Money Matters: Seven Steps to Paying Down Debt

Hello Friend, 

I have been off and on my debt freedom journey since 2015. 2014. One of them. My balance has bounced to and fro. During my journey – just when I got rid of debts, I added more on somehow. It has been a never ending thing. 

This year, I vowed to work hard and focus on one thing. I wanted to pay off my biggest monthly payment item – my car. I was down to $2,716 and bam. My car was on it’s way to hell. Both my dad and finance representative said the car wasn’t worth the repairs (the repairs were literally more than the car is worth and I still owe money on it.). It would have depleted my emergency fund plus some. Just when I was about to be over $14k free from debt, I got $15k back in due to my purchase of a newer used car. Yay me. 

Nevertheless, SHE PERSISTS fam. 

The thing about it is, my outlook about finance has been challenged ALL 2019 due to the simple fact that finance is PERSONAL. You can shape your money goals around what experts say all day, but sometimes, you’ve just got to look at what’s going on in your life and adjust accordingly.

As a person who has been super inconsistent, I wanted to share all the lessons I’ve learned about paying down debt over the years ANYHOW. Those who can’t do (consistently) sure can teach, right! It’s not for lack of trying – trust me. I’ve still paid off five other credit cards, paid off emergencies, rebuilt my emergency fund several times, cash flowed a semester of school, given when my heart saw fit (and where it shouldn’t have) and *almost* paid off a car. 

For now, my car is no longer my smallest most-manageable debt and I’ve reorganized my debt snowball to start from smallest to largest AGAIN. I’m going into 2020 hoping for the best in the debt freedom journey, as well as the best in saving for a house. The reality of my life is that I’m about to be 30 and I want a house like I want chocolate cheesecake with strawberries on the side. 

So, here are the steps I’m using to get back into the swing of my personal finance journey entering into these last few months and 2020. 

#1 – Pray and get it together.

 I know I can’t do it alone. Jesus is my best friend, my homie and my husband until He sends me a human stand-in. If I don’t pray and ask Him for guidance, I’ll be all over the place. This is going to be a tedious process built only for those strong enough to survive.In the “getting it together” spirit, I know roughly the exact amount of debt I have and the exact amount of money I bring into my account every month. I can’t know where I’m going until I know where I’ve been. 

#2 – Count up the cost.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Luke 14:28

If I’m going to do this thing, I’m doing it informed. I’ve pulled my credit report to take note of all outstanding debts I owe according to reporting bureaus. I logged onto each account making sure they reflect what’s on the credit report, looked at interest rates and minimum payments of each. (If you have student loans, you know they sometimes have them all broken out into individual loans but lum the payment together. I made a note of each individual student loan. Tragic.)

Second, I looked at my net income – the money I have coming into my bank account. 

Then, I wrote down every single bill I pay each month including giving. I even went back through my bank statements and wrote down quarterly things that normally “pop up” on people like the maintenance fee for my YouFit gym membership, my Amazon Prime annual fee (yes, I still have it), my quarterly life insurance payment, and so on. 

Lastly, I looked through my last 3-4 months of bank statements to calculate how much money I actually spent on various categories like dining out, fun & entertainment, or even home items like tissue. 

The point was to know where every single dollar was going and where it needed to go for me to be debt free over time. 

#3 – Create a realistic budget and give yourself time to adapt. 

Everyone’s tips about money always involve budgeting but they hardly mention the time it will take for you to actually adjust to it. You’ve spent years spending the way you have and all of a sudden you have a guideline to follow. It’s not the easiest feat. Give yourself the time to slowly peel back the spending. Dave Ramsey says this takes about three months. I agree. You set a budget. See how goes the first month. Adjust. Repeat. By the third month, you should be more on track and doing a better job of combating your past financial behavior. 

#4 Take a minimalist approach.

I’m not telling you to get rid of all your stuff and live with nothing, but let’s be real. If you look around your house, apartment, closet, garage, the storage closet, or those random boxes you never opened after you moved, you’ll find plenty of things to sell on Facebook marketplace or take to Goodwill. When your space is clear, your mind is clear. You want less things because you see there is no need for it. Plus, you don’t have the money to spend on it anyway so chill. Selling some old clothes, furniture or electronics puts cash in your pocket that you can use to add towards your debt payoff or saving goal. 

#5 Build a realistic emergency fund for your family dynamic.

When you’re single, $1,000 may be enough of an emergency fund to hold you. However, when you’re a family of four with one working vehicle, that might not be the case. Whether the amount is $1,000, $3,000 or $5,000 – pick the amount that works and gives you peace of mind. The point of the emergency fund is so you don’t have to go into debt trying to cover an emergency that inevitably will happen. As Dave Ramsey says, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. For example, my car is used. Plus, it’s a car. It’s bound to have issues. I now know how much major repairs would cost me if needed. I need at least $1,500 for my own peace of mind. 

#6 Automate, elevate and decimate with pure JOY.

Remember when I wrote down those debts I had in step 2? Afterwards, they went in order from smallest to largest, regardless of interest rate. This method is called the debt snowball – one that Dave Ramsey swears by because people like him and I want to see small victories  IMMEDIATELY or else we get discouraged. If you are like me – join the movement lol. Put all those other debts on automatic minimum payments and attack the heck out of that smallest one with every single piece of money you can find until it’s gone (remember that old phone you sold in step 4?). Once it has been decimated, take the payment you were giving to it and move it on to the next one. As you move through each debt from smallest to largest, the payment “snowball” gets larger until one day you’re making a $1,000 payment towards a debt with no worries because the money isn’t owed anywhere else. 

Also, get a second job if you have the time, work your butt off for that promotion, sell a product, you name it. Elevate your income and let your money do the work for you.

#7 Take it one step at a time and reward good goals.

Dave Ramsey would probably throw me away for this one but set up a reward system for yourself based on the amount you’ve paid off. You already know this journey is going to be a few years. Enjoy the journey. Paid off your first $10,000? Treat yourself with a $30 pedicure. Paid off another $25,000? Maybe you can splurge on that dinner tonight. Whatever the payoff marker or whatever the reward – put it in the budget. Label it – “reward pedicure” or anything else you can imagine. Give yourself a smidge of wiggle room but don’t go overboard. Sometimes, just knowing you’ve gotten that far is reward enough to continue. Take this journey one step at a time. 

It’s YOUR journey. It’s personal finance. The decisions you make will only affect your family’s financial future.

Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you would do differently. Are you on a debt free journey and a die-hard Dave Ramsey fan? Let me know.

All my Love, CJ

P.S. I’ve mentioned this Dave Ramsey guy a heck of a lot in this post. If you’re interested in knowing more about him and all that is DAVE RAMSEY, visit www.daveramsey.com or search “The Dave Ramsey Show” on YouTube. 

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