Things you can do, while getting out of debt

August 9, 2010 · 10 comments

Today’s guest post comes from Amanda Lee. She is a writer, editor, and designer. She blogs daily at www.amandalee.org. She loves art, dogs, knitting, and good coffee.

I’m Amanda Lee, and I’m in debt. Yeah, it’s not that bad, and I’ve reduced it by almost forty percent since the beginning of 2010, but it’s still a sizeable enough chunk of change to make me feel crunched. I’m working hard and making a decent amount of money, but I still have to prioritize my expenses, which means I don’t splurge on anything until I’ve paid way more than my monthly allotment for getting rid of debt.

For awhile, my lack of disposable income loomed huge in my mind. It was all I could think about. I made lists and spreadsheets. I wrote in a diary daily about how stressed I was about not having much money, about how I failed as a grown-up. [Clearly I have a flair for melodrama.] And then . . . I decided that debt was a part of my life, but it wasn’t going to define me. So I got really productive. And I still am. And surely enough, I’m kicking it squarely in the bum.

It can be all-consuming to deal with debt. That’s why I came up with this list: things you can do with your life while you’re getting out of debt. Read on!

  • Get a second job. It’s not an option for everyone, particularly if your first job is uber-stressful or you have a lot of family commitments. But think about this: if you work ten hours a week at a second job that pays $10 an hour, that’s at least another $80 a week [after taxes] that you can put toward your debt. Bonus points if it’s a job where you can pick up some extra skills related to your field. And speaking of extra skills…
  • Learn a skill for cheap or for free. Take some books out of the library on database administration or crochet. Watch some tutorials on new ways to use your graphic design software. Buy a secondhand guitar and a chord book, and get to work. I’ve been studying some web development – relevant to my job and useful in a potential freelance career – and poring over sewing tutorials online.
  • Volunteer. Obviously, you won’t get paid. But you’ll feel great for helping something you care about. Go walk dogs at a no-kill shelter, or build them a quick WordPress web site to advertise adoptions. Write copy for the Red Cross’s online emergency preparedness resources. Serve soup at a shelter. You know you want to.
  • Be strategic about your entertainment budget. Decide what type of entertainment is most important to you – is it books? Magazines? Films? Theatre? Pick one that you spend money on, and drop the rest, or figure out a way to get them for free. For my boyfriend and I, our splurge is Netflix – we pay $9.50 a month between both of us and probably watch ten documentary and foreign films each month [to say nothing of the Law and Order we keep on in the background almost all the time]. Our newspaper and magazine content comes from online; each of us subscribes to a few free podcasts; we watch shows for free on Hulu; we read books on Google Books or get them from the library.
  • Declutter your stuff. Pare down what you have, because often there’s a gold mine in what you’re not using. Sell off your old stereo equipment, your first-generation iPod, or your old dishes and flatware via Craigslist or eBay – trust me, as long as it’s not broken or gross, there is someone somewhere that will want your old stuff.
  • Build your savings a little each week. This is another place the second job comes in handy. Obviously getting rid of debt should be your first priority, but if you can contribute an extra fifty dollars to your savings each week, that’s over $2000 in a year.
  • Work out. Negotiate with a gym for discounted membership or family rates, or see if you can wipe down the equipment for an hour a week in exchange for free fitness classes. Or take up a home-based calorie-burning habit: hooping, yoga, running, Pilates, Wii Dance on Broadway [my best friend does this for forty-five minutes a day and she looks fabulous, no joke].
  • Blog. Um, duh. Run a web site on something you like or know a lot about. [Hey, you could even blog about getting out of debt!] Learn all about building traffic, making a style sheet, writing great articles. Aside from the fact that a blog can be a legitimate form of income, even if you don’t monetize it, it’s still a great skill to develop, and you’ll meet some awesome people. Since starting my blog, I’ve gotten about six freelance clients who ask me to write about everything from architecture to nonprofit work to music, and even helped a writer who needed someone to copy edit his novel; in addition, I’ve sent postcards to my readers all over the world, and it feels cool to be able to do that.

What kinds of self-work or self-improvement have you all done since you’ve decided to shake off the debt monster? Share your stories in the comments!

1 Sandy L

The extra job comment resonated with me. When I worked a lot, I didn’t have time to spend money on entertainment and stuff. It served a dual purpose.

As far as self improvement goes, I guess reading PF blogs is the thing I like to do the most..although I don’t know how productive it is. When the economy went south, I sold a ton of stuff (I always donated it in the past). I made over $1500. It was partly motivated by a rule about lead paint which didn’t allow me to donate kid’s stuff to charity anymore and I didn’t want to just throw it out. Once I got the ball rolling, it was easy to always have a few things posted on Craigs, which reminds me, I need to post a few things again.

2 Liz

Totally agree about the two jobs. When you’re working a lot you spend less because you just don’t have time for anything else. And when you tell your friends “I can’t go out with you tonight, I have to work” it tends to go over better than “I can’t, I’m poor.”

3 Brian

I started a blog about my debt to help me keep track of it and learn from others. My wife is trying to land a part time job now to increase income to help as well. Your list is straight forward, but sometimes you can overlook things when not focused.

4 Everyday Tips

Another good thing about doing a lot of the steps you mentioned above is you are also networking, and you never know what kind of opportunity will come from knowing others.

Our only debt is our house, and I cannot wait to be out from under that. However, that will be another 7 years, unless I can find a way to be more aggressive. I try not to let it consume me though because I have kind of accepted mortgage debt as being a part of life. It is the balance between living life and living responsibly.

5 Trina

I started a child care when my kids were 8 months old. I watch my friend’s son 1 day a week and we put the extra money towards our mortgage. It is not a windfall by any means, but my kids enjoy the company and I get to contribute financially while staying home with my kids full time.
Trina

6 Larry

“Q: I found a typo on your page.
A: Good. Let me know. You should never edit your own work, because you’ll miss all your own mistakes. So that’s why I have you guys. If you find a typo, I’ll give you a cookie.”

I’m taking you at your word: “For my boyfriend and I. . . ” No. The object of a preposition is objective: “For my boyfriend and me. . . .”

I like chocolate chip. ;)

7 Kim

Same boat – good job, student loan debt, and the endless spreadsheets/lists! Interesting that you just accepted it; I will work on that & focus my energy elsewhere. I do odd jobs on the side – tax prep, edit papers.

8 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

Everyday Tips beat me to it, but volunteering is truly an excellent way to network. You may find job opportunities or someone who can help you with a different problem or even “just” make new friends, which is priceless to me. :-)

9 Liz

The library is pretty amazing. These days most libraries have a wide range of dvds including popular tv shows and movies. Although I certainly prefer my netflix subscription in a pinch the library + Hulu are surprisingly good.

Volunteering is also another great suggestion. It can be a fantastic way to pick up some new skills and network.

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