The debt-free system: Part 3: The good, the bad and the ugly truth! (A tale of killing off debt…for good!)

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The debt-free system: Part 3: The good, the bad and the ugly truth!

(A tale about killing off debt…for good!)

 

So you’ve decided that you want to live a debt-free life, a life without the additional stress of you (and possibly your partner too) of having to work all the hours that God sent us just to cover the bills, some of which are more unnecessary than others, and to pay for the stuff that, whilst still filling up precious space in your home, no longer deliver the satisfying glow with which it arrived.

 

Not only have you decided that it’s time to pay off your debt, you’ve also begun to balance the books, instead of adding to the debt pile like an over eager member of the US Congress, you’ve started winning the war against debt. You may have even noticed some changes already, the bank statements, which once brought you nothing but dread when they arrived through the letterbox at the end of every month, now actually bring a smile to your face because you can see from the decreasing figures that a little bit further on in this journey you’re going to be completely free of the pressures of debt.

 

You may of heard about debt being split into one of two camps; Good debt and bad debt. Good debt being either debt (a mortgage) connected to the purchase of your house or an investment in yourself, usually in the form of a college/university loan. It earns its ‘Good’ tag by generally accruing a comparably low rate of interest and being used to ‘purchase’ goods that are considered by the majority as a valuable asset/wise investment. Bad debt on the other hand is the complete opposite, accruing high to extortionate rates of interest and used predominantly to purchase assets with little future value such as a car, a holiday abroad or a home improvement. Whilst I generally agree with the two distinctions, it would be a fool who would take on an unnecessarily high mortgage (or expensive education), for a house which is far too big for their needs, based on the understanding that it’s o.k because it’s only ‘good debt’. Even ‘good’ debt accumulates interest and requires repaying, and the price to pay is usually in the form of additional hours of work, stress and the loss of precious leisure time.

 

It is more than just a funny coincidence that those who have debts have a habit of underestimating the true scale of their debts. So now is the perfect moment to take a huge sharp intake of breath and total it all up….warts and all. Whether your preference is a fully-featured spreadsheet or a scribble on the back of an envelope, once you know where you stand then there’s only place to go….onwards and upwards.

 

Now you’ve balanced the books, realised the true extent of your debts it’s time to prioritise which debts to start wiping out first. At this point you may feel like getting a few easy kills, paying off multiple low-level debts just to clear out half of the list of debts on your spreadsheet, but taking shortcuts has never been the debtfreeminimalist approach and now is definitely not the time to start taking them. Irrelevant of their individual balance, once you know what you can afford each month (the excess of your incomes in relation to your outgoings), you need to take a look at the rates of interest charged on each of your debts (add this to the back of your envelope as well) and focus on paying the highest of these off first, irrelevant of the time it might take to do so.

 

Debt by priority is by far the most effective way to clear debts although you may come across the counter argument that this is not as psychologically motivational as the balance approach which focuses on wiping out debts with the lowest balances.  My advice is at the end of the month to ignore the list of creditors, it really doesn’t matter who you owe money to, and to simply take a look at your total balance of debt each month because there is no greater motivator than seeing those figures tumble by more and more each month.

 

Prioritising debt is as crucial stage of debt reduction as any other, getting it right here could save you thousands of pounds in additional interest charges and months of debt repayments. Take the example of a £10,000 debt, 70% of which is made up of credit card/store card debts (25% typical APR) and 30% home improvement/car loan, which you can afford to service with £300 each month. If, just for the sake of a morale-boosting quick wipeout, you decide to focus on paying off the smaller, but less expensive (with regards to the interest it attracts), loan then yes you would pay off one of the two debts in less than 12 months in contrast to a 30 month wait taking the debt-free minimalist approach (highest APR first) but the total interest charges using the balance first approach are a staggering £2,531 MORE, meaning your £300 p.m payments need to continue for an additional 8 ½ months to pay off the exact same two debts. Convinced yet? You should be!

