Michelle Singletary offers her straight, no chaser tips on breaking the bondage of debt and putting you on a path to prosperity.
1 List all your debts.
Start with the ones with the lowest balance. "Don't list them according to the highest interest rate because I want you to get immediate satisfaction of eliminating the smallest debts first," explains Singletary. She refers to this method as the debt dash.
2 Pay down debt with extra cash.
Always focus on the debt at the top of the list and make minimum payments on the rest.
3 Practice patience.
You didn't get into debt overnight, so it's going to take time. "People often get discouraged when they finally list all their debts and see how deeply weighed down they are," says Singletary. "Do a little happy dance every time you pay off a debt, but don't buy anything. You are in debt!"
4 Review all your charges.
Gather your bills and bank statements from the past six months. "Often people don't really know how much they spend," she says. "They will say, 'I don't eat out that much.' But when they review their bank statements, they see charge after charge. Keep yourself honest by getting the real numbers. Stop guessing."
5 Be ready to cut.
If you are trying to save or get out of debt, you have to be willing to delete some things if you aren't earning enough or can't make more money.
6 Question every purchase.
Ask yourself, Is this a need or a want? And be honest. Much of the miscellaneous spending is on wants, not your needs.
7 Write down everything.
"For 30 days keep a spending journal for everything you buy—from a pack of gum to dinner out," advises Singletary. "You will be surprised at how much you spend unconsciously on little things. It all adds up."
8 Keep a friendly reminder.
"Write your goals on an index card and keep it handy. Review it every time you spend to remind yourself of the need to curtail your shopping for a greater financial goal," she says.
9 Ditch your sense of entitlement.
Many people think that because they work, they can spend their money on whatever they want whenever they want. Singletary begs to differ: "You don't get to take a vacation if you can't pay for it with cash. You still aren't entitled to it if you have outstanding credit card debt."
10 Adjust your budget as needed.
Your budget is a living document that should be referred to often. "It will change from month to month," advises Singletary. "So keep revisiting it to see where you may still be off track."