Looking to pay off your debt but not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed by the stacks of unpaid balances that seem to loom everywhere? Beginning your debt payoff journey can seem overwhelming at first, but there are plenty of ways to get started. We’ve assembled 8 steps you can take to launch debt repayment—from creating a budget, to looking into debt consolidation loans, to remembering your financial ‘why.’
How to start your debt payoff journey
1. Create a budget
Creating and sticking to a budget can help you avoid wasting money on discretionary expenses. To create a budget, you should first compare your post-tax income against your monthly expenses. Make sure to include both fixed expenses that stay the same every month (such as rent) and variable expenses that can fluctuate (such as groceries). If you find that you’re spending more than you’re saving, it’s time to tweak your expenses and cut out what you don’t actually need.
2. Pick a debt payoff plan
A payoff plan can give you a roadmap to successfully becoming debt-free. Here are a few options:
Debt snowball method: With the snowball method, you’ll focus on paying off your debt in order of smallest to largest balances. You’ll continue making minimum payments, but you’ll put any extra money toward the smallest debt. Once that’s paid off, you’ll focus on paying off the second-smallest debt. The debt snowball method is very motivational and ideal for people who need a little extra boost on their debt payoff journey.
Debt avalanche method: With the debt avalanche method, you’ll focus on paying off your debts in order of highest to lowest interest rates. You’ll make all your minimum payments, but extra money will first go toward the highest-interest debt. Once that’s paid off, you’ll focus on paying off the second highest-interest debt. The debt avalanche can help you save money overall since you’re eliminating the highest interest amounts first.
Debt consolidation: Debt consolidation is when you combine multiple debts into a new, single monthly payment that ideally has a lower interest rate. Debt consolidation can simplify bill paying as well as save you money. There are a few different ways to consolidate debt, including personal loans and balance transfer credit cards.
3. Always put extra cash toward your debt
Receive an unexpected bonus at work? A big, fancy promotion? A tax refund? A large inheritance from a distant relative? Take all or most of it and put it toward your debt. Being debt-free will feel a lot better than buying a new pair of sneakers you don’t need.
4. Track your debt payoff progress
Make it a habit of regularly tracking your repayment progress. If you notice your payoff plan slowing down, take time to evaluate why. If you overestimated how much you’d have left over to put toward your debt or underestimated the amount of time it would take to pay it off, it’s okay to reevaluate and make changes to your plan. You can also use a debt payoff calculator to help get an accurate idea of how much you’ll need to contribute monthly and when you can expect to be fully out of debt.
5. Focus on financial wellness
There’s a reason you would up in debt in the first place. Focus on improving your financial habits and resisting unnecessary expenditures. Sure, facing your fiscal weaknesses may not be at the top of your ‘fun things to do’ list. But by solving the underlying problem (your financial pitfalls), you’ll be well on your way to financial wellness.
6. Reward yourself (once in a while)
If you never make time to have fun, your debt payoff journey will feel like a punishment. Reward yourself for reaching debt milestones––like a favorite dinner when you’ve fully paid off an account. That way, you’ll feel excited about paying down your balances instead of depleted.
7. Consider a side hustle
Making some extra cash here and there can really add up. Consider taking on a side hustle, such as driving for Uber or selling items you don’t need online. That extra money can help you expedite your payoff journey.
8. Keep your financial goals top of mind
Last but not least, remember why you’re doing all this work in the first place. Are you focused on being able to pay off your student debt? Buying a house? Taking a honeymoon? Making your financial goals your North Star can help you stay motivated.
The hardest part of your payoff journey is getting started. By beginning with these steps and staying consistent with your payments, you’ll soon be popping a bottle of champagne and toasting to your debt-free life.