Having Trouble Getting Out of Debt? Here are 10 Money Fixes

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Trying to pay off debt when you're on a shoestring budget can feel like an impossible goal. Aside from the basics like rent, groceries and gas, there are always unexpected expenses (think medical bill or car repair cost) threatening to set you further back. For those struggling with getting out of debt, staying on top of it all comes with a unique set of problems. 

Below are 10 of the most common obstacles to paying off debt:

  • Figuring out how you got into debt in the first place
  • Changing your debt attitude
  • How to handle calls from collection agencies
  • Making a debt plan
  • How to decide which debt to pay off first
  • What to do if you hate living on a budget
  • Getting out of debt with no money
  • Learning how to save money (Even if you struggle)
  • Avoiding debt in the future

Let's get started!

Getting out of Debt? Tackle These Common Problems

 

Problem #1 – “I don't know how I got here.”

 

Trust me, I know how scary it is to confront your bad financial behavior. You wouldn't want to confront any activity in which you did something wrong. Fortunately, debt can be repaid. Unfortunately, debt can only be repaid once you've gotten clear on your numbers, create a plan of attack for repayment, and studied how you'll avoid getting into debt in the future. It sucks. Truly. But taking a look at the damage is both the first step and the hardest one when it comes to figuring out how to solve your debt problems.

It gets a lot easier from here. I promise.

The first step to getting out of debt when you have no money is to make sure the money you do have is being spent wisely. Here's more information from Debt.com about how to get out of debt (especially when you're living paycheck to paycheck.)

 

Solution #1 – Track your spending to see where your money goes

 

Start by assessing how you got into this situation. This begins with understanding where your money is actually going every month. It's not something you should try to estimate in your head. As an added bonus, by identifying expenses you don't need, you'll be able to quickly find ways to save money each month, too. 

Put on your detective hat and strap in. In order to find out how you got into debt, you'll need to dig through a few months of spending. 

 

  • Take a look back at your last three months of spending. You may be surprised at what you find. Perhaps you spent $150 on clothes or close to $200 eating out at restaurants. It can be surprising to see how quickly little purchases add up.

 

 

  • Consider a cash-only lifestyle for a month to hold yourself accountable.

 

Want to save time on expense tracking? Download the FREE Trim app. Trim automatically analyzes your expenses to see where you can save, but it also tracks your budget to see where your money goes as well. Click here to download.

 

 

Problem #2 – “Getting out of debt is hard and I won't be able to do it.” (the defeatist attitude)

 

 

Are you depressed about your debt?  Depending on how bad the situation is, this is only normal. While it might not seem like a debt solution, you’ve got to change that attitude first.  Getting out of debt is hard work, and while it’s natural to have a wide range of feelings about debt, those emotions aren’t the most helpful guides. Below are some examples of things to try to change your attitude around your debt. 

 

Solution #2 – The “quick win”

 

Paying off debt is a marathon, not a sprint. A great way to stay motivated and kick off the journey is to knock out a “quick win” and sell something you don't use any more for some fast cash. I like to sell items like electronics and home decor on ebay and my clothing items via thredUP or Poshmark. You can also consign any designer items with TheRealReal. 

Here are a few other ways to stay motivated when you're trying to figure out how to manage debt problems:

  • These next steps take some guts.  So remind yourself of your fantastic qualities.  Seriously, make a list. You are not your debt.

 

  • Start by considering what life without debt looks like (a vision board is a great exercise for this!).  It doesn’t have to mean an elaborate vacation.  It can be as simple as getting the mail without that sinking feeling that it’s full of bills.

 

Scrounging up extra cash to pay off debt is as easy as selling your valuable, gently used items. Click here to order a thredUP closet cleanout , or click here to learn more about consigning high-dollar designer items with TheRealReal.

 

Problem #3 – “I'm starting to receive calls from collection agencies.”

 

 

Meanwhile, are collection agencies calling you day and night?  Then hang tight to that positive attitude.  These people receive training to use words that manipulate you.   According to the Federal Trade Commission, collection agencies must abide by these laws.   Collection callers may not:

  • Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Call your place of employment once asked to stop (Send a certified letter.)
  • Harass you or lie to collect the debt

 

Solution #3: Create a debt plan

 

  • Don't avoid creditors – this only makes things worse and compounds your anxiety.
  • When learning how to manage debt problems, ask creditors to mail a “validation notice” with all the information about what you owe.  
  • Once you have that information, take control of the situation and create a debt master plan that details how you'll pay off the debt, how much you'll pay each month, and when you plan to finish paying it off. 
Want to pay off debt faster? Click here to sign up for my FREE course, The Debt Master Plan, which shows you how to save money on interest, create a more aggressive payoff timeline and organize your debt payoff strategy.

