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Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean and had a huge wave take you down, leaving you with mere seconds to catch your breath before another wave crashes into you?
That’s what being in debt can sometimes feel like.
When in debt, you are:
There are many reasons we fall into the debt hole: failed marriages, student loans, buying a new car, and simply by mismanaging money. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to take control and live debt-free.
In this article, we will explore 20 different strategies you can use to get out of debt as quickly as possible.
If you follow many of these tips, you will learn how to pay off debt quickly and be one step closer to financial freedom.
20 Simple Tips on How to Pay Off Debt Fast
1. Make a list of all your debts.
Start with your smallest debt, such as a store credit card, and move to your largest, like your mortgage.
Make a note of which debts can be paid off within months, and which could be paid off in a few years. The small debts with the highest percentage fees are the debts that you will want to focus on the most, so you can cross them off of your list and get closer to living debt free.
Look for debts that you could possibly consolidate to give you one lower monthly payment instead of several different debts to pay off.
Consolidating your bills to pay off multiple debts with a single monthly payment could help you lower your overall monthly bills and reach your savings goals more quickly.
2. Set a budget.
Do you know how to set a budget? There are many ways to do this, but some are certainly more effective than others. Here is a fail-safe method for setting a budget:
At the beginning of each month, take out the amount of cash you have to spend for the month from the bank.
Using labeled envelopes, budget for all of your spending, including food, clothing, entertainment, and bills. Distribute your cash for the month among your envelopes, and stick to that budget. Once the cash is gone from an envelope, that is it for the month for that spending category.
Use Excel to create a spreadsheet to track your spending each month, and make adjustments as needed. (Check out this post for free budget printables.)
If you find that you are running out of cash for food before the end of the month, consider which envelope you could take some money out of to put into the grocery fund.
This style of budgeting is known as the cash-envelope system and has been popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. But my grandmother taught this simple budgeting method to me over 40 years ago.
3. Pay with cash.
Working alongside the cash-envelope technique, use cash as your primary method of payment. I know, this seems strange in our increasingly digital age. But it is harder to part with cash than ones and zeros you never see. Some old ways are best. At least when it comes to your wallet.
When you are going shopping, either leave your credit cards at home or destroy them so you are not tempted to use them. Bring with you only the amount of cash that you plan to spend during your errands to prohibit yourself from making impulse purchases.
Use your budget to account for how much money you can spend when you go out. This will help you buy only what you need, and encourage you to walk past those impulse buys so you will have money left over for your necessities.
4. Reduce spending.
Review your bank statements every month to pinpoint the expenses that are unnecessary or excessive, and to see where your money is going. Aside from your bare necessities, does anything stand out?
Maybe you have multiple transactions at your nearest coffee shop each week. Consider substituting these purchases by making coffee at home before leaving the house to save some money.
Do you see that you are spending a lot of money on entertainment? Choose to stay in and watch a movie at home rather than going out to the movies.
Instead of looking for ways to buy entertainment, spend quality time with your family members. Pick a night to designate as “game night,” or meet up at someone's house and cook dinner together.
Not only will spending time with your family save you money, but it will also be worth more to you in the long run than any entertainment that you can purchase.
For the frequent expenses that you see on your bank statement each month that are inevitable (like the grocery store), start using coupons to buy the staple items.
Often, you can join your grocery store's rewards program and use coupons on top of store savings to get some great deals on things that you need.
5. Pay small bills first.
Prioritize your credit cards with the lowest balance on them because paying them off may give you a lot of psychological satisfaction.
Being able to wipe a debt out in its entirety will allow you to have a small victory of crossing that one off your list, and give you momentum to stick with your program.
Once the smaller bills are paid off, you will be able to pay more towards your larger loans. It is important to work your way to your large credit card balances because if they remain unpaid, it can have a significant impact on your credit score.
6. Double up on payments.
Use any extra money that comes in to double up on payments toward a debt. This will help you pay down the principal loan amount faster, which means you will end up paying less interest in the long run.
Use your tax refund, money earned from working overtime, birthday money, or any other unexpected money to pay more than the minimum amount due on a loan.
If you can't afford to actually double your payment, pay as much extra on a loan as you can. Any money that you can put directly toward the principal balance will help you ultimately save money.
7. Cancel subscriptions.
The automated nature of our society is really convenient, but you could be spending money for services you don't use. How many “free trials” have you signed up for and forgotten to cancel?
Research has shown that consumers spend over $500 billion each year on subscription services, but over 70% of people say they don't use some or most of these services.
If you are not keeping track of your subscriptions, you could be wasting hundreds of dollars each year.
Cancel any automatic renewals you have linked to your credit card. Doing this will make you consciously decide in the future whether you want to pay for a service or not.
