The bad news is that retirement can get delayed for those who struggle to pay off debt. And worse, retirement can be canceled altogether! That is how powerful debt is and how painful it can be if it isn’t dealt with now.
*FYI - the average debt amounts among Americans: Gen X (ages 40 to 55): $140,643. Baby boomers (ages 56 to 74): $97,290.
But there are ways to destroy that debt. And we are going to lay out some tactics to pay off debt and avoid it in the first place. It is no easy task. Not with credit card offers landing in your mailbox daily, lenders lending too much too easily, and keeping up with the Jones is “one-click” away. With the right mindset and strategy, it is possible though.
Why Pay Off Debt
Here’s a funny / sad quote that applies to lots of Americans. “I'm living so far beyond my income that we are basically living apart.” There is real pressure that comes with debt. Having to take on overtime work or extra jobs to make ends meet leads to stress, marital disagreements, and even depression.
Clearly, you want to keep a good credit rating, but having less stress in your life is a top reason to get rid of debt. We’ll set aside the argument for keeping some debt to keep your credit score high. Let’s focus on keeping debt from becoming overwhelming.
Along with less stress, when you have fewer monthly payments to make, you can save money. That means you can build an emergency fund for:
● Car repairs
● Dental emergencies
● Medical bills
● Home repairs
● Emergency ski trips (kidding!)
And yes, more savings means you can set your future self up nicely with a retirement fund. The sooner you pay off debt, the sooner you can invest that money instead of sending it to seven different lenders. Interest can work for you or against you, so choose the former.
Watching Your Money Prevents Debt
It is so easy to think you can always earn more to cover more and more bills. But if history has taught us anything, it is that you can always spend more than you make. Just ask these people who earned mega-money only to lose it all at some point.
● Mike Tyson
● Nicolas Cage
● MC Hammer
● Burt Reynolds
And no, it’s not just celebrities who get in over their heads. Regular Americans with a Bachelor’s degree average $64,896 in debt while those with a Master’s degree average $77,844. Earn more, spend more. It’s as American as apple pie and not very healthy.
Maximizing your earning potential is crucial to building wealth. Just as crucial though, is watching your money. What comes in and what goes out. Taking time to monitor your finances is a habit anyone can build. All it takes is intentional effort.
Simple Approach to Pay Off Debt
So what does intentional effort look like? Well, the simplest approach to paying off debt is to make debt your enemy. Refuse to borrow any more money so you can stop the bleeding. Attack your debts one at a time with laser focus and avoid the temptations to borrow more.
● Being content with your vehicle
● Tossing credit card offers in the trash bin
● Going slower on home improvement projects and using cash
Financial habits are built the same way as health habits. With a methodical approach day after day. Little wins add up when they are constant. You’ll be surprised at the momentum you gain from paying off one small debt then conquering the next two.
Some people like to start with the highest interest while others choose the smallest balance. Math doesn’t lie, but either way works if you stick with the plan.
*Forbes put out an eye-opening stat a few years ago that stated if you had $10 in your pocket and zero debt, then you were richer than 15% of American households PUT TOGETHER.
Age and Acceptable Debt
Another tactic to pay off debt is for you and your partner to decide on an acceptable level of debt and agree on a date to have all debt paid off. By age 40 would be great. But even 50 or 55 years old is at least an intentional plan.
The reason? If you have a plan then you are paying attention. You are less likely to avoid looking at scary credit card balances and pay only the minimum every month. And when you see the chance to save money, you will do it because you have a plan and financial goals.
Of course, the earlier you get your debt under control, the more time you have to grow your nest egg. If you can really invest in mutual funds at age 42 then that gives you over 20 years to build your wealth. Without debt holding you back, chipping away at your paycheck, your investment opportunities increase and multiply.
Free Time vs. Debt
You know that it takes more income to get out of big debt. It’s a no-brainer and working nights and weekends is not fun. But using extra income to pay off debt is a way out and it is only temporary.
Giving up your free time, your off days, lets you get your life back in the near future. Seeing half of their paychecks go to bills has motivated millions of people to get out from under so much debt. It could explain why so many Americans let perfect strangers vacation in their homes via an Airbnb side-hustle!
The good news with extra work is the ability to start a part-time business. A second job or overtime is fine, but a business gives you flexibility and you can generate more money in less time. Here are a few examples:
● Consulting services
● Bookkeeping and tax service
● A handyman business
Your Experience Equals Extra Income
The key to any side-hustle or part-time business is to use what you already know. Your ten years as a purchasing manager sets you up to consult other businesses. Same goes for your five years in marketing. That experience is valuable and other companies will pay you to consult with them.
But a side-gig can also be as simple as the handywoman / handyman example. I can’t hang a picture without major sheetrock damage, so even simple services like that are in demand. Blue-collar services have never paid more because so many people are growing up on technology, with no skills involving hammers, drills, or table saws.
And mundane services such as landscaping, bookkeeping, and organizing pay very well if you have an efficient system.
Budgeting Busts that Debt
Another great tool to pay off debt is to utilize a budget. A budget is not a four-letter word. It’s six and can fix monthly expense woes. The key to a budget working is trial and error, with both members of the couple participating. If your first month on a budget goes perfectly, then that may be a world record!
And remember, there’s no one way to budget. You can use a spreadsheet, app / software, simple notepad, etc. The goal is to be realistic about the money that comes in each week and what goes out. Then get down to managing that flow and reducing expenses whenever possible.
The simplest breakdown of a budget is this: Spend less than you make. That basic framework can keep us out of hot water with shiny objects all around us. It can prevent us from working until we turn 97 too!
*Use 0% credit card balance transfers to help pay down debt. But remember, the debt is still there until you truly pay it off.
Paying Off Debt and Burnout
The fight to destroy debt is not easy and can burn you and your spouse out. This battle takes patience, tenacity, and also a reward system. It is vital to celebrate when you make progress against credit cards and car payments. Little celebrations mean a lot:
● Take a day trip every time you pay off a credit card
● Bring the kids to a ball game when you pay off $2,000
● Book a nice vacation when you pay off two-thirds of your debt
Some people can take the grueling route to paying debt off and never look up until debt is flat on its back. But unless you’re David Goggins, you and your spouse need to remind yourself you’re winning. Along with rewards, you may need constant motivation, so try these tips:
Daily streaks: Do one tiny thing every day that improves your financial position.
Visualization: See yourself in the near future with a debt load that is easy to handle. This has been proven to work in many areas of life.
Your own hype man: Self-talk can keep you motivated even though it feels a little weird.
All of the tactics we covered can help you get out of debt and pay off bills. Some will fit your lifestyle, some won’t. But if you choose a game plan that you and your partner can buy into, it has a great chance of success.
Be intentional and patient. Because people don’t get into debt overnight. And it takes time to recover, refocus, and get out of debt that is years in the making. Americans beat debt every day though and so can you.
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.