Getting Out of Debt:  Here’s How to Start

Hey, frugal friends! Today’s post is from Mrs. Daisy, who blogs about debt, family and farm life over at Dirt Road Daisy. Enjoy! 

When my husband and I stopped ignoring the fact that we were in six figures of debt and decided to do something about it, we jumped right in the express lane with no plan whatsoever. Our strategy worked for a few months as we haphazardly put extra money here and there on different debts with no real rhyme or reason. The balances slowly started to decrease, but then we hit a wall.

We got disorganized, tired, and lost our motivation. Why? Why did this concept that seemed so simple end up running aground?

Benjamin Franklin said it best,

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

We hadn’t taken any time to lay a solid foundation, set realistic and achievable goals, or truthfully analyze our situation. Naively, we thought that things would just somehow work out.

However, before you develop a strategic plan for tackling your mountain of debt, time should be spent mentally preparing yourself for the adventure you’re about to embark on. This process will truly be a journey, full of ups, downs, successes and failures. When you hit those bad days, it’s going to be tempting to just give up and throw in the towel. By performing these “pre-steps” as I like to call them, you will ready yourself for what’s about to come.

Getting Out of Debt: Preparing for the journey

Identify Your Why

By identifying your Why for launching into a debt free journey, you are giving yourself purpose. Your Why is that deep-down, personal motivation for what you do. Until you identify your why, you won’t be able to determine the whats and hows. Any goal worth achieving will almost certainly be met with resistance. Without your Why, your purpose, and your motivation, you are much more likely to fail (or give up). Your Why could be something as simple as financial freedom, buying a house with 20% down, or becoming a stay-at-home mom.   Our Why is a long list of goals including having the ability to homeschool our daughter, expanding our family farm, and enjoying a more simple life.

Give Yourself a Reality Check

Do you know down to the penny how much debt you are carrying? If not, you need to. How can you start a weight loss journey without knowing how much you weigh? This is where the nitty gritty and emotional part starts. This point in our journey was the lowest I had ever been. I was embarrassed and heartbroken over the financial mess that we had gotten ourselves into. There are two parts to this task:

    • Get out a pen and a piece of paper, use an Excel spreadsheet, or find a fancy printable on Pinterest and lay it all out there. Write down all of your debts including the balance, payments, interest rates, and due dates. Adding that number up was the most depressing moment in my life, but it had to be done. We had to be honest with ourselves if we wanted this to work.
    • Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and request your free credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies. This step is extremely, extremely important. You may assume that you know every detail about your financial repertoire but it’s better safe than sorry. There might be a $40 dentist bill in collection hanging out or a $9 library fine. You should check these free reports every year to identify any fraudulent or incorrect information and take stock of your true financial situation.

Meadow DeVor’s money situation changed when she figured out why she was spending money: Money Love: A Guide to Changing the Way That You Think About Money

Find an Accountability Partner

As important as it is to set goals and have a plan, it is even more important to communicate that information with someone. Having someone to share your wins and losses with will help make this journey a little more tolerable. This person should not be used as someone to hold your hand or to tell you what you want to hear. They need to be an ear to listen but give honest and maybe sometimes unwanted feedback. (I was too ashamed to admit our financial situation to anyone in our lives so I decided to start a blog and use the entire Internet as my accountability partner!)

Ideally, you should look to someone who is in a financial situation that you would want to mimic. Don’t go asking your broke friend that never pays their part of the dinner bill and charges their daily Starbucks habit to a credit card. Personally, I look to personal finance bloggers that I admire. Reading their journeys and interacting with them through their blogs keeps me motivated and on track.

Get Current

Lastly, before you begin brainstorming your amazing debt payoff plan you need to get current on your bills. If your accounts are current, great! If not, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. If you are behind a few payments or have an account in collections; those are your priority and your first action step towards financial freedom. It may take a few weeks to get current. In some cases it may take a few months. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Personal finance is just that, personal. Each situation is unique. Understand that there is no one size fits all, blanket prescription that will generate results. There are countless strategies, plans, courses, and step-by-step programs touted by finance experts everywhere you look. Will they work for you? That’s a question that only you can answer.

This endeavor will require time, patience, and most importantly…grace. Dave Ramsey wisely stated that, “Good debt management is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.” Your financial fitness, your budget, and your life is constantly evolving and changing. You must be willing to adapt to the changes and keep moving forward. You must allow yourself grace where there is a slip up or less than perfect financial decision. There will be months where you are able to allocate a large sum of money to your debts and there will be months where you are lucky to not overdraft your account. Life happens.

This foolproof plan by Jean Chatzky will help you pay off your debt: Pay It Down!: Debt-Free on $10 a Day

It won’t be easy, but I promise you that it will be worth it. By using common sense and the pre-steps I’ve outlined above to lay a solid foundation for your debt repayment, you will be setting yourself up for success.

Tomorrow on the blog we share concrete steps for how to get out of debt when you’re in way too deep. Be sure to join us!

Mrs. Daisy is a working mom living in the rural Midwest with her husband and sassy three-nager. She is a scientist, a farm girl, an avid Harry Potter fan, and a from-scratch cook in training. She blogs about her family’s journey to get out of six figure debt, emergency preparedness, being a working mom, and the outdoor life over at Dirt Road Daisy .

 

 

 

12 comments

  1. Josh says:

    Finding an accountability partner is a great idea & it’s also a very intimidating prospect at times. Having an accountability partner during my first year at work was a good benefit & it can be really good to help you mimic the behaviors of somebody you admire as well!

  2. Agreed, Josh! I’ve used accountability partners at several stages in my life other than finances. Like a weight loss journey I embarked on, several accountability partners during college, and so on. Thank you for reading my post! 🙂

  3. The “why” is huge. My friend Tim Mauer says that most of staying financially fit is a matter of “ruthless prioritization.” When you have a strong “why” you can make sure that is a higher priority than the things that are working against your progress!

    • The WHY is paramount! It helps give up purpose, stay motivated, and as your said – prioritize many aspects of our life. I also believe in doing things that enforce your why. This is going to sound super cheesy…but here it goes. My husband and I both grew up on farms, we live on a farm now but one of our financial and life goals is to expand it. We watch a television show on Netflix called Heartland and watching this show shows exactly the life we want to live…it gives me motivation and reminds me of my why. Do I really need that brand new shirt? Nope! Throw it in savings so that one day we can build our dream ranch.

  4. Really good, practical tips. The truth is, most people have a decent idea about the mechanics of getting out of debt–spend less than you make. Cut spending, make a budget, earn more, etc. But the motivation and accountability are where people stumble more. That or just living in denial or being so overwhelmed that they lack the motivation to start. I know I’ve felt like this. So this is great advice to get at some of those underlying problems.

    • Hi Kalie – you are so totally right. The concept of staying out of debt is pretty simple. Don’t spend more than you make. Don’t charge if you can’t pay with cash. However, when we live in a world driven by consumerism where we are inundated with new and cool things that you need to have to keep with the Joneses…that’s where we tend to get stuck in what I like to call the buttcrack of life. Much like a weight loss journey, we tried and failed several times before actually being successful with our finances. The pre-baby steps of mental preparation were the game-changer!

  5. Katy says:

    Great topic! I agree with you that understanding your “why” is so important. Motivation is so key, and it might be different for everyone!

  6. Luckily I’ve never been in debt. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to climb out of that situation. I was lucky enough to graduate from university with no student loans (scholarships + parents)

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