of my readers not long ago, and it confirmed some suspicions I had about people trying to get out of debt. According to my survey, 63% had tried to get out of debt and failed. Just under 20% tried and succeeded.
Why is there such a high failure rate? It’s because the majority make basic mistakes that keep them from completing their journey out of debt.
Below, I’ll cover 10 of the most common mistakes that cause people to fail at getting out of debt. Check them out so you don’t fall victim to these basic mistakes.
Mistake #1- You Want a Quick Fix
In a world of fast food, movies on demand, and two-hour grocery delivery, we think everything in life should happen quickly and easily. But getting out of debt takes time! Sometimes it takes months, sometimes years.
If you want a quick fix to your money issues, that’s a problem. You won’t likely get out of debt because you have an unrealistic expectation of how much time and effort it takes.
Solution: Be patient and take it one step at a time until you achieve your debt free goal.
Mistake #2- You Don’t Want to Use a Budget
So, you’re just not into doing a budget. After all, budgets are confusing and you’re just not a numbers person! So how do you plan on eliminating debt if you don’t know where your money is going?
Solution: Seriously, you gotta have a plan if you want to get out of debt. Flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t work. It’s only third grade math- you can do it! Otherwise, you will keep wondering where all the money goes and you will never get out of debt!
Mistake #3- You’re Still Using Credit Cards
One of the most important things I teach is to ditch the credit cards for good. Too many people think they can get cute and still play with the fire that burned them in the first place!
Solution: You’ll never get out of debt doing the same things that got you there! Be different than all the other broke people! Cut up the credit cards for good- use the envelope system and debit cards only.
Mistake #4: You’re Not Willing to Invest in Debt Freedom
I consistently get emails from people saying they would love to buy my book or my course, but they’re too deep in debt and can’t spend the money. I definitely understand how it is when you have no money.
It’s definitely not a good place to be.
But when you make the conscious decision to continue wasting thousands of dollars maintaining your debt instead of investing a few dollars in a proven solution that will change your life, then you’ll never get out of debt.
Solution: The credit card company can wait another month. Whether you invest in my solutions or someone else’s you trust, just do it!
Mistake #5- You’re Not Willing to Sacrifice
Paying off your debt usually requires some sacrifice on your part. You will probably need to cut back spending temporarily in some areas while you work on fixing your finances.
You may have to sacrifice some things you enjoy such as eating out several nights a week or expensive entertainment options. Remember, it’s only temporary.
Solution: Changing behavior means you have to live your life differently. You will be surprised that when you make sacrifices, you will form new habits. These new habits quickly become as normal as the old habits once were. To be successful, you must make the necessary sacrifices.
Mistake #6- You Won’t Admit to Mistakes
Some stubborn people are completely unwilling to admit to financial mistakes. Tons of people come to me for advice on fixing financial problems, but they refuse to admit that what they’ve been doing is stupid. So, they continue making the same stupid financial decisions and getting the same stupid results.
Solution: When you make a financial mistake, own up to it. Make sure you don’t do it again. We’ve all done stupid things with money, so don’t let your pride get in the way of improving your life. Making the same mistakes over and over means you’re just not trying.
Mistake #7- You Don’t Want to Tell the Truth
Sometimes people don’t want to tell the entire truth about their finances. It can be hard to admit to yourself (or your spouse) that things are out of control financially.
Maybe it’s a secret credit card you’re hiding from your spouse. Or a lack of self-control or spending addiction you haven’t been willing to confront. Maybe it’s just a lack of motivation (laziness).
No matter the problem, it’s essential that you be truthful if you want to solve your financial problems for good. You have to be willing to lay it all out on the table and deal with the consequences.
Solution: Tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. You’ll never attain debt freedom by deceiving yourself and others.
Mistake #8- You Don’t Want to Listen
I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who seek help with finances, but never do anything with the advice they get. I’ve spent hundreds of hours meeting, emailing, and talking with people who never take the solid advice they are given. When I check in with them months or years later, they are still in the same crappy financial situation.
