Debt is a growing problem in America. Total household debt was over $17.06 trillion in the second quarter of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The bulk of that amount was comprised of mortgage debt, followed by student loan, auto loan and credit card debt. Cutting your expenses and bills can help manage your debt but often only provides minimal assistance.
Fortunately, whether you’re drowning in debt or just want to pay down what you owe more quickly, there are several budgeting strategies you can use. See how you can dig yourself out of debt.
Use a Budget Template
Although adhering to a budget might seem like a lot of work, you can make the task simpler by using a budget template. You can find tons of budget template options online to download.
Look for a budget planner that fits well with your lifestyle. For example, if your income and expenses are straightforward, choose a basic template. But for extra categories or other bells and whistles, look for one you can customize.
Consider a Personal Loan To Consolidate Your Debt
Part of tackling a budget is streamlining your expenses, and consolidating your debt is one way to do it.
A personal loan is one way to consolidate your high-interest debt, and you can also consider consolidating credit card debt onto a new card with a 0% balance transfer APR.
Use the Right Accounts
No matter what your financial situation looks like, you need to use the right products. And if you’re looking to maximize your budget, one product that can help is a checking or savings account that does more for you. By using an account that pays a high interest rate, your money will grow while it sits until you need it.
Create a ‘You Only Live Once’ Budget
A YOLO budget gives you a clearly articulated vision you can use as a guiding principle to save, spend mindfully and pay off debt, said Jason Vitug, author of “You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.”
Write your vision statement at the top of your monthly budget planner to remind you of your effort’s purpose. You can also include in your vision statement how you expect to feel when you’re living the lifestyle you want — and add photos to illustrate that lifestyle, Vitug said.
Use Digital Cash Envelope Budgeting
Paying with cash only isn’t a new approach to budgeting, but it might be a novel idea if you rely heavily on credit. Start by dividing your cash into envelopes for your expenses — one for groceries, gas and so on, and spend only those specific amounts.
A digital cash envelope system, such as the GoodBudget app, can help you make the transition. You link your bank account to the app and distribute money into virtual envelopes for saving and spending categories.
Try a Zero-Sum Budget
With a zero-sum budget, you create each month’s budget based on the amount you made the previous month, with the goal of putting those dollars to good use in the current month. You divvy the funds for regular bills and expenses and put the excess toward repaying debt.
For example, if you earned $5,000 last month and have $4,000 in expenses for the current month, use the extra $1,000 to pay off debt at the beginning of the month to avoid spending it unwisely.
Find Extra Cash in Your Budget
You might be able to find more cash in your budget for bills with the help of apps like Oportun.
Oportun is an app that, after connecting to your checking account, regularly analyzes your income and spending to determine how much can be set aside in savings. Then, it automatically transfers that amount for you! The app costs only $5 per month after a 30-day free trial period.
Resort to a Bare-Bones Budget
When you’re buried in debt, you might have to go to extremes.
“In order to pay down debt, I lived on a bare-bones budget — in other words, with next to no extras or frills,” said Melanie Lockert, author and founder of the blog Dear Debt.
To stay motivated while she was living on a bare-bones budget, Lockert used a rewards system.
“For example, after paying off $1,000, I’d treat myself to a lunch,” she said. “After $10,000 was paid off, I’d get a massage on the cheap at the local beauty school.”
Use a Debt Thermometer
Do a quick Google search and download a free, digital debt thermometer you like. Use an online debt repayment calculator to figure out the total amount you’ll pay — with interest — over the time period you think it will take you to pay what you owe.
Next, label the lines on the thermometer with the amount you need to shell out each month to pay off the total debt in a certain time period. As you color in each section on the thermometer, you can actually see — and celebrate — your progress.
Track Your Spending
When you start noticing what you’re spending on things like coffee, Friday night pizza and other impulse purchases, you might be surprised at how much money you could save.
To make tracking easy, download a personal finance tracking app on your phone, like the Wally app. It’s free, and it enables you to scan receipts and track expenses. Once you see where you can cut costs, you’ll have more money to make your budget work.
If you’re looking to make the most of your money, seriously consider whether to continue paying for monthly services. Get rid of the ones that take the biggest bites out of your funds first.
For example, U.S. News reported in 2022 that the average cost of a monthly cable bill was over $200.
Sacrifice Extra Money
It can be tempting to use work bonuses or annual tax refunds for vacations or new furniture, but spending that money instead of paying off debt won’t get you anywhere. Instead of spending the extra funds that come your way, use them to pay off some of your debt. That way, you can make progress toward getting a handle on your budget.
Do Your Grocery Shopping Online
Picking out and paying for your groceries online will benefit you twice if you make a list and stick to it. First, you will be less likely to overspend. You’ll also save time by not having to shop in the store.
You can choose from plenty of grocery shopping services, such as home delivery and curbside pickup. Make sure you research which service is better for your budget.
Take Up Couponing
You really can save money by using coupons. Check out websites like The Krazy Coupon Lady and Money Saving Mom for great coupon tips and budget advice.
At first, don’t try to coupon at more than one store at a time, or you won’t benefit as much, according to information from U.S. News and World Report. Instead, pick one store and focus on mastering its coupon offerings and policies before you move on to the next retailer.
Cut Clothing Costs
Even if you’re averse to wearing someone’s hand-me-downs, try it — especially to save on more costly clothing items.
Visit thrift stores to score some great deals on gently used clothing. It might take a little legwork, but finding a name-brand winter coat that’s in great condition for a fraction of the original price can save you big bucks.
Hold a Family Meeting
To make sure everyone — including children that are able to grasp the concept of budgeting — is on the same page, hold a family meeting. Discuss the importance of having a budget and paying off debts.
To avoid future disappointment, tell your children what you do — and don’t — have room for in your budget. You’ll find it easier to say no to your child if they ask you to spend money on something that’s unnecessary.
Pause Credit Card Spending
It’s understandable that you might want to keep at least one piece of plastic in your wallet, but you don’t need more than that. If you’re in debt, take a break from using your credit cards.
And in order to manage that debt and get it paid off sooner than later, consider consolidating it with the help of a personal loan.
Give Yourself a Weekly Allowance
Unless you’re in an extreme situation, consider giving yourself a small amount of cash each week as an allowance to buy things you enjoy. Or, if a weekly allowance seems too frivolous, allot it to yourself monthly. A small reward can serve as motivation to help you stick to your budget goals.
Reevaluate Your Budget as Needed
As your income and expenses evolve, so should your budget. Each time you experience a change in your financial standing, reevaluate your budget. For example, if your child graduates from college and you no longer include him on your health insurance, subtract the premiums from your expenses. Next, decide where the extra money would serve your budget best.
Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting for this article.
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