Many people dream of being debt free. However, being debt free is not a destination, but rather it is a lifestyle. It is a continuous and methodical way of living your life. Even if you have a great deal of debt today, you should still be adopting these characteristics in your personal life. If your goal is to be debt free in the next 12 months (or 2 years or even 5 years), you should probably look to adopt these habits FIRST so that you can get to your goal.
To become debt-free, you are going to have to shed some of your current bad habits and take on some new, more constructive ones.
- Pay attention to the details of each transaction. You won’t notice that recurring fee on your credit card for the gym you’ve stopped using if you’re not checking your statement regularly. People without debt monitor their personal finances closely. They are less likely to waste money by forgetting about payment due dates or overdraft fees. Try looking at your credit card statements every month.
- Debt free people do their own research. They might have an accountant, but they don’t send over paperwork or sign their taxes without looking them over. If you want control over your finances, you need to learn about them. I suggest that you start by taking control of your investments. This is not a difficult task, simply subscribe to this site’s feed (or the weekly digest) and buy my book, The Confident Investor. You can purchase my book wherever books are sold such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books A Million. It is available in e-book formats for Nook, Kindle, and iPad.
- Pay yourself first! Even if you are already deep in debt, you can start to improve your situation by immediately changing the way you look at your money. Imagine you make 10% less than you do. Make a budget using that math. It may be impossible at first, but start making cuts to your spending. Debt free people live on less than they make. This allows them to put money aside for buying a house, retirement and an emergency fund.
- They wait to buy things until they really need them. You should never go shopping without a list. If you really want to control your spending, never leave home with your credit card unless you are going shopping (with a list). If you see something you want to buy, you will be forced to go home and get a card or money to buy it. In that time, your brain might be able to overrule your heart.
- Ask for help. Ask for lower interest rates. Ask for forgiveness when they make one late payment. Ask for a discount. What is the worst thing that you can have in reply - No. That isn’t too painful. It is more painful to not being debt free than to be rejected for a discount request.
- Save your money. Your check should be direct deposited into a savings account and not a checking account. Only move money from savings to checking to cover the checks.
- Set goals. You’ll find it easier to put aside money if you have a strong sense of what it’s going toward. This works for when you are saving up for those shoes, planning a vacation or thinking about retirement. Unfortunately, being debt free is probably not tangible enough. You should focus on a particular number.
- Just say, “No.” You may get lots of tempting offers throughout the week for lunch with co-workers or dinner with friends. Don’t be afraid to say no. Debt free people know that saying no to smaller expenses can add up to big savings. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun just do it with moderation and try to find activities that don’t cost a lot of money.
- Use cash not cards. Above, I mentioned that you should never leave your house with your credit card unless you have something specific to purchase. You should also never leave your house with more than a few dollars. Have enough money to buy yourself lunch, add a couple of gallons of gas to the tank, or hire a taxi to get home. That’s it. No more than $20 and preferably only $5 or $10.
- Debt free people aren’t focused on things. They value experiences more than having the latest things. The average person will list family and friends high on what they value. But are your choices reflecting that? If you are working extra hours to pay for a fancy meal with the family, think about the tradeoffs. Would you be better off not working late and having two (or five or 10) meals at home with the family?
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