This happens because the vast majority of people aren’t truly willing to listen to someone that’s been in their position and did what it took to fix it.
Solution: The minority who are willing to listen to hard truth and implement it are the ones who succeed. You’ll never conquer debt if you’re not willing to listen to others who know what they are talking about.
Mistake #9- You Want to Blame Other People
It’s natural to want to place external blame on an internal problem. You’re not living paycheck to paycheck because of the President, the economy, or who’s in Congress.
You’re not behind on the credit card bills because the big banks are out to get you. If you have the typical consumer debt that most people do, you’re in debt due to your own choices.
Solution: Actions speak louder than words. Take responsibility for your finances and educate yourself. You are the one that is ultimately responsible for your financial well-being.
Mistake #10- You Have a Short-Term Mentality
Feeling relieved because you just got paid, or nauseous because it’s three days ‘till payday is no way to live. It’s easy to think short-term when you’re on a financial treadmill.
If you want to achieve financial independence, you must develop a long-term view of your finances. Learn to look ahead months, years, or even decades into the future and envision what you want your life to look like then.
Solution: Putting together a solid financial plan (a monthly budget and yearly goals) helps you think long term. A great plan eliminates the daily (or weekly) fears and frustrations that result from flying by the seat of your pants.
How to Get Out of Debt with No Money, a Low Income, and Bad Credit
So many people believe getting out of debt is not possible because they have a low income, a low credit score, or no money to pay off debt. It’s a barrier that causes many to give up the on process before they even get started.
It really doesn’t matter what your financial situation is. In the overwhelming majority of cases, you can get completely out of debt, even on a low income. When it comes down to it, it’s not so much how much money you make that matters, it’s the plan.
If you have a low income, no money, bad credit, etc., it may take you longer to get out of debt than someone with a higher income. But that’s ok, you’ll still get there. You may have to be a little more creative by selling some things and finding ways to increase your income (more about that below). But the good news is, earning just a little extra money can go a long way in your situation.
How to Accelerate the Process of Getting Out of Debt
One cool thing about the process of getting out of debt is that you get out of it what you put into it. If you want to follow the plan I laid out above, on average you will be out of debt within a couple of years, depending on how much debt you have.
However, if you really want to accelerate your get out of debt plan, you can speed it up by months or years by doing a few simple things! Here are a few of my favorite tips to make the process go much faster.
Sell Your Stuff
Most everybody has too much stuff that they don’t use and don’t need. Clean out your closets, your attic, and every place else you keep things that aren’t being used.
Additionally, you can sell old boats, cars, tools, and exercise equipment you don’t use. Sell everything you can find on Ebay or have a yard sale. Then use that money only to pay off debt and nothing else.
Sell the Things That You Owe Money on
You may not like this idea very much. But if you sell that car, boat, motorcycle, or whatever else you owe money on, it will reduce your debt load tremendously.
For example: Let’s say you bought a brand-new car a couple of years ago and financed it. You still owe $20,000 on the car. Unfortunately, at this point the car is worth $16,000. That stinks!
So here’s what you do:
- Sell your car at the market value of $16,000.
- Take that money and pay cash for a $3,000 used car.
- Use the remaining $13,000 to pay down your car note.
- BOOM! You just reduced your debt load by $13,000!
- Once you get the car note paid off, start putting your car payment in the bank to save up for the next car.
Make Extra Money with a Side Gig
There are tons of ways to make extra money you can use to massively accelerate paying off a pile of debt. The best way to find a side gig is to find something you are skilled at, is enjoyable, and hopefully doesn’t take a ton of your time if you already have a job.