Think about subscriptions like Cable, Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, Apple and even your gym membership. Consider canceling what you don't use, and add up the total that you are spending for the subscriptions that you think you want to keep. Once you see what you are spending each month, you may reconsider.
8. Check bills for the best price possible.
Look at your monthly bills and see if you are paying for any extra services that you aren't using.
Maybe you are paying for unlimited data on your cell phone, but find you actually don't use too much data throughout the month. Cutting down on this and similar expenses can save you money each month without you even noticing.
Also, call your cable and Internet company to see what deals they have going on. They are usually willing to work you into a new contract and save you some money.
You can also talk to them about your cable and Internet usage habits to determine if you are paying for channels or an Internet speed that you don't necessarily need. If not, they may be able to provide you some extra services at no extra charge.
9. Learn to be content.
When you focus on what you don’t have, you’ll never have enough. Instead, practice gratitude by being thankful for all of the things you do have.
Think about the things you have that make you happy—whether they are material items or not—and you will be more likely to be happy with your life.
Work hard towards the things that you really want instead of spending your money on transient trends. This way, you won't experience buyer's remorse when you are still paying down a debt for something that you don't use anymore.
Finally, don’t compare yourself to other people. What other people have is none of your business, and what you have is none of theirs. Simply focus on meeting your own needs and making sure that you are genuinely happy.
10. Avoid new debt.
Don’t get a new loan to pay off your current debt.
In addition to paying loan-origination fees, it’s important to note that while your personal loan interest rate could be lower than your credit card rates, you will be locked into a set monthly payment for a specific amount of time, which could be higher than the minimum payments on your credit cards.
This means you could save money in interest, but your monthly payments may be higher, which could reduce your monthly cash flow.
Also, avoid signing up for low-interest credit cards that guarantee cashback. While you may get a little bit of cashback each month, you have to spend money in order to make money. These cards aren't worth it in the long run. Instead, pay with cash to avoid racking up credit card debt.
The best new debt to avoid is on a mortgage. Save as much money as you can for a down payment so when you take out a mortgage, the monthly payment will be lower. Also, you will likely be able to qualify for a lower interest rate on a mortgage if you put down a larger sum of money upfront.
Check out our post on financial calculators to see where you stand.
11. Analyze your behavior.
What do your shopping habits look like?
Do you only go shopping when you need something, or do you tend to shop when you are bored?
When you are out, do you find yourself doing a lot of impulse buying?
Or maybe if you are having a tough day at work you decide to turn to online shopping to ease your emotions.
Get to know yourself better so that you can change your behavior.
Manage your shopping habits by making it a point to not shop on a whim. Don't let your emotions or your boredom lead you to spend money on things that you don't need.
Look at what triggers you to spend extra money, and address the root cause.
12. Set goals to pay off debt.
Set a specific date to pay off each of your loans. Mark your calendar and calculate how much you will need to pay and how often you will need to pay it in order to meet your goal.
Once you do hit you goal, reward yourself. Here is a great place to start if you need some motivation during the time you are paying off your loan.
The amount of time it will take you to become debt-free depends entirely on the amount of money you can pay toward your debts. Obviously, the more you pay, the sooner you will be debt-free.
This is where it is important to be reasonable, because having an unrealistic timeline that is impossible to meet can ruin your plan for financial freedom, and leave you disappointed and unmotivated to try again. Make sure that the goals you set are realistic for your lifestyle.
If you want to learn more, read our post on SMART financial goals and how to create ones for yourself. Watch the video below for 21 examples of SMART goals:
13. Look to increase your income.
There are a lot of ways you can increase your income these days.
Many people choose to take on second jobs on their own time, such as freelancing or working in direct sales. Or just a part-time side hustle.
You can also pick up a night job if you typically only work during the day. If your current place of employment could use some more help, talk to your boss about working overtime to get some more hours in.
Another way to increase your monthly cash flow is to consider getting a roommate, or getting on a family plan for your cell phone. You may even consider downsizing your living space if you are paying for a room that you don't use.
14. Find low-cost activities.
Rather than breaking the bank on going to see movies at the theater or going out to dinner, look for more reasonable ways to have fun. Check to see what your city has to offer in terms of free outdoor activities or festivals.
It is also a great (and healthy) idea to get outside and go for a walk. Doing these things with friends can still be fun without having to spend money every time you leave the house.
Another option is to volunteer your time to a cause that you feel strongly about. This will not only make you feel good for helping out, but you will also meet like-minded people who are working toward the same goal.
Having a good hobby will help you stay entertained without spending too much money. Just stay away from expensive hobbies like golfing. If you get good at a hobby (like woodworking) you can even sell some of the things you make as a side hustle).
