Benjamin Franklin may have said it best: “Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.” Yes, the best advice on debt is to avoid it when you can. But few of us can afford to pay cash for a house, a car or a refrigerator. To make these major purchases, we may have little choice but to take out a loan or use a credit card.
In moderation, there is nothing wrong with taking on debt. Problems only arise when we borrow money that we later struggle to repay. Whether you’re already having trouble managing your personal debts—or fear you might soon be—here are five things you can do now to get your financial house in better order.
- Review your expenses. Most people underestimate how much money they spend each month—often substantially. Now is the time to track your expenses, right down to the last cup of coffee. By keeping a log, you can better understand where your money is actually going—and where you might find a few extra dollars that can be applied to savings or to paying down debt.
- Prepare a budget. Allocate funds for your living expenses, and apply your remaining income between debt elimination and savings. You’ll sleep much more soundly once you have at least six months worth of expenses stashed away in a savings account that you can tap should you face future financial emergencies.
- Reduce your number of creditors. The sheer number of creditors is one reason people find it hard to manage their debt. It’s best to keep things simple. Look for opportunities to trade high-interest credit accounts for ones offering lower rates. That may mean consolidating debt on a low-rate credit card or with a home equity loan. Set goals for paying major debts; making only minimum payments will keep you treading water for years to come.
- Take advantage of online banking. It truly makes debt management easier. When you pay your bills online, you can do it any time of the day or night. You can schedule payments weeks ahead, helping avoid late payment fees. You’ll save time, too, if you arrange for payments to be made automatically. This approach requires that you know how much money you have in your account at all times—which is a good idea anyway.
- Imagine life debt-free. There are few things better than financial freedom. Paying off your debts can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in future interest payments and boost your credit score. That could mean you’ll qualify for a lower interest rate on future loans. Perhaps more importantly, when you’re not weighed down by bills, you are free to pursue your dreams. And one of them should be to achieve long-term financial security.
Lastly, ask yourself: Is this a necessity or a “nice to have?” Stick to the necessities until you reach your goals, then reward yourself with the “nice to haves.” It makes them so much more enjoyable. iBi