 

The debt-free minimalist approach: By; not taking on excessive amounts of ‘good debt’ (and needless to say no additional bad debt), facing up to the exact amount of debt which you’re in and then paying down debt by prioritising highest interest rate charges, you’ll have the most precise, effective plan with which to become pay off credit. Simply put, there is no quicker or better way of becoming debt-free, so that you can start to live the life of freedom which we all deserve!

If you’ve got multiple debts then click on the snowball calculator link below. Experiment for yourself the difference costs of prioritising your loans by either balance or interest, enter all the details of each debt and it will even give you a plan of action for wiping out debt in the most cost-effective way. http://www.whatsthecost.com/snowball.aspx

The debt-free system: Part 2: It’s not rocket science (A tale about balancing the books)

The debt-free system: Part 2: It’s not rocket science

(A tale about balancing the books)

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“And don’t tell me debt is not a big deal. Debt will cut off your legs and laugh at you as you grovel in the dirt begging for mercy. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. If you can’t afford it, don’t get it. If you’re already in debt, get out quickly. If you think you’ll never get out, you’re right, you won’t.”

Osayi Osar-Emokpae, Impossible Is Stupid

So what’s the plan? Some people like to take a crash debt approach, but just like the approach of it’s sister plan, the crash diet, this method may start off well, dropping a couple of dress sizes in the first few weeks (or thousands of £s in the case of debt) but more often than not it’s not long before they’re back on the same old consumerism bandwagon that they’d been on just weeks before. Downsizing your house or car, selling off important assets, taking on a second job to create additional income in order to clear a debt is an almost pointless exercise if you’re yet to have tackled the root of your financial problems, overspending and over-consumption.

Just as it is that an overweight person has grown to be obese by simply having consumed more calories than they’ve burnt off, although not quite so obvious, most people’s financial position are of a similar simple equation. Debt is often created by people from having continually, for many years, spent more than they had earnt, only for them to wake up one morning, in the cold light of the day, and realise the terrible state of affairs they are actually in.

Balancing the books is one of the key accomplishments in a journey to becoming debt-free and its value is not only in the financial sense of the word but also in the motivational sense of achieving this milestone. It’s the moment of realisation when you know you are capable of doing this and that from now on, probably for the first time in years, the only way is debt reduction (as opposed to debt creation).

To make a hot air balloon rise you have two options, you can either add more gas or lose some weight, it is a similar situation if you’re trying to improve your financial position, there are two potential options; one is to increase income (the money which comes into your bank), the other being to reduce fixed costs (the costs that you have to pay for at the end of each month)….or better still try doing both!

Whilst reducing some of your outgoings comes hand-in-hand with becoming a minimalist, wiping the slate clean by cancelling expensive, income-sapping gym memberships, magazine subscriptions etc, there are also the unavoidable costs (mortgages, electricity, home insurance etc..) which you can, over time, reduce to a bare minimum.If you want to delve a little further into reducing your outgoings then check out my articles ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after you!’ and ‘Whatever happened to the idea of a 15 hour week?’.

For most wage-slaves (like me), increasing your income, especially in the age of 4 year public sector pay freezes, 40+ hour working weeks and continuing austerity, is an uphill challenge, but definitely not impossible. Increasing income can conjure up images of taking on second jobs, working late nights in a supermarket filling shelves, but for me this option’s opportunity costs, leaving little time for the important things in life/additional stress, far outweigh the benefits which the additional income would bring (especially after the state get their share of it!).

However there are other ways, smarter ways to earn money. By moving current accounts this year (single accounts with Halifax, joint account with Santander) I created an instant income of £400 (switching bonus) whilst in the long term these accounts bring in an additional £300 p.a. through a combination of cash-back (Santander 1-2-3) and rewards (Halifax Reward Current Account). Using cashback websites (Quidco) for insurance cover, mobile phone contracts, swapping utilities and buying birthday presents has reaped a handsome £400 this year whilst using a credit card (Aqua Cashback/Tesco Credit Card) for purchases (just make sure you clear the balance), big and small, has netted, through a mixture of cashback, rewards and additional time for money in the bank to earn interest, a useful £200. Check out ‘marginal gains’ for a comprehensive list of ways to do this.