To help you get started on finding the right hobby, check out these articles:
- 65 Indoor Hobbies for Winter or Inclement Weather
- 25 Social Hobbies to Meet People and Make Connections
- 21 Creative Hobbies to Make Something Great
15. Eat at home.
Instead of going out, eat your meals at home or pack your lunch for work. Not only is eating out expensive, but it is also often unhealthy. When you cook at home, you can control the ingredients as well as the cost.
Plan out your meals and portion your servings so you can just grab your lunch on the way out the door in the morning. This will also eliminate the question, “What is for dinner?”
If you plan in advance, you will always know what you are having for dinner, and you will be prepared with the ingredients already in your kitchen. This will not only save you money but also save you time.
16. Cut your addiction.
If you are a smoker or a drinker, if you are used to buying expensive coffee, or if you have any other form of addiction, it is time to cut back.
Smoking and drinking are not only incredibly expensive, but they are unhealthy and could end up costing you medical bills in the future as well.
When it comes to coffee, it may be a part of your routine to make a quick stop on the way to work to grab a cup—but as you are planning your meals from home, consider planning how you will make your coffee at home as well.
Think about it: If you buy your coffee from a local coffee shop every day, you are spending about $20 to $35 a week.
This adds up to almost $2,000 per year. Plus, you are likely paying additional money for food or bakery items while you are there. This is a simple habit to cut that will result in a big reward.
17. Educate yourself.
Learning about investing money can take a while, but the basics are pretty simple, and they never change.
While you were taught basic math in school, too many people get to adulthood without learning the basic skills of money management. Skills like investing for the future are really important in the quest for financial freedom.
By learning how to invest your money, you can learn how to make your money actually make money. Your money can actually grow while you sleep, as long as you have an idea about what you are doing.
Money that is invested wisely earns more money over time. Don’t just turn to a low-interest savings account. Learn how to invest in things that will earn you a reasonable amount of money.
Read books on how to steer clear of debt. Eliminating your debt will certainly require patience and discipline, and books can be a very helpful resource when it comes to creating a financial plan.
Instead of watching so much television, if you read, you can educate yourself about personal finance and money management.
There are many good finance books out there. Here are three to get started with:
- The Budgeting Habit by S.J. Scott and Rebecca Livermore
- Stack Your Savings by S.J. Scott and Rebecca Livermore
- The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
18. Differentiate your needs versus your wants.
In order to analyze what you need versus what you want, you must learn the difference between the two.
A need is anything that is essential for survival, such as food, water, and shelter.
Everything that is inessential for basic survival, like new shoes or an expensive dress, is generally a want.
These two expenses are very different from each other. Wants include the things you desire or wish to have. You should focus on fulfilling your needs first because they are clearly of prime importance.
A want is never satisfied. It may disguise itself as a need and lead to overspending.
But if you are practical enough to know the difference, you will be able to see that wants are associated with emotions and should be saved for a time when you have the financial freedom to indulge yourself.
19. Stay motivated.
A vision board is a poster or bulletin board that you can fill with pictures and quotes or words that represent your ideal life. Find pictures in magazines or draw whatever you want.
The point of your vision board is to focus on your main goals, and doing so has a few benefits. Not only can your vision board help motivate you and keep you positive, it also gives you a fun (and inexpensive!) activity to do at home.
Start a savings account to create a better future for yourself. Watching money accrue in your savings account will definitely keep you motivated to continue saving. Once you have achieved your financial goals, you can take a debt-free vacation!
20. Seek financial advice.
Being in debt can easily bring you down, and even lead to anxiety and depression. Look for free financial advice to get started on working your way out of debt.
Financial planners can advise you on your best opportunities to save, invest, and grow your money. They can also assist in helping you tackle your debt.
When you’re just starting out, using a planner who charges by the hour is likely your best fit. Usually, hourly planners are new and trying to build their practices, which means that they will take the care to get your financial situation right. This step has to cost you little to no money.
Lastly, talk to your friends. Many of them are likely to be in your situation, and they may be great people to vent to. They may also have some good tips for you to save money and pay off your debt.
Final Thoughts on How to Pay Off Debt
Remember, living with restrictions is only temporary, and everyone goes through it at some point. While the debt may have come fast and easy, it won’t disappear in the same manner.
Get creative with paying off your loans. The steps listed above are a great way to start, so try out a few of them and see what kind of progress you can make.
Finally, staying focused on paying off debt is challenging. The following articles can help you stay on track.
- How If-Then Plans Helps You Stick with a New Habit
- 11 Fear of Missing Out Examples from the Real-World
- How to Resist Shiny Object Syndrome and Focus on What’s TRULY Important