You don’t have to do your side gig forever, just until you pay off all your debt. But hey, if you enjoy it enough you might want to keep doing it. You could put the extra money into investments, college funds, or even start a full-business from it and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind! Here are some of my best articles to help you find a side gig you’ll love:
The CFF Money Making Ideas Page- links to all my top side gig posts
Work More at Your Regular Job
If you can get extra hours at your usual job, that’s probably the most convenient way to make extra money to pay off debt. Of course, this is especially good if you get overtime pay. Just make sure to use that extra money to pay off debt and nothing else. Don’t be tempted to spend that extra money in other places! Later you can use that money to save for the future and invest.
3 Bad Options for Getting Out of Debt
Unfortunately, plenty of bad options available when it comes to getting out of debt. I know this because I get emails frequently from readers who’ve tried these options, but ultimately failed. They end up contacting me because they don’t understand why the method they used didn’t work for them. Now they are even deeper in debt and desperate for help. It’s a common thread that I’m seeing more and more.
Why does this happen?
It’s because the most popular methods for paying off debt don’t address the elephant in the room, which makes all the difference. I’ll talk more about this in a moment.
But first, I want to alert you to some of the bad (but very common) options that so many people use when getting out of debt and trying to leave the paycheck to paycheck life permanently.
Getting Out of Debt is a Big Business
Debt relief is a huge business dominated by banks and companies that want you to use their services. You will encounter plenty of advertising and advice in the media about some of these products and services. They claim they will help you get out of debt and make your life better. But the reality is, they don’t care much about the outcome after you purchase their product.
In many cases, their solution for helping you get out of debt is nothing more than a band aid- it does little to correct the actual debt problem. In the end, you can easily end up deeper in debt than when you started, with a lot more stress and heartache to go along with it.
Understand What You’re Getting Into
Getting out of debt is an investment in yourself and your future. It should have a lifelong positive effect. It should never be a temporary solution that does nothing to change the behavior that got you there in the first place.
Maybe you’ve tried a few of these before, maybe you haven’t. But when you possess the knowledge of what these options are and why they tend to go wrong, then you can make better financial decisions going forward. Here are the options I’m talking about:
- Taking out a home equity loan
- Debt consolidation
I’ll discuss each one in detail below. Then I’ll show you why these options don’t tend to work very well for getting out of debt for good.
Taking out a Home Equity Loan
Finance companies spend tons of money convincing people to use a home equity loan to pay off debt. The basic concept is that you are saving money by trading your high interest debt (such as credit cards) for low interest debt.
To most people, it sounds like a good idea. You use the equity in your house to get a low interest loan to pay off your debt. You use the proceeds from the loan to pay off all your debt, then you have only one loan payment to pay every month (the home equity loan).
The loan is usually at a lower interest rate than the higher interest debt payments you had previously, therefore saving you money on interest in the long run. It simplifies the process of paying off your debt and gives you a little breathing room.
The Problem With Home Equity Loans
But there are a couple of problems with that option. The first problem is that when you take out a home equity loan, you’re now putting your house up as collateral for the loan. If something happens and you’re not able to pay off the debt, you will eventually lose your house. The future consequences of a home equity loan can be devastating. This is why so many people lost their homes during the Great Recession.
I’ll cover an additional problem with home equity loans in a minute after letting you know about a couple more options you have, as all these options share one common problem.
Debt Consolidation Loans
Debt consolidation is a huge industry with millions in advertising dollars behind it. It’s difficult to turn on the TV or radio without hearing an ad for a company selling debt consolidation loans.
The basic concept is that you pay the finance company to negotiate with your creditors to get better terms on your debt. The result is that you get lower monthly payments.
The Problem With Debt Consolidation
The first problem with debt consolidation is that the new terms they negotiate are usually not any better. The typical tactic they use it to lower your payments by extending the payoff time.
The net result is that instead of paying off debt in 2 years, it might take 4 or 5 years with the lower payment. In the end you pay more money in interest and fees because of the extended payoff period.
But there is another problem debt consolidation has in common with these other methods of getting out of debt. Again, I’ll cover that in a minute.
