The first step in correcting a problem is to admit that there is a problem. Prior to admitting that there is a problem, there is another step. That is when a person reaches their breaking point and cannot go on living the way that they are living. That is often referred to as step zero. Step zero is when a person says to themselves “this crap has to stop”. It is the breaking point. It is the point where a person becomes willing to take corrective action. They become willing to try a different approach of living because of a psychic change.
Have you reached the point where you realized that your way of managing money is not working? Are you spending more than you earn? Does all of your earnings go towards paying bills? Do you have creditors calling you who want to be paid? Do you have to borrow money when an emergency occurs? Do you find yourself spending money that you do not have in order to keep up with your friends, neighbors, or relatives? Do you feel broke even though you work hard and earn a good income? Do you contribute any money to your retirement savings accounts?
Have you reached step zero? Do you want to change how you manage your finances? Do you want to take control of your life? Do you want to break away from the bondage of debt? Are you at a point where you are totally dissatisfied with how you are living because of debt?
The good news is that there is hope. It can get better. It is all up to you. It is based on your willingness to change.
Now that you have admitted that your way of managing your finances does not work, how should you start the mending process?
Measuring the Damage
Start by measuring the damage that you created. Before you can move forward, do an analysis of what you owe. My favorite tool to assess debt is the debt-to-income ratio.
To calculate your Debt-to-Income Ratio, see the formula below:
Debt-to-Income Ratio = Monthly Debt Payments/Monthly Income x 100
Example: $1000 in Monthly Debt Payments/$3000 in Monthly Income x 100 = DTI of 33%
What is considered a bad DTI Ratio?
If your DTI Ratio is higher than 36%, you are in the danger zone. The higher your DTI Ratio is, the less money you have to cover your living expenses. A healthy DTI Ratio is less than 16%.
Where to Start
After you know your DTI Ratio, it is time to start paying down that debt. Start with paying off all of your bad debt. Pay off all of your payday loans, credit cards, and auto loans. Next, start to pay down your student loans, mortgage, and business loans if they exist.
Stop the Bleeding
Stop buying stuff you do not need on credit. Identify what you need and only pay cash for those needs. A few examples of needs are food, clothing, medical supplies, transportation costs, and housing expenses. Wants are fancy cell phones, cable TV, designer clothes, eating at restaurants, or any other expense that is not required to live.
If you are part of a dual-income household, learn to live off of one salary. Use the higher of the two salaries to pay for all of the household living expenses. Use the lower of the two salaries to pay down debt. After your debt is paid off, you can start to focus on saving money.
Get a second job. Find a side gig to earn money to pay down debt. If you spend your free time working, you will be less likely to spend money on stuff you do not need.
Create a budget. A budget is a plan that allows you to break down where your earnings will be allocated based on a percentage. For example, 25% for housing, 11% for transportation, 20% to pay off bad debts. Once you have a budget established, all you need to do is follow it.
Even though you have debt, you still have to live your life and have fun. Find ways to enjoy what your local community has to offer. Instead of going to high priced movies or amusement parks, go to local parks or free museums. Instead of going to a high priced gym, exercise outside by walking. Instead of going on a luxurious vacation, take a staycation.
Guilt & Shame
There is no use in feeling bad about having debt. You have identified the problem. Now is the time to move ahead and to make positive changes. Having ill feelings is not a solution.
Focus on the positive and on everything that is possible once your debt is under control. Try to take small steps and to monitor your progress. Don’t strive for perfection. If you have a slip, don’t beat yourself up. Pick yourself back up and keep striving for progress.
Debt is similar to hiking. Once you walk 5 miles into the woods, you have to walk 5 miles to get out. Now that you have decided that a change is needed, it is up to you. At this point, there is no use in looking for someone or something to blame for your debt. You cannot change the past. You can just pick up what is left and apply a solution. If you learn from the situation, it was not a waste. As you move forward, you can also use it to help other people who are struggling with their own financial issues.
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