How to Get Out of Debt and Stay That Way
- Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mary Hunt’s new book Debt-Proof Living: How to Get out of Debt and Stay That Way (Revell, 2014).
Financial debt places a huge amount of stress on you. When you owe more for your purchases than you can afford to pay, you struggle with anxiety in every part of your life. Debt also wastes your God-given money, time, and energy that you must spend dealing with it, which limits how much you can pursue God’s plans for your life.
When you’re struggling to pay your bills, it’s tempting to think that simply having more money will solve your problem. But the problem isn’t that you don’t have enough money; it’s that you don’t know how to successfully manage the money you already have.
Here’s how you can start managing your money well so you can enjoy a life free from the burdens of debt:
Set a goal to debt-proof your life. Decide to work toward the goal of living a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on consumer credit. Commit yourself to this goal: Establishing and following a spending plan that will help you make sure you never again spend more money than you earn, consistently living on 80 percent of your income while giving 10 percent and saving another 10 percent, eliminating all unsecured debt from your life by repaying it as rapidly as possible, setting up a contingency fund that contains at least $10,000 to pay for emergency expenses, and establishing a “freedom account” to pay for irregular expenses on a regular basis.
Learn the difference between intelligent borrowing and stupid debt. There are some situations where it’s fine to borrow money, as long as you carefully limit your risk when doing so and plan to pay back the loan as soon as possible. Intelligent borrowing has a fair way to get out of the agreement, is secured with collateral, is for something that has a life expectancy of more than three years and will increase in value (so you won’t be paying for a purchase long after it’s no longer useful to you, or paying more for something than it’s worth), and has a reasonable interest rate for the loan. Stupid debt falls short of those standards. From this point on, exercise caution when borrowing money. Eliminate all of your credit cards except for one (and pay the balance on it off in full every month); pay off your mortgage as early as you can; and avoid student loans, car loans, and home equity loans.
Track where your money is going by creating a monthly spending record. Create an accurate record of how you spend your money by tracking every purchase you make – whether big or small – throughout each day for one month. Add up total amounts for individual categories that reflect how much you’ve spent on each category during the month. Once you have the information, study it and pay attention to the spending patterns you notice. How is money leaking out of your life in ways you hadn’t previously realized? You may be spending much more on fast food or coffee than you’d known before, for instance, or you may be startled to see how much you’re actually paying for clothes or electronics purchases. Now take your detailed monthly spending record and compare it to your average monthly net income. Are you spending more than you earn each month? If so, what’s the spending amount that exceeds your income? How can you start to reduce your expenses so that you spend less than you earn every month? What are some expenses that you can eliminate?
Create a contingency fund. Set aside money to cover emergencies like medical bills and car repairs that come up unexpectedly. Instead of using credit to pay when such expenses confront you, you can draw upon your contingency fund to pay without accruing any new debt. Set aside whatever amount (usually at least $10,000) you’ll need to pay your bills for three months in case you lose your job or can’t work for a period due to an illness or injury.
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