Bankruptcy is a difficult, painful process that has consequences for years. It can disqualify you from getting a job, buying a car, renting a home, and getting other things you need.
In many situations bankruptcy may seem like a good option to eliminate debt. But when it comes down to it, this option has problems too.
You will need an attorney to guide you through the bankruptcy process. That costs a significant amount of money and digs the hole deeper. In addition, just like the other options above,it doesn’t change the real problem.
The Real Problem is Behavior
The biggest problem is that none of these options change the money behaviors that got you into debt in the first place.
So many people use these options with the idea that their problem will be solved. But once you get a little financial breathing room, you later end up deeper in debt because these options didn’t change the financial habits that got you into debt.
It’s a cycle of debt that becomes more and more vicious over time.
The Best Answer for Getting Out of Debt
Maybe you’ve already tried one or more of these options and they didn’t work out as well you’d hoped. That’s ok- now you know what not to do!
So, what can you do? How can you beat the cycle of debt that never seems to go away?
You must learn to change the money behaviors that caused you to get into debt. Achieving debt freedom only happens if you’re honest with yourself and take responsibility for the behavior that got you there.
Once you realize your behavior needs to change, then you have to do something about it. This is where so many of the popular get out of debt solutions fall short.
You absolutely MUST have a plan that allows you to change what you’ve been doing and gives you a path to develop new habits going forward.
Debt Freedom Can Be Permanent
That’s why I believe my Celebrating Financial Freedom course is such a good solution for getting out of debt.
Not only does it show you how you’re manipulated to get into debt, you will learn every step you need to put together your own easy to follow plan, customized to your situation, that allows you to change your money habits permanently.
CFF is not a band aid solution by any means. It's a permanent solution.
It’s a small investment that pays for itself hundreds of times over! The result is permanent behavior change. You will save yourself tons of stress, frustration, and tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime!
After You Get Out of Debt
Now that we’re at the end of this crazy long post, I want to thank you for sticking around and reading the entire thing! If you are willing to put what you learned here into action, I guarantee your financial life will see massive positive change!
Getting Out of Debt Isn’t Always Easy, But It’s Worth It!
When Angie and I started our debt free journey years ago, it was not easy to change our habits and start turning our finances around. But we used all the financial tips and techniques you just learned above, we stuck with it, and since then we’ve:
- Paid cash for 3 cars.
- Paid cash for 3 college degrees (1 more pending).
- Put thousands into our retirement accounts.
- Paid off all credit card debt and haven’t used credit cards on over a dozen years!
- Eliminated money fights. We haven’t fought about money in over a dozen years!
- Paid cash for a rental house that generates income every single month!
More importantly, becoming debt free has allowed us to share our testimony with others. Through this blog, our church, and other platforms, we’ve been able to play a part in helping others live a higher quality, financially free, more generous life.
People often ask us, “what is it like to be debt free?”. I have to tell you, it feels pretty dang good! Although we have debt freedom, we are not yet financially independent, but we’ll definitely get there!
Debt Freedom is Only the Beginning
One thing I want to tell you though, is that getting completely out of debt is not the end of the game, it’s only the beginning. Once you have complete debt freedom, you have the ability to affect the world in a much larger way than you ever did before.
Remember the story about Tomas in Step 6 to Get Out of Debt? You now have the ability to have an impact on the world that was not available to you when you were deep in debt. You will be a world changer!
3 Small Things = Big Impact
So, my charge to you as you become debt free, is to do a few small things that will have a huge impact:
- Replicate yourself- teach others how to get out of debt and succeed financially.
- Be massively generous- give to causes that lift people up and make the world a better place. Increase the Kingdom of God!
- Teach your kids- show your kids what you learned. Lead them as they grow older, so they can start their adult lives without debt.
I hope you enjoyed the post- be blessed as you Celebrate Financial Freedom!