As I mentioned in my last post, when you have debt, you are essentially a slave to it. You can’t do what you want with your money. You can’t just stop what you’re doing and find another career or take a pay cut if you aren’t happy.
What you can do, though, is work on becoming free from your debt.
From October 2015 to September 2016, I made a conscious effort to pay off the two biggest pieces of debt that I owned totaling about $26,000. They were our Disney Vacation Club (DVC) loan and our car loan. Our total monthly payments for these were $584.48.
With that much money on the line, both in total and in monthly payments, you can imagine how badly I wanted to get rid that debt.
It was more like needing to get rid of it. This is what drove me to pay it off in 11 months. There was a need to be free.
11 Strategies YOU Can Use to Pay Off Debt Quickly
Over the course of the past 11 months, there were 11 strategies I used to help pay down my debt as quickly as possible. Some of these I developed myself and some I found elsewhere.
I can guarantee you they ALL were beneficial to getting out of debt and definitely accelerated my progress. I used each and every one of these at some point in the past 11 months to pay off $26,000.
Without further ado, here are the 11 strategies that you can use to pay off your debt.
Debt Snowball Method
So this is the first thing I intended to do from the start of paying off debt. In typical Debt Snowball fashion, I started with the lowest balance. Our Disney Vacation Club Loan balance was just under $10,000 so that was the first to go. In the meantime, I would keep paying the minimum monthly payment of 411.91 on our car loan.
It was also to our benefit paying the DVC Loan off first because of the 11.25% interest rate attached to it. Our car loan was an interest free loan.
We paid off the DVC loan by February of this year, 5 months after we started this process. But I wasn’t going to let that 172.57 go to waste! I put the “snowball” in Debt Snowball and applied that payment to all of the extra money we were putting toward debt as it is.
The Power is in the Snowball
Snowballing your payments is definitely something you’ll want to do because it doesn’t require any lifestyle change whatsoever after paying something off. You’re already used to that extra money being gone toward debt so why not continue to use it to get out of debt faster?
Let’s look at it this way. Not using that extra money to pay off debt can potentially add months to your payments.
Let’s say that you have two credit cards that you are trying to pay off. One has a $4,000 balance and the other a $2,000 balance. To make things simple, we’ll leave interest out of this and pretend minimum payments aren’t going down with the decrease in balance. We’ll say the minimum payments are $100 and $50, respectively.
Now let’s say you have $100 extra a month to apply toward your debt. Using that toward the $2,000 balance first, your total payment would be $150, $50 minimum plus the extra $100. That $2,000 will be paid off in 14 months.
Meanwhile, you’ve been paying the minimum payment on that $4,000 balance the past 14 months and you’re down to $2,600 left on the card.
Now, let’s say you don’t roll that $50 credit card payment into your other credit card and only put the extra $100 toward it. Your credit card payment is now $200 a month, $100 minimum and $100 extra. With that payment, that remaining $2,600 will be paid off in another 13 months.
But what if you snowballed the payment?
Snowballing that $50 payment from the first credit card gives you a payment of $250, the same total payment you had before the first card was paid off, but now you pay off that card in 10.5 months instead.
That’s two and a half months earlier!
Adding interest into the mix could mean saving you a lot of money.
We’ve all heard of impulse spending, right? That’s where you see something in the store that you didn’t intend on buying and then buy it “on impulse” (hence, the name).
Well, I like to call this Impulse Saving.
The Idea is this. If you’re in the store and see, for example, a $20 movie that you don’t really need, instead of impulse buying that movie, you transfer that amount toward your savings account.
BAM! Impulse Saving!
To use this trick to help with your debt, simply use the impulse money saved to put toward your debt rather than saving it. You will either have a lot more money to pay off debt or learn how to control your impulse spending. Not a bad outcome either way!
Look at Your Monthly Payments for Inspiration
Now this may sound weird, but your monthly payments can give you the inspiration to keep going.
Throughout the whole process, I always kept in my mind that I was putting in all this effort to be able to free up $584.48 in monthly payments. It really kept me going!
I know I asked you at the beginning of this article what you would do with an extra $300 a month. But what would you do with an extra $584.48 a month?!
That’s over $7,000 a year!!!!
You could invest that money, or save it for a family vacation, or just rest easy knowing that you have a little bit of a cushion on your monthly payments.
Remember, no debt=Freedom
Adjust Your Tax Withholdings
One of the easiest ways people can increase their income every month is not actually through work. It’s through the IRS.
Think about your tax refund. Some people get thousands of dollars back on their taxes due to paying too much.
