Today, I am continuing the series, Money Problems: 30 Days to Perfect Finances. The series will consist of 30 things you can do in one setting to perfect your finances. It’s not a system to magically make your debt disappear. Instead, it is a path to understanding where you are, where you want to be, and–most importantly–how to bridge the gap.
I’m not running the series in 30 consecutive days. That’s not my schedule. Also, I think that talking about the same thing for 30 days straight will bore both of us. Instead, it will run roughly once a week. To make sure you don’t miss a post, please take a moment to subscribe, either by email or rss.
On this, Day 7, we’re going to talk about paying off debt.
Until you pay off your debts, you are living with an anchor around your neck, keeping you from doing the things you love. Take a look at the amount you are paying to your debt-holders each month. How could you better use that money, now? A vacation, private school for your kids, a reliable car?
If you’ve got a ton of debt, the real cost is in missed opportunities. For example, with my son’s vision therapy being poorly covered by our insurance plan, we are planning a much smaller vacation this summer–a “staycation”–instead of a trip to the Black Hills. If we didn’t have a debt payment to worry about, we’d have a much larger savings and would have been able to absorb the cost without canceling other plans. The way it is, our poor planning and reliance on debt over the last 10 years have cost us the opportunity to go somewhere new.
The only way to regain the ability to take advantage of future opportunities is to get out of debt, which tends to be an intimidating thought. When we started on our journey out of debt, we were buried 6 figures deep, with a credit card balance that matched our mortgage. It looked like an impossible obstacle, but we’ve been making it happen. The secret is to make a plan and stick with it. Pick some kind of plan, and follow it until you are done. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged.
What kind of plan should you pick? That’s a personal choice. What motivates you? Do you want to see quick progress or do you like seeing the effects of efficient, long-term planning? These are the most common options:
Popularized by Dave Ramsey, this is the plan with the greatest emotional effect. It’s bad math, but that doesn’t matter, if the people using it are motivated to keep at it long enough to get out of debt.
To prepare your debt snowball, take all of your debts–no matter how small–and arrange them in order of balance. Ignore the interest rate. You’re going to pay the minimum payment on each of your debts, except for the smallest balance. That one will get every spare cent you can throw at it. When the smallest debt is paid off, that payment and every spare cent you were throwing at it(your “snowball”) will go to the next smallest debt. As the smallest debts are paid off, your snowball will grow and each subsequent debt will be paid off faster that you will initially think possible. You will build up a momentum that will shrink your debts quickly.
This is the plan I am using.
A debt avalanche is the most efficient repayment plan. It is the plan that will, in the long-term, involve paying the least amount of interest. It’s a good thing. The downside is that it may not come with the “easy wins” that you get with the debt snowball. It is the best math; you’ll get out of debt fastest using this plan, but it’s not the most emotionally motivating.
To set this one up, you’ll take all of your bills–again–and line them up, but this time, you’ll do it strictly by interest rate. You’re going to make every minimum payment, then you’ll focus on paying the bill with the highest interest rate, first, with every available penny.
This is the plan promoted by David Bach. It stands for Done On Last Payment. With this plan, you’ll pay the minimum payment on each debt, except for bill that is scheduled to be paid off first. You calculate this by dividing the balance of each debt by the minimum payment. This gives you an estimate of the number of months it will take to pay off each debt.
This system is less efficient than the debt avalanche–by strict math–but is better than the snowball. It give you “quick wins” faster than the snowball, but will cost a bit more than the avalanche. It’s a compromise between the two, blending the emotional satisfaction of the snowball with the better math of the avalanche.
For each of these plans, you can give them a little steroid injection by snowflaking. Snowflaking is the art of making some extra cash, and throwing it straight at your debt. If you hold a yard sale, use the proceeds to make an extra debt payment. Sell some movies at the pawn shop? Make an extra car payment. Every little payment you make means fewer dollars wasted on interest.
Paying interest means you are paying for everything you buy…again. Do whatever it takes to make debt go away, and you will find yourself able to take advantage of more opportunities and spend more time doing the things you want to do. Life will be less stressful and rainbows will follow you through your day. Unicorns will guard your home and leprechauns will chase away evil-doers. The sun will always shine and stoplights will never show red. Getting out of debt is powerful stuff.
Your task today is to pick a debt plan, and get on it. Whichever plan works best for you is the right one. Organize your bills, pick one to focus on, and go to it.
Assuming you are in debt, how are you paying it off?