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Stepping Out of Debt

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Whoever says that will power doesn't pay off hasn't met Blonka Winkfield. She took a huge dose of determination and used it to whip debt out of her life in just under two years. Now, she's a millionaire who shops and travels at will.

How did she do it? The showdown began at her company’s water cooler.

“I was complaining about being broke,” says Winkfield, vice president of Marketing and Development at The Leadership Program Inc., who felt overwhelmed and isolated about her debt. “When others started chiming in about their debt, I realized that this was a common issue, and it began to seem like an obstacle that I could overcome.”

Winkfield’s manager and another VP at her company started “Financial Friday” lunches to strategize. This partnership gave them the support and accountability that’s missing when you try to conquer debt single-handedly. The game plan, described below by Winkfield, was broken down into a seven-step process:

1. KNOW YOUR NET WORTH
We looked at all credit card debt, savings, and investments, and came up with our net worth.

2. ASSESS SPENDING HABITS
We figured out our spending habits by saving a month’s worth of receipts and writing down every purchase.

3. REVIEW CREDIT REPORTS
We reviewed our full three-company credit report and corrected all errors.

4. TAKE A FINANCIAL PICTURE
We categorized our financial pictures on an Excel spread sheet -- dates bills were due, optimal payment amounts, actual amounts paid and any savings or investments. This worksheet was tied into a net worth sheet.

5. SET GOALS
Examples of my 2005 goals were short term -- do my taxes; mid-term -- pay off Best Buy by May 2006; long term -- save $10,000 for furniture by December 2008.

6. LIVE ON A BUDGET
We lived off $60 per week for all personal spending (coffee, clothes, movies, dinner out, cocktails, etc.) for one year. Every dime saved from living on this strict budget went to pay down debt.

7. SAVE & PAY DEBT DOWN (SIMULTANEOSULY)
Bills will always need to be managed, but your future is in your hands. Hence, saving is imperative. We put 10 percent of every paycheck into an ING savings account (which is not easily accessible and makes impulse buys almost impossible). Additionally, we enrolled in our company 401K. Next, we paid down the credit cards with the highest interest rates first. Then we began to pay off the rest of the items. We called the companies and requested reductions or payment plans. I owed $500 on a card from college that was in default, and the company took $150.

Winkfield is a great example of a financially empowered woman. “I’m a homeowner, and a landlord. I own a car without a note; an investment portfolio; and two savings accounts.  My two daughters have college funds, and I plan to purchase a vacation home. I went from having a net worth of negative $24,000 to well over a million dollars in less than a decade.”

For more financial tips and tricks, click here.

Filed Under: Money and Power
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