For those of you who have long considered credit card interest, overdraft charges and excessive bank charges (where’s the fairness in banks charging a £28 ‘fee’ just because they didn’t have the money to pay a direct debit) as just part of life….it doesn’t have to be this way. The cruel, Catch-22 element of debt, is it’s those who can least afford to pay these charges that are most likely to be paying them and it makes debt for them a much deeper, darker hole from which to escape. As a result, turning it round for you will be harder than most but it really doesn’t take much to start clawing your way out of that hole. Balancing the books will mean that you’ll soon head away from these outrageous charges and you’ll never have felt richer. So do yourself a favor, as you start balancing those costs, waving goodbye to the worst of the bank charges, you might just want to rise a middle finger the next time your pass you chosen high street bank. It certainly won’t help you get those fees back but it will definitely, without doubt, make you smile…a lot!  

The debt-free minimalist approach: So now you’ve lightened the load, bought in a little gas for the burners, it’s time to start saying goodbye to debt and begin to look forward to the land of freedom. It might be some way off yet, a blip on the horizon even, but the time will quicker than you think and once you get there you’ll probably want to say forever. Balancing the books is a pivotal moment in becoming debt-free and it doesn’t take much, a little bit of time, a little bit of discipline and a little bit effort, but long-term it will be the best paid little bit of effort you’ll ever make!

The debt-free system: Part 1: Making the impossible possible (A tale about having the right mindset)

The debt-free system: Part 1: Making the impossible possible

(A tale about having the right mindset)

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When you’re swimming in an ocean of debt, it’s all too easy to think that becoming debt-free is an impossible, distant dream, far beyond your reach. In your mind, such is its unlikelihood, most people decide to choose the easier option, the option to just believe that debt is just part of life, an illness that you’ll just have to live with, better still why not dull the pain with a little retail therapy, a new coat/iPhone/TV, after all… what’s another two or three more hundred pounds of credit on top of what’s already there? Of course, this behaviour serves only to enforce what you’d already been thinking…getting out of debt is just about impossible!

The truth is, getting out of debt isn’t easy, there isn’t any instant, quick-fix solution, but it is possible…and it’s not half as painful as you think it’s going to be. Next month, after 8 long years, I will have made my last payments against consumer debt which, amongst many other things, had been accrued from retail binges and travelling adventures long now forgotten… apart from their cryptic code existence within the depressing negative balances displayed on my monthly loan and credit card statements.

It’s been a commitment, a sacrifice of summer holidays abroad, of learning to live without, of time taken to search out the best deals, of having to say no to things which you know you know for sure you’d enjoy, of scrimping in every single area of my life, but, now that I’m there, I’m going to make absolutely sure that I never, ever, take on another pound of consumer debt for as long as I live. And on reflection, what’s 8 years of a life which I hope, God willing, may last for another 60 at least, but now with the greater freedom which living without debt will bring us. Now for the mortgage!

The debt-free minimalist approach: Up to now, consciously, my articles have never offered a solution, a strategic system to attack debt with, because I believe the most difficult challenge in tackling debt is changing people’s attitude towards money and dealing with the behaviours of over consumption (and being conscious of the aggressive, consumerism-driven marketing tricks which surround our lives). It’s only when you’ve accepted that stuff doesn’t make you happy that you can begin to adopt the debt-free minimalist approach, the culmination of hundreds of small changes in lifestyle, which given the benefits of time, will give you a system that is not only long-term sustainable but also powerful enough to change the direction of your whole financial future. So now if you’ve got the mindset it’s time to start making the impossible possible and get debt-free!

Next week: The debt-free system: Part 2: Balancing the books

If you haven’t read any of my previous articles then just scroll down or visit the archives page (for selective articles only)