What a wonderful time of the year. The weather is supposed to be nice (been raining nearly every day for two weeks) and the children are full of energy from their recent parole from school. What a combination, hyper kids and weather that is keeping them indoors. Sort of cluttered and cramped feeling in the house. That put in me mind of what could be done to get the summer started for them, which led to this post. Funny how the mind works. Anyway, here are a few easy things that you can do this summer to get yourself started down the path toward repaying your debt and getting on firm financial footing for the coming years.
Get Your Credit Report
Nothing original in this step. Jump over to annualcreditreport.com to get a copy of yours from all three of the major credit reporting agencies. You can’t go around in the dark. You may find errors or collections accounts that you have forgotten about. Either could be dragging your credit score down just enough that you have been paying higher interest on all of you credit accounts.
Track Your Spending
It is important to know where your money is going before you cans start saving any of it. Whether you decide to carry around a pocket notebook or download an app, the important thing is to account for every penny spent. Even if it seems trivial, like a pack of gum, you need an accurate picture or where all of those Washingtons are going. You need to have three months of information in order to clearly see where you are, or are not, wasting money. Since this is a new habit, you may find that it takes a month or two to jot down everything, so be patient with yourself. It is important to keep tracking your cash outlay throughout your life. I stopped and went a little out of control, so I had to start all over again.
Tracking your spending is the lead up to forming a budget that you feel comfortable with. Start off by writing down all of your monthly bills, including the due dates. This should include subscriptions and memberships, as well as the cable, rent/mortgage, etc. Having a visual reminder may help you make all of these payments on time. If I tried to put all of the steps of building an effective budget here, you would get sick of reading and move on, so at the end of this post you will find links to step-by-step tips on building a budget that you can live with and track easily.
Trim The Fat
Once your budget is in place, you may be shocked to see that you are spending more than you make. Well, maybe shocked is not the word. After all, you know your wallet and savings account are empty at the end of each week. Something has to go, but what? Have a look at those expense records. What do you spend money on more than once each week. Is it something that you can cutback? Instead of buying, lets say three cans of pop or energy drinks, each day, could it be cut back by one can? No matter what you chose to target, cutting back is the key. If you try to eliminate a habitual item right away, you may get frustrated and just chuck the whole budgeting process.
After looking at those recurring expenditures, you will want to look at your monthly bills. This is where you will find the largest amounts of cash to be saved. If you have subscriptions, do you read them or is that money wasted? Do you have premium channels on your cable bill that could be done away with? The list goes on and on.
Make More Money
Trimming the fat is great, but what happens if you still come up short? The only answer is to make more cabbage. It would be nice if someone would offer you a better paying job, but if that doesn’t happen, you may need to look around for part-time work. It doesn’t have to be at a store or food chain. It could be mowing lawns, freelance writing, or cutting hair. The important part is making enough money to pay your bills and save a few dollars each week.
Goals are important in every aspect of your life. I put goals this far down the list because I assumed your initial goal was to get a handle on your money. Now that you have tracked, budgeted, and started making enough money to break even, it is time to set a few goals for the coming year, five years, and for retirement. One goal could be to grow your savings account. Start by looking at your monthly bills. Target one of them and set a goal of having that amount in savings by a certain date. This is called building an emergency fund. The point is to be able to pay your bills in case you lose your job or become too ill to work for a short time.
Target A Debt
Repaying your debt takes more time and effort than accumulating it did. If you try to tackle all of your debts at once, you will end up frustrated and angry. You can start with the debt that carries the highest interest rate or the debt with the lowest outstanding balance. That’s up to you. Set a goal for having that debt paid off. Be realistic. Why try to pay off a $2,000 balance in six months when $50 a month is all that you can really afford? Even if you only make the minimum payment one week and pay an additional $10 with your next check, you will make progress on the debt.
In the past, we have posted tips about building budgets and paying down debt. Here are links to those posts so that you can read them at your convenience. Building a budget is complicated, so we broke it down into three separate posts. The first one is here. There is a link to the second at the end of that post. Here is a link to a post about how even a small additional payment on a credit card can impact the balance.