Budgeting, avoiding debt and getting out of debt
On January 27, 2015 I was asked to speak to families by the BCMW Head Start program in Centralia about budgeting, avoiding debt and getting out of debt.
I prepared a thirty-minute speech with handouts and other documents. Most of my speech was cobbled together from notes online, and I thought I would write it up as a blog to share with you.
Note that these are lecture notes and not originally done to be read. It’s like reading a play – something I always complained about in school when studying Shakespeare, etc. It’s like trying to “listen” to Mozart or the Beatles by only looking at the sheet music. So it is a little disjointed, but I hope you enjoy it.
Check the first part of my speech here.
Now that you’ve found a small pool of “extra” savings, how can you use that to get out of debt?
Make a conscious decision to stop borrowing money. Right now. If you want to get out of debt fast, you have to stop using debt to fund your everyday expenses and lifestyle. This means no more financing furniture, no more signing up for credit cards, no more test driving brand new cars that you don’t have the cash to pay for. This will help you focus solely on the debt that you currently do have so that you can develop a game plan to pay it off quickly.
DON’T take out a big loan to pay off all the smaller ones; you can’t borrow your way out of debt. Especially if you are still used to using debt to finance your everyday expenses. In a few years, or even months, you’ll be back to several loans and credit cards AND the big loan that paid off your previous debt…
Ask for a lower interest rate: Frankly I usually have doubts about this working, but I’ve had people tell me they have had some success. Grab a bill from any account charging you more than 15% interest. Dial the toll-free number on the bill and ask to have your rate reduced — say, to 10%. Tell them that you’d really like to stay with them as a customer, but you are facing financial difficulty and have received offers for much-lower-rate cards. Stand firm and remember that, to them, you are both a customer and a means of profit. You have nothing to lose – all they can say is “No.” Thank them and hang up. But if they say yes, you could save some money. And always, always ask a letter from them confirming the new rate.
Should you switch to a low-interest or no-interest credit card? Well, why not? If you stick to the payment plan it will save you money in the long run. One saying is applying for lots of credit cards at one time hurts your credit. Odds are your credit is already hurting right now … so where’s the real harm? And all the new credit cards can say is no and you can cancel them before charging anything on them – but watch out for the transfer fees. Is it worth paying no interest when they add a thousand dollars to your bill?
Is there any way to earn extra cash? Books and financial gurus tell us to “go get a second job”. Yeah, right. I earn more money, I lose my aid. Or “start your own business”. Seriously? How can they say that and keep a straight face?
But maybe the older children can help with part-time jobs. And they can help with expenses. They can start learning about income and not using debt to fund living expenses. A habit they’ll get into that will benefit them the rest of their lives!
Can you sell things? Don’t think of ways to make some extra money as a waste of time. You might spend all day on Saturday sitting at your yard sale for $40.00. But it’s $40.00! What else would you be doing? Watching TV? The kids can help count money and make change – my gosh they might learn something!
Take old toys to consignment shops, sell old clothes on those online or Facebook yard sales.
Once you have found some extra cash, it’s time to organize your debt and start paying it off.
Financial gurus use two approaches:
- List your debts smallest to largest regardless of the interest rate. This helps build momentum. When we paid off our first debt it’s encouraging and exciting! Even though we had higher interest debts, this gave us something that was very powerful: the belief that we could get out of debt quickly if we stuck to the plan. Then when that debt is paid off, roll that monthly payment into the next debt.
Example: you’ve found a pool of $75.00 extra per month and pay that on a bill until that is paid down. Then you go to the next bill and pay that bill the extra $75.00 plus its minimum payment, let’s say $30.00, too. So you have $105.00 going to pay that bill. Once that is paid off in a few months to a year roll that $105.00 to the next bill and add its minimum payment – let’s say $40.00 per month. So you are making $145.00 per month on that third bill!
- List your debts starting with the highest interest rate first and end with the debt with the lowest interest rate. This will save the most money in interest over time.
Regardless of which process you choose, the key is to stick with it.
