Tips to Keep the Debt Monster at Bay

Ever found yourself saying, ‘It’s really easy to spend money, but difficult to pay it back.’ If so, you’re not alone. Many folks struggle with managing their finances. Consider that Americans typically spend $1.33 for every $1 that they earn. That means the US is a highly indebted society, and these trends are growing. The problem is overspending. Living beyond your means is a sure-fire recipe for disaster, and sound money management is needed to curtail these excesses.

Psychologists attribute overspending to emotional drivers. People routinely spend money to feel better about themselves. We spend money to combat boredom, uplift ourselves, or to alleviate stress. Fortunately, there are many other ways to deal with these anxiety-ridden emotions, notably finding zero-expense activities such as exercising, reading and studying, or simply spending time with friends and family.

Are Credit Cards Lifesavers?

Households must guard against the debt trap at all costs. When debt becomes impossibly difficult to repay, owing to high interest payments, a negative spiral ensues. It’s important to prioritize debt repayments, debt management, and debt alleviation above all else. The problem with debt is that it rapidly accumulates, and the interest repayments become untenable. Topping the list are credit cards. These pieces of plastic, infused with sophisticated chip technology, can be lifesavers in an emergency. However, if managed improperly credit cards have the potential to worsen your financial situation.

Consider some of the fees that you are likely to pay on credit cards: cash advance fees which range from 2% through 4% of the amount that you are withdrawing, in addition to a fixed ATM withdrawal fee. There are also late payment fees to consider, often in the region of $39 +, and if you go over your credit limit, a fee of $35 + may be added on to your bill. Many credit cards offer their services at zero annual charge, but others can charge anywhere from $25 – $400 per year. That’s a significant drain on your finances, given that the APR on credit cards is extortionary to begin with.

Always Read the Fine Print

Your first order of business when trying to get out of debt is to manage your outstanding credit card balance well. Transfer your balance from high interest credit cards to a low interest credit card (be mindful of the transfer fees) and pay it down as quickly as possible. In this vein, it’s important to make more than the minimum monthly payment on your credit cards. Consider that credit card companies can change their interest rates at their discretion.

Read the terms and conditions of your credit card provider carefully – you certainly don’t want to be caught unawares. If you are delinquent in any of your credit card accounts, or other lines of credit, you may be penalized with higher interest rates. Another thing to be careful of is the rewards program on offer. You certainly don’t want to be paying a high annual fee and not recuperating your costs in the form of generous cashback offers, exclusive rewards, and related benefits.

How Can You Live Frugally?

We have already established that spending money you don’t have is a recipe for disaster. Instead, look to other activities that are cost-effective and fun to pass the time. The benefit of low-cost rewarding activities far outweighs that of spending excessively and then having to worry about paying it back. People often confuse wants and needs. Wants are desires, and needs are requirements.

We need food, shelter, medical care, and transportation. We want sushi, palatial homes, Ferraris and the like. It is a fine line to balance our wants and needs, but that’s where living within your means comes into the equation. Frugal living allows you to plan for the unforeseen, put away money for retirement, and prevent the debt trap from ever occurring.

There are many theories on how best to deal with the urge to splurge. Some folks advocate freezing your credit card in blocks of ice and waiting for them to thaw when you feel the urge to spend. Others simply recommend cutting up your credit cards every time you are thinking of making a big purchase. What you are effectively doing in all cases is curbing your desire to spend money. That’s the first step in the right direction!

What are you worried about?

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I’ve never really understood why asking people about money is off limits. What are people worried about? Why is it offensive to ask someone how much their new car cost, how big their mortgage is, or how much they are contributing to their 401K? Finances are often a “don’t ask, don’t tell” gig.

Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to be comfortable sharing their financial status with anyone that asks. Obviously if a stranger wants to know how much debt you have, you have my blessing to punch them in the face. Similarly, I believe salary should definitely be kept confidential within the work place (causes too much office drama if Pamela makes more than Carmen). Budgets Are Sexy wrote a great article highlighting the times it is NOT appropriate to ask someone about their income.

One of my favorite ways to learn is through conversation with friends and family. How the heck am I suppose to be financially educated if I can’t really talk about money with anyone I associate with? It’s not like the school systems teach the fundamental of finances. What are we scared of? Are our friends going to judge us because we make too much money, or not enough? Why are things like mortgages, student loans, and credit card debt never to be discussed?

I know where most of my friends stand in regards to their political and religious views, but for some strange reason I feel like they would shoot me if I asked “Have ya been saving for retirement?” Sure, there are situations in which discussing one’s financial situation is inappropriate, but I also believe there are times when finances NEED to be discussed, but aren’t, out of fear of the other party becoming offended. Screw that. I’m laying it all out there. My name is Debt Ninja and this is my financial situation…

Annual Income: $50,547
Cash in Savings: $18,755
Total Debt: $16,877
Percent of income contributed to retirement: 18% + (5% match)
Number of Credit Cards: 3
Annual burrito expenses: $600

You don’t have to be scared. My blog is a “safe place”. No one will judge you no matter what your financial situation. Are you feeling bold? Care to share your financial situation? Any thoughts on why finances are so taboo?

p.s. For those that haven’t commented before, today’s post would be a great day to come out of hiding 🙂