Biscuits and Gravy Budgeting: Paying off Debt

Don’t act like you don’t want a second helping of biscuits and gravy. 😉

I hope y’all had as great of a weekend as I did!

I wanted to give paying off debt a post of its own because there’s  information I want to share. Budgeting in and of itself is simple- plug in some numbers and there’s your budget (the hard part comes when you’re trying to STICK to the budget). Debt is like…going to Chik-Fil-A and finding out they’re fresh out of waffle fries (the horror!).

Remember when I wrote about my first big debt payoff and I said that THIS WAS NOT THE BEST WAY TO PAY OFF DEBT? By the end of this post, you’ll see where I failed and (sort of) succeeded.

The Know-How

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  • For starters, if you don’t know how much you owe to your respective creditors FIND OUT. Don’t be a sissy- stop hitting ‘Ignore’ when your phone buzzes, dig those ‘Final Notice’ envelopes out of the garbage, meet in person if need be. Having all the information is key. Without it you’re just blindly throwing money at the problem and it’s impossible to come up with a timeline for P-Day (‘Payoff Day’, see what I did there? 😉).
  • Make that biscuits and gravy! Draw up a budget and figure out what you can afford to pay. Some people already have extra income that they can apply to these payments; others (like me!) must alter their budget to accommodate the new expenses.
  • Come up with a timeline. This is one of those things that I failed to do the first time around and it’s VERY important. If I had come up with a timeline at the very beginning I could possibly have shaved 6-12 months off the time it took me to pay off my debt. The timeline you choose can be proportionate to the size of the debt (i.e. more debt = more time til payoff), but if you want to be very aggressive about paying it off you can set a time frame as your goal (6 months instead of 12 months, 2 years instead of 4, etc.). I’m doing something very similar to this with my current vehicle loan. I got an amazingly low interest rate, but the 48-month term is a bit too long for me so I’m paying extra out of each paycheck (biweekly automatic withdrawal) in order to pay down the balance much more quickly. I’ve had the loan since February and I’m already paid 2 months in advance!
  • If your debts are numerous or overwhelming, debt consolidation and debt management are legitimate options. These types of services can charge you fees and are typically best if your credit score doesn’t qualify you for a lower interest rate loan or you have more debt/debtors than you feel you can handle. NerdWallet’s debt calculator is a great resource if you’re not sure what’s the best option for you.

The Can-Do

  • If you’re a millennial (like me) or just introverted (like me), this next part will probably be your least favorite: time to hop on the phone and call to set up payment plans. Some creditors (particularly hospitals) have websites where you can make payments and set up automatic withdrawals to pay off your balance, but many places are still operating via phone and setting up verbal agreements with their customers. Regardless of how you make it happen, remember two things:
      • 1, when you agree to a payment arrangement, be sure to get a paper (or electronic) copy of the agreement. You never know when/why you may need this (and hopefully you don’t), but it’s always better to have it on hand. When I went through the process of getting my license back, the DMV required a copy of the payment agreement and proof that I already begun to make payments before they would reissue a valid driver’s license to me.
      • 2, SET UP THE AUTOMATIC WITHDRAWAL. I know this part can be a little iffy, depending on how often you receive a paycheck and whether you have multiple accounts in use, but trust me on this. When you don’t have a payment set to withdraw from your account automatically it becomes very easy to “forget” to make that payment manually (and by forget, I mean “choose to buy that new ‘xyz’ instead of making a payment like a responsible adult”. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. *ahem*). If your payment date is approaching and you recognize that you won’t have the funds on that particular day CALL THE CREDITOR AND CHANGE THE PAYMENT DATE! Most places are happy to change the date of the withdrawal and then resume automatic payments the next month on the previously selected date.
  • Make sacrifices. I said budgeting was hard because budgets are hard to stick to and this is why: we don’t want to change the way we live and we want to have everything we desire. We want our sweet tea and our Cheerwine, too. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about money those two things can frequently be mutually exclusive. For instance, I don’t want to get rid of cable or eat out less often AND I want to be able to go on vacation every year and pay off my car more quickly. I’m not suggesting you move into a cardboard box and survive on ramen and rain water, but I AM suggesting that you take a good hard look at your budget and make adjustments in accordance with your goals. This seems like a no brainer, but often we think that our current bills are ‘non-negotiable’, not realizing that we don’t really NEED to be living in a 3 bedroom townhouse as a single person and we don’t really NEED 4-5 streaming video and music subscriptions.
  • Be aggressive! You’ve done the responsible thing and set up the automatic withdrawal, now I need you to reach deep, deep down and channel your inner offensive tackle. You get a bonus at Christmas- apply half of the funds towards your debt (some like to pay off the highest interest rate first, some choose to focus on the highest balances- pick whichever you prefer!) and the other half to savings. Your grandmother sends you a $50 check for your birthday (bless her heart)- make an extra payment that month and sing happy birthday to yourself while you do it. It’s much more appealing to squander (yes, I said squander!) those extra funds in a fun and/or irresponsible way, but those extra payments can shave months (even years!) off your payoff timeline.
  • Snowball your debt. The essential idea here is that when you finish paying off one debt, continue to have that amount withdrawn from your account, but apply it to another debt. I adopted a similar practice when I was paying off debt, except I split the old payment amount in half and put half towards another account I owed on and put the other half in savings. Which brings me to another point….
  • DON’T NEGLECT YOUR SAVINGS! I know it’s tempting to pay off your credit cards and other debt with your savings just to ‘get it over with’, but having some funds in reserve is imperative. If you don’t have an emergency fund, start saving now. Paying off debt shouldn’t prevent you from socking some money away for unexpected expenses. Try paying on your debt and then experiencing a major vehicle breakdown that costs hundreds of dollars. Without an emergency fund or other savings to fall back on, you’ll likely find yourself in more debt by putting the expense on a credit card or borrowing from others. Counterintuitive, right?
  • Stay Focused. Some use vision boards, some use sticky notes on mirrors, but keep a visual reminder of your goal nearby at all times.

 

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Sweet Victory (Pick your End-Zone dance)

  • When we look at our budgets and slash expenses in order to pay off debt, we usually start with the “fun” stuff- trips with friends, dinners out with colleagues, shopping with your mom, etc. Let me just say this: PAYING OFF DEBT CAN BE HARD, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO BE A MISERABLE HERMIT. Free local events and homecooked dinners with friends are just as fun as going out and dropping $100 at a restaurant or music venue. Don’t become so focused on the goal of being debt free that you foster bitterness in your own heart.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate! You’re paying off debt! Look at you! Adulting! So impressive! Your grand-mama would be proud! Celebrate each time you reach a goal or milestone, like when you decrease your total balance by 50% or when you close your first debt account. Don’t dig yourself a hole by celebrating, just reward yourself with something reasonable like dinner with friends or a night at the movies with your S.O.

Looking back at my own debt payoff experience and writing this post I’m blown away that I accomplished what I did in a fairly short amount of time. Paying off debt in a disorganized way can work, but why not make it easier on yourself?! A little prep work can save you months, years and even thousands of dollars. I’d say it’s worth it.

What tips, tools and tricks have y’all used to pay off debt and keep yourselves motivated? Is there anything particular that you struggle with?

 

Much love,

Zoe’

P.S. If you’re struggling with debt and feel overwhelmed, know that there IS hope. Don’t give up on your dream of being debt-free! 

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