BECOMING DEBT-FREE/FIRST STEPS

BECOMING DEBT-FREE/FIRST STEPS

Let me first preface this with this article will be practical as hell and for a very specific audience. However it shouldn’t be. If you have an hour to kill right now, go and watch “Playing With FIRE”, the wonderful Financial Independence documentary on Amazon. It explains the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) which is how I got into all of this in the first place. Overconsumption affects all of us if we’re being honest but the bottom line is, if you keep buying toys, bigger houses, overconsume and are blindly doing so, you’ll be well into your 60s or 70s before you can afford to retire. The stories about the 30 year olds retiring pisses off AFH something awful BUT it doesn’t mean that we can’t start now and still retire before we hit 60 – it’s just going to require some hardcore work on our part and so, read on…

Read any financial blog or book and the first step that anybody will tell you will be to make a budget. You can’t begin to pay down debt if you have no idea where your money is going every month. It’s boring, it’s eye-opening and it addresses the problem immediately (which is why some people like to avoid it; the proverbial “putting your bills in a drawer and forgetting about them” scenario).

You can do this in multiple ways – spreadsheets, apps or, like me, the good old fashioned way with a soupçon of technology thrown in. Since AFH and I got together we’ve kept a “book”, a large spiral-bound notepad where we list a month per page with all of our expenses, income and credit card debt.

It allows you to see MOST things. However, it’s a static document which doesn’t track all of your spending. So, I turned to Personal Capital (www.personalcapital.com) for some help. I use the app on my phone primarily but basically you link your bank accounts, 401K, and credit cards (plus you can add your home and car value) and it will total up your net worth, as well as let you know how much you spent at Target last month (oh. god.) This, in combination with our notebook, is how I’ll be tracking our debt paydown but please, use something that works for you. If you don’t buy in, you won’t be enthusiastic about this whole process. It’s hard enough already.

Personal Capital also allows you to see all of your credit card debt (provided you link all of your accounts) which leads us to the Debt Snowball method or the Debt Avalanche method:

Debt Snowball – make minimum payments on all cards while paying down the smallest balance first (no matter the interest rate), then moving on to the next smallest balance while adding the monthly payment amount you were making to the first card and so on until cards are paid off. This method is for people who want quick wins and encouragement during this process. You lose some money while doing it because you’re being charged higher interest payments on higher balances but you see results immediately.

Debt Avalanche – again, make minimum payments on all cards while paying down the debt with the highest interest rate. Once that card is paid off, add that minimum payment to the card with the second highest interest rate and so on until all of your cards are paid off.

The interwebs also tell you to include car payments in this BUT if you have a good interest rate on your loan then it’s not a bad thing to continue paying the monthly payments. Your credit score WILL get dinged when you pay it off because you won’t have an open installment loan on your credit report anymore. When we paid off our cars in July 2019, our credit score dropped 23 points which is LUDICROUS when you think about it: we were being responsible and paid off two cars with no late payments in five years.

I’m also not including student loans because I don’t have any experience with this (I know, I’m one of the lucky ones) but one assumes that depending on the interest rate this should slot in within your credit card list. So now you have everything listed and your battle plan (depending on if you want to go with the Snowball method or the Avalanche method). We’re going with the Avalanche method but that’s just personal preference. Next week I’ll get into the nitty gritty of that plus other tools you can use during this process to help you save. Rock on l’il Ghosties – FemaleGG

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