Simplifying Your Life
Nowadays, it’s common for people to have multiple credit cards and carry a balance on one or all of them. As a society, we have kind of become immune to credit card debt as our materialistic culture tells us we “need” a brand new Mercedes or we “must have” a designer purse. Some people go so far as to finance a laptop or a TV.
However, people don’t realize the damage they’re doing to themselves until it’s too late. Until their credit card debt has reached $10,000 or $25,000, and they’re only able to make the minimum payment. The interest continues to accumulate at an astronomical rate of 15 to 20%, the principal balance climbs, and before you know it, you feel like you’re drowning.
If this sounds familiar, you may be asking yourself “how do I stop the bleeding?” You may feel you’re already in so deep that there’s no way you’ll ever climb back out. However, I’m here to tell you there are always solutions. Not easy solutions, but there are viable options. First, the goal that you should be aiming for is to pay off all credit card balances and to use only one card going forward. Please note that even though you’ll only use one card in the future, you should keep the other credit cards open. Closing a credit card is bad for your credit score. When you’re buying a house and your lender pulls your credit, or you’re buying a new car and the dealer looks at your credit report, it will be more favorable to have more available credit (the unused cards) and only be using a small portion of it (via your one card) than if you had closed the unused cards.
Now that you know what you’re aiming for, how do you get there? Well, there are a few different schools of thought on this topic. Some experts will say pay off the card with the smallest balance first because psychologically, this gives you a boost, and you’ll be motivated to stick with the program. However, another rule of thumb is to pay down the highest interest card first since this card is accumulating debt faster than the others. So which path should you choose? I recommend paying down the highest interest card first. Even though paying down the smaller balance may feel like a victory at the time, what’s happening in reality is that as you focus on the smaller card, the high interest card is compounding debt at a very fast pace, pulling you right back down into the hole.
Now that you’ve decided to pay down the highest interest card, how do you actually do that? I’m assuming that your monthly income only goes so far as to cover your expenses and possibly put a small amount in savings (otherwise, you wouldn’t need to be running up credit card debt in the first place). If that’s the case, then we’ll need to see where we can cut your monthly expenses, so that you can divert some extra cash towards your credit card payment. Remember when I said this wouldn’t be easy?
We’ll start with examining some “luxury” monthly expenses that can reasonably be reduced. Do you have a premium cable package with every single channel under the sun, HBO, and Showtime? If so, then this is an easy place to make a cut. Switch back to basic cable, get rid of the DVR box, and start watching TV shows and movies for free online at Hulu. If you have Netflix, stop that service as well. Next, do you work for a large Fortune 500 company? If so, your company may very well get a corporate discount at cell phone providers such as Verizon and AT&T. Check with your HR Benefits department. You can get discounts of up to 25% with some employers.
Let’s turn now and look at your gym membership. Did you read my “Get Energized for Exercise” article? If you did, then you know you can get a great workout at home without paying $50 a month. Now, I realize some of you are locked into contracts and getting out of them means paying a fee. If that’s the case, then stick with the gym until your contract runs out. However, make sure you know exactly when the contract expires, and ask your gym how much advance notice they need to cancel your contract. A lot of gyms require 30 to 60 days advance notice or else they’ll automatically renew you. If you’re not locked into a contract, then stop going to the gym and pick up some of the workout videos I recommended in my article. You’ll still get a great workout at home but at less than half the cost.
Finally, if you’re eating lunch out every day, then you can save money here as well. Bring your lunch to work (if you don’t have time to make lunch, then pick up a few cans of 365 Everyday Value organic soup at Whole Foods, throw an organic apple in your bag, and keep a box of Harris Teeter organic Wheat Thins at your desk). This will save you about $25 per week or $100 per month. Wow! Did you realize how much you’re spending on lunch? An average lunch can cost about $10 or more. The lunch I just suggested costs at most $4, and I included the cost of the whole box of crackers, even though you won’t eat that all in one sitting.
This may all sound very painful to you, but remember, these changes aren’t forever. Once you get your credit card debt paid off, and you’re able to pay your balance in full each month, then you can look to roll back some of the cuts. However, I hope you’ll stick with a few of them and keep saving yourself money. I promise, you can live without Showtime.
Between the reduced cable package, cancelled Netflix, lowered cell phone bill, cancelled gym membership, and reduced lunch costs, I’ve found you roughly $205 in monthly savings. Take this money and start applying it to your high interest credit card. Keep at it until the entire balance is paid off. Then focus your energy on the next highest interest card and so on and so on until your credit card debt is eliminated. Remember, once you’ve reached a debt free zone, keep yourself that way and always pay off your balance in full each month. I live by the motto “if you can’t pay for it in cash, you can’t afford it.” Wait until you can pay for something in cash.
I will acknowledge that others may have different opinions on how you can achieve this goal, but I think the above plan of action is the easiest to implement and makes the most common sense. Cut unnecessary expenses, live within your means, and use the savings to pay down high interest debt.
Good luck! I know you can do it!