Throw that excess cash at your debt
I mentioned this before … if extra money comes to you, take this cash and use it to tackle your debt. Some good examples would be a tax refund, selling a car, selling toys at consignment shops or online. The more cash you can put towards your debt, the faster it will disappear.
Be aggressive in paying down debt, but don’t get so ambitious that you risk missing minimum payments on your mortgage, automobile, or any other secured credit account. (Secured means that if you miss enough payments, the bank can show up and take away your stuff.)
Then there is bankruptcy, this is what I do. I am a bankruptcy attorney. In this debt pay-off plan I consider this the nuclear option. Boom! I’ll explain why in a bit.
There are two kinds of bankruptcy you can file – the Chapter 7 and the Chapter 13. Why they are called that is because the bankruptcy code is like any book – it’s divided into chapters and the chapters that apply to people at 7 and 13. Chapter 13 is a consolidation of all your debt – kind of like what we are talking about right now. The Chapter 7 eliminates or liquidates all debt.
There’s a lot more to it than that, such as car loans and house loans, but that would take up another half hour.
The trouble with filing bankruptcy is the same as getting a big loan to pay off your debt. You need to get in the habit of not financing your everyday expenses with credit. Bankruptcy will eliminate your credit cards and loans, but if you don’t learn to live and spend without them – you’ll be back to owing more credit cards and loans in a few years, or months!
Remember that originally credit cards were a safe substitute for cash – usually in bigger cities or stores. I charge on my account and pay it off at the end of the week. In rural areas people charged until they had the cash available. It’s too wet to cultivate the beans, but after ten days of sunshine I can harvest the crop and pay store or bank debt.
Debit cards are now the substitute for cash. I use a debit card instead of cash. It’s safer and most places take them now. Don’t use credit cards for food or clothes. When Wal-Mart announced in the mid-1990s they would start accepting credit cards, I knew the impact it would have on people dependent on credit cards.
OK, so I’ve paid off all my debt, now what? Establish a starter Emergency Fund of $1000.
You might be wondering, ‘Why is having an emergency fund important’? Well, if you don’t have any money in the bank and an emergency does happen, how are you going to pay for it? For most people, credit cards become the funding source for those emergencies. If you are trying to get out of debt then you need to put a buffer between you and debt; that is exactly what an emergency fund does.
A fun way to save money is to add money into a jar or piggy bank at the rate of the same amount of dollars as the week of the year beginning January 1st (we’re nearly in February so you will have to catch up quick). $1.00 the first week, $2.00 the second week, etc. This might get tight by the time you get to week 30 or so… (this will be mid-July), but by then you’ve collected $465.00 – in ten weeks that will be $820.00 (mid September): there’s your Christmas spending money. If you can make it to Week 48 (just after Thanksgiving), that’s $1,176.00. That’s a nice way to save up for your emergency fund. By the way, if you want to catch up, the end of January totals $15.00.
When you have a huge debt load you feel isolated and bummed out. But if there is one thing to remember is that you are not alone. And there are people you can turn to for help. There are lots of books and financial gurus out there. You can check out books and DVDs from the library or buy them cheaply on ebay.
And by the way, check your local libraries or museums or conservatories for free activities for kids and families – game days, reading nights, movie nights, etc. Substitute that instead of paying for the family to see a movie.
When it comes to getting out of debt one of my favorites is John Cummuta. His earlier tapes and DVDs talk about this system of paying off your debt slowly and I like what he says and his down-to-earth style. Nowadays he also talks about what to do with all that extra money: invest in this, invest in that, start your own business, etc.; but his method to climb out of debt is still good advise.
But there are also so many scam artists and charlatans out there, so be careful. You know, “I can help you make a millions dollars. Just send one dollar to “How to Make a Millions Dollars”…” and their secret is to get one million people to send them a dollar…
And don’t put up with smarmy condescending jerks. The type that says it’s not your fault and then spend twenty minutes telling you why it’s your fault.
Debt doesn’t have to be forever. Develop your financial game plan and start your journey toward being debt-free.
(The suggestions and ideas of this blog are cobbled together from various internet sites and blogs. Some ideas and suggestions are original; some taken from various “un-cited” sources. Copyrights, if any, are held by the proper holders.)