 

 

Problem #4 – “I don't even know where to begin or how to manage my debt problems on my own” 

 

 

 

The easiest place is to start by making a list of all your debts including credit cards and loans along with the current balance and interest rate for each account. Easy, right? (A little bit of wine makes this a much easier process, I promise.)

 

Step #2 is to look at your budget, and make a plan stating what you can pay and how often.   

 

Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

  • If you're dealing with collection agencies, call them and share your plan with them.
  • Get the company to agree to your terms and put it into writing.  
  • You may need to negotiate, but never agree to send more than you can afford.  
  • Ask for a copy of the agreement. Without that agreement in place, companies can still sue you.  (Yes, even if you are sending regular payments.)  So do your best to negotiate with them.
  • If this makes you nervous, you can work with a debt management company to negotiate with creditors on your behalf.

 

Tallying up all the debt you owe may seem overwhelming.  But it’s important to know what you’re up against.

In debt and over your head? Consider engaging with a company like Accredited Debt Relief who will work with creditors on your behalf. Click here to learn more.   

 

 

Problem #5 – “I'm too hung up on which debt to pay off first! I can't decide!”

 

 

Once you have your list of debts, choose one to focus on first.

 

  • Some say to start with the smallest debt for a quick win.

 

  •  Others say to knock out the one with the highest interest rate.

 

But I suggest choosing the one with the biggest motivating factor for you.  If you owe money to family and wish you could enjoy Thanksgiving pie in peace again, start there.  If one credit card is such a nuisance that you’ve nicknamed it “the Soul Sucking Scumbag”, you’ll want to put that first.

 

Solution #5 – Pay off  the smallest balance first

 

There's a reason many personal finance experts recommend paying the smallest debt balance first, (vs. the one that you hate the most or the one that charges the most interest, it's because it just feels good to take these out one by one. Psychologically, you're much more likely to stick with something you feel successful at than when you feel like you're failing.

Also, it's important to focus on one debt while you tread water with the others. Your brain is more likely to accept this new habit.

Get organized with your debt by using a debt tracker. On paper or in an excel spreadsheet copy down all of the information and get a total, accurate picture of your debt: consumer debt (credit cards), student loans, or medical bills. Download the free debt tracker here. 

 

 

Problem #6 – “I hate living on a budget.”

 

 

Uhm, yeah…me too. It sucks.

Remember: if you want a big result, you’ve got to make a big change.  

  • Can you take on a part-time job for a while?
  •  Consider downsizing your home or car.  
  • Do you have big items you can sell? 

I know how much you love those things, but do you love them more than the peace of debt freedom?  Only you can decide that.  Remember, you can replace things.  And buying a new one will feel sweeter with cash. Here are five easy things to cut when paying off debt.

 

Solution #6 – Lower your fixed costs 

To learn how to get out of debt, you'll need to cut back on “fun stuff” (Postmates, shopping, Starbucks) AND your fixed living expenses (rent, bills, gas, groceries etc.) It's way more fun to negotiate bills you have to pay anyway than cutting out lattes. 

 

  • While it's easy to complain about a tight budget, the truth is most of us have something we could cut which is why I always recommend a bill audit. 
  • Start by canceling any services you don't need, such as a music subscription service or online storage platform (think Dropbox).
  • Next, review your fixed expenses. (Here's our tutorial on how to do this.)

 

If you're able to reduce your monthly expenses even a little, make sure to use the extra money to pay off debt. Set up an automatic transfer to your credit card or loan account to avoid the temptation to spend extra cash.

Overwhelmed by negotiating bills? BillCutterz will negotiate with service providers on your behalf. You only get charged a small percentage of whatever they manage to save for you. Click here to sign up in seconds.

 

Problem #7 – “How do I solve debt problems when I don't have any money at all?”

 

You can't, really. You can consolidate your balances (see how to do this with Payoff here) which can lower your interest rates and your monthly payment, but you'll still have to pay the debts each month to remain in good standing. Yes, that takes real money. This is why I emphasize earning extra cash via side hustles so much. It's the key to any successful debt payoff strategy.

If you've reviewed your budget in depth and find you aren’t able to lower your monthly spending enough, consider increasing your income. They’re many different ways to earn extra money outside of your 9 to 5 job. (See our Pinterest board or Side Hustle category for more ideas on how to do this!)