The IRS reported in February 2015 that nearly 40 million tax refunds totaling almost $125 billion were issued up to that date. The average tax refund was $3,120.
That is a lot of money!
That $3,120 would give you an extra $260 a month outright!
We saw in our debt snowball example above what an extra $50 would do to cut the number of months it takes to pay off your debt. Imagine what $260 extra would do!
Stop giving the IRS an interest free loan! I guarantee that you know how to manage your money much better than the government.
I adjusted our withholdings for both my wife and me in order to minimize the size of our return. Then I used that extra monthly income to help us pay off our debt, giving us a bigger snowball from the get go.
Do the same!
Use the Extra Checks
If you are paid every two weeks there is something spectacular that happens. Because there are 26 pay periods, two months out of the year you will actually get paid three times in a month rather than the usually two.
Use those to your advantage!
What you can do is budget monthly like normal, planning for just two paychecks. Then you can use those two extra checks, which will literally be all extra money you don’t need to pay bills, and put it toward your debt.
For example, say each paycheck is $1,000 and you and you normally have an extra $200 you are paying toward debt each month. For two months out of the year, you will actually have $1200 extra that you can put toward your debt!
Talk about an accelerant!
My wife gets paid every two weeks while I am twice a month. There were two months in that 11 month period that we were able to us an extra check off hers. That gave us a HUGE leg up on our debt and greatly accelerated the payoff.
If you are at a job that has a performance incentive plan that pays out bonuses for good performance, then that is money ripe for debt payoff!
Due to my performance and how well my company did, my bonus ended up being $1700 after taxes. That’s $1700 I didn’t need for anything else. All of it was completely extra.
I put that directly toward our debt and it was huge!
Think about it. That’s a 6.5% of my total debt payoff just from doing a good job at work. That isn’t even counting the extra money I was already putting toward debt each month.
If you get a bonus, and there are no pressing financial emergencies you really need to use it for, then use it to pay off a big chunk of your debt. Depending on what your debt situation looks like, a decent size bonus may even pay off one of your credit cards!
Use Your Emergency Fund
Now, this is something not all of you will be able to do or may agree with.
If you have a decent size emergency fund and a decent amount extra you are putting toward your debt each month, I recommend dropping your emergency fund down to $1,000 and using it to help accelerate your debt pay off. For reference, this is the same $1,000 Dave Ramsey suggests in his first Baby Step.
We had an emergency fund of about $9,000 when we started this process. I mulled over if I actually wanted to use it for debt payoff. I calculated what sort of emergency we could weather if our emergency fund was only around $1,000, the likelihood of an financial emergency actually happening, and how long it would take us to build up the fund to where it was when our debt was paid off.
I finally decided that the benefits far outweighed the risk so I pulled the trigger. $8,000 worth of our debt was immediately gone! It. Felt. Amazing!
That was a lot of the reason why we paid off our DVC loan within 5 months. It would have been paid off sooner (and saved us some interest) if I had decided to do use our emergency fund when we started.
Not for Everyone
As I mentioned, even though I recommend using your emergency fund, I’m fully aware that this is not a method for everyone. There is a certain level of comfort with having a decent sized emergency fund.
Like I said, one of the things I calculated was how much of a financial emergency we could weather, if one did occur. For that, I considered how much extra we had each month and the total of we would have to take care of a financial emergency with our $1,000 emergency fund.
Our Jobs are also very secure so there was a very low chance of one of us becoming unemployed (thankfully). Even still, unemployment insurance would help us weather that.
I determined that we could safely drop our $1,000 emergency fund and be fine with a $3,000 financial emergency. My wife and I were both comfortable with that.
And that’s what it’s all about.
I can’t stress this enough. If you are going to use any of your emergency fund, only use what will make you feel comfortable. If you don’t feel comfortable using anything, then by all means, keep your emergency fund fully stocked.
I definitely recommend not going below $1,000 just in case you get one of those surprise emergencies.
As I mentioned, one of the things I definitely didn’t want to do was live in poverty just to pay off debt. In my opinion, being a slave to your budget so you don’t have to be a slave to your debt is not the way to go. There is no sense in trading slavery for slavery.
Sure, I could have cut out some budgeted money we use for eating out as a family and as a couple, but I would have gone crazy not being able to do anything.
When I decided to take my debt to the gallows, one thing I did was make sure that we would have enough to keep our vacations. We had two Disney vacations already booked and were planning a weekend colorado trip as a couple and a weeklong trip as a family.
For both Colorado trips, we decided to drive instead of fly. Opting for the 14 hours drive saved us about $3000 combined for both trips.
