Struggling with debt is a terribly suffocating experience. Oftentimes, it feels like there is no way out. Other times, small wins offer some hope. And the amount of advice out there for anyone in debt is huge, making it hard to sift through it all. Luckily, there are some common threads among that noise.
We’ve decided to unpack those main threads and recommend a variety of online tools and resources that can help you with the steps you might otherwise struggle with. Committing to using some of these tools should help you get out of debt faster than you thought possible.
If there are any other tools you’ve found particularly useful in your journey out of the red, please share them in the comments!
Visualize Your Debt
The phrase “what gets measured gets managed” is never truer than when taken in the context of personal finance. The simple act of having a visual representation of your decreasing debt is a huge motivator to get into a better financial position.
By precisely calculating your current debt, then using a free app such as ReadyforZero (iOS, Android), which we’ve reviewed before, you can see your progress at a glance. Among other debt visualization tools is an Excel thermometer chart which is perfect if you don’t want to sign up to another service.
Whenever you feel that urge to make an impulse buy, or are feeling disheartened at still having debt, just open up your debt chart to see the progress you’ve made so far. You can also see how changing your monthly payments or making an extra payment here and there will affect the amount of time it will take you to become debt-free.
Restructure Your Debt
Having a large amount of debt from a variety of creditors can be not just confusing, but also very expensive. Spend a little time working out exactly how much you owe each creditor and how much your debt is costing you per month right now. Once you know this number, you can start finding less expensive ways to pay this debt off.
Restructuring your debt (including your student loans) can go a long way to reducing expensive fees and interest charges, which can otherwise add years to your repayment timeline.
If you have debt on a number of credit cards, try to move these debts to a provider that’s offering 0% interest on balance transfers. Sites like MagnifyMoney and NerdWallet can show you the current balance transfer offers from a number of banks. Keep in mind that there will probably be an initial fee (usually a percentage of the overall balance) that you will be charged, and the 0% period is only temporary. Use a balance transfer calculator to work out if you will actually be better off. Don’t forget to destroy your old credit cards once the balance has been cleared on them!
When it comes to loans, you could be better off consolidating them. This basically means taking out one lower-interest loan to pay off other higher-interest loans. The kind of deal you can get when you consolidate your loans will largely depend on your credit score, as well as the small print of the debt you currently have. The better your score, the lower interest rate you can get on your consolidation loan. Again, when comparing loans, make sure you clearly understand the terms, and run the numbers through a loan repayment calculator (there are specific student loan repayment calculators, too) to see if you will actually save any money.
We would always recommend speaking to a financial advisor to ensure you’re making the right decision in these matters.
Cut Your Spending
The most obvious way to claw your way out of debt is to cut your spending so you can make larger repayments.
Popular pieces of advice about curbing your spending include only allowing yourself to buy on debit, not credit. To buy used instead of new. To mend instead of spend. These are all good strategies for decreasing spending and increasing the amount of your loan payments.
Additionally, remove any expenses you don’t need. You don’t have to punish yourself here, but the point is to be sensible with your money. For example, it’s all too easy to forget about all those monthly subscriptions you’re signed up to. In these cases you could use a web app like TrueBill to help you find, track, and cancel your recurring subscriptions. As with any tool, there are other subscription management apps available. If you’re on the fence about cancelling cable, read our guide on calculating if it’s worth the cost.
For expenses that you can’t cut, it’s always worth looking around for cheaper options. When it comes to shopping, there are a number of reputable comparison sites, including Price Runner and Google Shopping. To compare internet, phone, and insurance plans, visit MyRatePlan.
Alternatively, use the tips in the video below to call some of your providers and attempt to negotiate some lower prices.
It’s also a good idea to keep your eye on some popular coupon sites such as RetailMeNot, especially if you tend to do most of your shopping online. It goes without saying that you should only use these coupon sites if you’re unlikely to succumb to impulse buys. To make coupon collecting a little easier, you could install a money saving browser extension such as Honey or Coupons at Checkout to help you find these.
Once you’re confident you’ve lowered your spending as much as you’re willing to (hopefully without destroying your lifestyle too much), it’s time to figure out the best way to manage the money you have left over.
Set & Manage Your Budget
By now, you should have a good understanding of where your money is located. This is the perfect opportunity to create a repayment plan. The easiest way to do this is to use something like this free Loan Amortization Schedule. Here you can experiment with different payment schedules so you can find repayment amounts that work for you and will get you out of debt in a speedy manner.
With the money you have left to spend after making your payments, you could use the Mvelopes app, which mimics the “envelope budgeting” method. This is where you place a certain amount of money into various envelopes (in this case, digital envelopes). Each envelope is for a specific thing: food, transport, entertainment, etc. If your envelope runs dry, you can’t buy anything else in that category until next week/month.
This method helps you to be extremely conscious of your spending, and really does help to curb overspending in certain areas of life. There are other budgeting and expense tracking apps, but Mvelopes seems to be the most straightforward. Find the one that’s best for you, and make the most of your money!
Resisting the pull of temptation to spend money is really difficult, but if you can learn to manage it well, you’ll go a long way toward getting out of debt. A simple way to remove the temptation to spend is to unsubscribe from any deals sites or shopping mailing lists you receive. Unroll.me is an easy way to do this.
Another option is to gamify aspects of your financial life to add some extra incentive to your debt-crushing exercise. There are a number of financial challenges you can subject yourself to, from no unnecessary spending for 30 days, to the 52 week savings challenge, each of which can help to make your debt-free journey a little easier by helping you practice resisting temptation.
Using a browser extension that blocks your favorite shopping sites is a great way to get rid of the temptation to do some online shopping when you’re bored or unmotivated, and unfollowing brands on social media will reduce the amount of advertising that you see on a daily basis. The more temptations you can eliminate, the better!
Paying off your debt isn’t all about reducing spending so you can make larger repayments. On the other side of the coin, you could hustle to earn more money, or work on getting a pay raise. By combining earning more with spending less, you’ll have more money to make payments — which means you’ll end up paying less in interest over time.
If you have valuable skills, you could bid for side-projects on freelancing sites like Upwork, or get paid to take on some additional tasks on TaskRabbit. If you have a car, you could become an Uber driver. If you have a spare room, you could become an AirBnB host. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do to earn some extra cash online, including testing mobile and web apps.
And, of course, you can always be on the lookout for a better-paying job. Using social media for your job search can be extremely useful, and there are a lot of huge job search engines that contain thousands and thousands of jobs that you could apply for. You never know what you might find!
Between all the tips and resources linked to above, there’s a huge amount of information to help you get out of debt. For some though, the climb will simply be too difficult.
In these cases, you should always speak to a professional financial advisor who will inform you of the options open to you. They’re probably not as bad as you might fear, and will usually involve some form of debt settlement, whereby your repayments will reduced to something much more affordable.
Over to you. Which other online resources, tips, and tricks have you come across that have helped to improve your financial situation? What else would you add to this list?