 

Solution #7 – Earn more

 

 

 

Below are also 41 ways to make extra money I literally just listed off the top of my head. Money is a renewable resource, you can make more of it…you just might have to get creative and sacrifice some free time.

 

DoorDash lets you keep 100% of the delivery fee, plus you earn tips and boosts, and it’s one of the gigs that have been reviewed by others as being a decent way to earn cash. This is why it's one of my favorite side hustles to recommend. DoorDash has confirmed an average rate for Dashers of $15-$25 per hour. Click here to find out if DoorDash could be the right side hustle for you.

 

Problem #8 – “I feel like I can't talk to anyone about my debt problems.”

 

 

 

  • Few of us can handle getting out of debt on our own.
  • Kick off your debt plan by finding people whose money management style you admire.  Read books, listen to podcasts, and subscribe to blogs that inspire you to pay down debt.  
  • Changing the way you think about money doesn’t happen overnight.  But catching an “aha” moment from someone who’s been there might be just the inspiration you need. (Read my debt story on how I paid off $8,000 in 90 Days here.)
Costs keeping you away from seeking professional help? BetterHelp offers a variety of membership plans to meet your needs between $40-$70 each week. One month of unlimited is typically less than one traditional therapy visit and you can do it online and on your schedule. This could be especially great for those who are paying off debt and extra concerned with saving money. Don't go it alone! Get matched with a therapist online with BetterHelp.

 

 

Problem #9 – “I can barely save money, let alone get out of debt”

 

 

What is the recommended amount to save each month? About 20% of your take-home pay, if you're using the 50-30-20 budgeting method.

 

So if you make 2200.00 per month after taxes, that's 440.00 you should put away toward debt repayment AND savings. You should adjust this if you live at home to probably around 40 or 50% since you have no living or “fixed” expenses.

 

So how do you get to that 20% number if you've never really been good at saving? Automatic savings apps. (Here's 11 that we like!)

 

Solution #9 – Digit

 

 Here's how Digit (and other apps that are similar) work. You connect the app with your primary checking account (the one you do all of your saving out of.) Then technology analyzes your spending to determine small amounts it can save for you (automatically) so that you don't feel it. We're talking anywhere from .53 cents to 3.00 each time. (Or more, it depends on if you make a lot of large expenses!) 

After a month, all those small bits can add up to something really great. 

Honestly, I never really liked saving or saw the magic in how “every little bit helps” until I got acquainted with the technology. For those who have trouble, let the apps do the heavy lifting for you and see how much you can save. 

Digit offers a free 30-day trial. Afterward, the service is just $2.99 per month, and the average Digit user saves around $2500 per year! Click here to try it out.

 

Problem #10 – “I don't know how to stay out of debt in the future.”

 

 

 

Once you’ve got a handle on your current debt, you need to commit to not taking on new debt in order to break the cycle. This is definitely easier said than done. But a nice way to start is removing your credit cards from your wallet so they aren’t accessible. the next think I like to recommend is to promise yourself in the future you'll wait 24 hours before buying anything online or anything that is outside of your budget. Honestly, half of the battle of staying out of debt is limiting impulse purchases.

 

Solution #10 – Open a separate, high-yield savings account

 

The single most important element of staying out of debt in the future is breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

This is ONLY done by having two types of savings account.

 

 

By having both you'll be able to plan for both financial goals and the unexpected. Preparing for each not only keeps you out of debt but helps to build real, lasting wealth. 

 

Need a place to stash your savings? I recommend CIT Bank (love them, keep my business savings here!) because they have one of the highest interest rates around (25x the national average) with zero fees or minimums. All it takes is $100 to start. Learn more here.

 

 

Becoming debt free isn’t easy, and it’s even harder to stay that way. So while the question of how to get out of debt with no money may seem impossible, the truth is that with a little determination and creativity you can become debt free and a step closer to living your financial best life.

 

 

 

 

 

Having Trouble Getting Out of Debt? Here are 10 Money Fixes
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  1. These are truly awesome tips! Being in debt can give me so much anxiety so thank you so much for some important budgeting tips and advice!

    • Ellen
    • April 24, 2018

    Great post and tips!!

    • Dyana King
    • February 23, 2017

    I agree an attitude adjustment is needed for paying off debt. Once you visualize yourself debt free then you really get motivated!

    1. The first step is often the hardest! 🙂 But I agree – very effective.

    • Giulia Lombardo
    • February 21, 2017

    totally agree when I needed to pay off my debt I started to have and understood the importance of budget and became a more conscious spender, now I’m debt free and I am really glad about it but i still keep budget to achieve financial goals!

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