Another way we were able to keep our vacations was making sure we stuck to our other budgets like glue. We have a certain amount of money that we use for dining out as a family and for dates. We made sure we didn’t go over those at all. If we had $10 left in our family dining budget, we either went out for a cheap dessert or waited until next month.
Speaking of budgets…
Use Leftover Budget Money
This one is simple enough, but it’s powerful. If you have budgeted $100 a month for something and that bill ends up being $80, then put that $20 toward our debt.
This is exactly what I did with our auto fuel budget. Gas is decently cheap country-wide compared to a couple of years ago. I never adjusted our gas budget to reflect the cheaper gas until recently.
So what would I do?
Whatever was leftover in our gas budget at the end of the month went straight toward debt. Sometimes, this amount was upwards of $50 to $100. We’ve also seen what an extra $50 can do for the amount of time it takes to pay off your debt (see the Debt Snowball Method above).
Using leftover budget money can be especially powerful if this happens with a few of your budgets, rather than just one.
Put Your Raises Toward Debt
What usually happens when you get a raise? Maybe this is just my tendency, but I have to stop myself before saying…
“Yes! I can spend more!!”
Do yourself a favor and don’t do that. 😉
The official term for this is called Lifestyle Inflation. To put it simply, Lifestyle Inflation is when you spend more money to make up for the raises you’ve received.
So if you have $100 left each month after bills and then receive a $10,000 raise, after your lifestyle inflates you would still have like $100 left a month.
Instead, why not put all of that extra money toward debt? Say you get a raise that gives you an extra $300 a month and you’re used to having just $100 leftover. Why not keep it at $100 leftover and put that $300 directly toward your debt each month?
I did this and it put a huge dent in our debt balance. It literally took many months off of the amount of time it took to pay off our debt!
So if you get a raise, use it to put a dent in your debt.
This is literally the most powerful weapon in your get out of debt arsenal. Without willpower, none of the other 10 steps would be effective. They just wouldn’t be doable.
You may need to change your mindset like I did. You may need to decide on a reward for yourself that you only get if you pay off your debt. That way you can keep your eyes on the prize. It may be as simple as having an inspirational quote delivered to your inbox everyday.
The point is, do whatever it takes to keep your will to get out of debt. These 11 steps are there to help you, but you have to want to do them.
The nice thing is that willpower is like a muscle, which means you can train it.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines willpower as, “the ability to control yourself” and also “the strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking).” It’s that second one I want to focus on.
We ALL know getting out of debt is very difficult. If it weren’t, the average credit debt for balance carrying Americans wouldn’t be over $16,000. But in order to focus, and to actually exercise and strengthen your willpower, there are two key things you can do.
Don’t Try and Do Too Many Willpower-intensive Tasks at One Time
If you’re trying to work on a promotion at work, a special project at home, keeping up with exercising, and trying to eat healthy, the likelihood of you falling behind in one or more of those is quite large. In fact, if my life is any indication, the likelihood of falling behind in all of them is rather large.
The best thing to do is focus on one or two. For example, if you are eating healthy and exercising, try just focusing on your eating habits and getting that down. It seems that the general rule is that, when trying to lose weight, 75% should be from diet and 25% should be from exercise. The reason for this is that it takes a lot more effort to burn significant calories from exercise compared to cutting calories.
The point is, though, that cutting a couple of things out will do wonders for your willpower.
Take Some “You” Time
Fun fact. A couple of weeks ago, I burnt out. I became depressed. I was cranky. I had a bleak outlook on life in general and didn’t feel like doing anything.
Why? I was doing way too much without taking some time to recharge. I exercised a lot of willpower to get a ton done at work, with this blog, and with family. I desperately needed to veg.
So that’s what I did. My wife recognized that I needed some time so I went to our local mall, walked around SLOWLY, and just took some time to myself to not do or think about anything. I just relaxed. The next day I was a completely different person.
The moral of the story? Take some “you” time!
Just like with exercise, your willpower muscle needs a chance to repair and rebuild. After all, that’s how it gets stronger!
It’s no secret how I feel about debt. Debt has been a thorn in my side for much of my adult life because of my addiction to no-interest financing. Fortunately, I’ve been able to kick that to the curb with shifting my mindset on money.
In week 3 of Debt Month at AtypicalFinance, we will look at if there is a such thing as “good debt” and what the true cost of interest is in your debt.
Either way, if you have any type of debt at all, whether good or bad, getting out of it as quickly as possible is one surefire way to get to Financial Freedom much quicker.
Are you doing anything right now to try and get out of debt? What do you think of these steps?
Comment below! I’d love to hear anything I missed. 🙂