So, it happened. You lost your job, you have a medical emergency or a major unexpected expense, whatever it is, it has left you broke. When I say broke, I mean we are having Ramen for dinner kind of broke. I hate to admit it, but I’ve been this broke before. I remember having my last $3 in my pocket and having to figure out how I was going to feed my (at the time) family of three. It’s not a good feeling. I am sure others have had to endure tough times much worse than mine. I had to figure out a way to pay off debt even while I was flat broke!
Thinking back to that experience, I can recall never thinking about how to pay off debt. My mind was focused more on survival and how I was going to take care of my family. Plus, I grew up in a family where debt was sort of an expected component of adult hood. I grew up without a solid foundation in finances but I knew how to dodge a bill collector. That was one thing I picked up real quick as a kid.
It can be really discouraging to think about debt when you’re not even sure how to make it through from day to day. It is really easy to adopt the mindset of “my electricity bill is due now so that old hospital bill can wait.” I am here to tell you that you can do both. You can pay your electricity bill and that old hospital bill without working more hours or making more money. However, the only way it will work is if you are truly dedicated and focused to sticking to a plan. This post is going to be a bit lengthy but I will lay out exactly what you need to do to pay off debt even while being flat broke. Ready to get this thing started? Let’s get it.
Being Broke Stops Here!
You know what I am going to say. First things first, without a doubt you need to create a budget. Just this topic alone deserves its own post. Here’s some great information on how to start a super simple budget. It won’t take you hours to do and it doesn’t involve any fancy, hard-to-use spreadsheets or software. I know creating a budget may not be the most appealing task to complete to most people, but honestly the only way to know what you have to spend is to see where you are spending your hard-earned money. You can use this free, easy expense tracker to figure out your current monthly expenses.
When you’re setting up your budget, you want to list your necessary living expenses first. These are things like mortgage/rent, utilities, food, gas, insurance, etc. I call these my “Needs” items. Next, you want to list expenses that you don’t necessarily need but like to have. These are things like Netflix, gym membership, monthly subscription boxes, etc. I call these my “Wants” items. These are the items you will sort through first to determine whether you truly need to continue paying monthly for it or if you can let it go and use that money towards your debt instead.
An easy “Wants” item that I was able to remove from my budget was the $17.32 a month I paid for Netflix. I asked a friend of mine who also has Netflix if she would let me use her account if I paid half of the monthly fee. That would have allowed me to save $8.66 a month and throw that all at my debt. However, she is such a great friend that she said she would add me for free. So, now I have an extra $17.32 a month to pay towards my debt and I can still Netflix and chill.
You will see that just by eliminating unnecessary “Wants” you have the potential to reallocate a nice chunk of money to throw at your debt. I know it can be hard to go without some of the luxuries we like to have in our lives, but you can always find an alternative. For example, instead of paying $25 a month for a gym membership, check out your local YMCA or local college for the cost to use their gym facilities. Better yet, workout at home or follow an online workout video on YouTube. Think outside of the box and great things can happen!
Narrowing Down Your Debt
Now, let’s get back to our “Needs” items. Each item on this list is an essential item needed every day. Meaning, you are not able to live without it. This is where you will want to see if you can negotiate with your electricity company or your landlord for a better price. Doing this really freaked me out to begin with. I don’t know if it was my pride or if I felt ashamed for asking for a bill reduction. Then I realized, why the heck am I feeling like this? I work hard for my money and just because I have debt does not mean I am not entitled to live a comfortable, happy life. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen other than being told “no”? So I gave it a try.
First, I called my cell phone provider. I know some people may consider a cell phone a “Wants” item but I feel like it is a “Needs” item. I use it to keep in contact with family and friends. I use it to pay my bills online and I am able to use it to call for help during an emergency. Anyways, I called my cell phone provider and explained that I am going through a financial hardship right now and trying to pay my debt down. I asked if there was any way I could switch to a cheaper calling plan. The rep on the phone was so helpful. She told me that there is actually a courtesy option that the company can offer to customers that will provide them with a significant bill reduction for up to twelve months. The only catch is, the customer has to ask for it. Can you believe that? All I had to do was ask for it and my monthly bill of $108.63 was reduced to $64 a month. That saved me a little over $44 ($528 for the year) that I could use to pay off my debt.
Next, call your electricity company, water company, mortgage or landlord and see if there are any options they can offer you. When I initially started this, I wasn’t able to get my mortgage company to assist me in any way. However, my electricity company and my water company were able to help me with some discounts. All in all, I was able to cut down my monthly expenses by an additional $93 using this method alone.
So Now What?
So now what? Well, now that you have cut out an unnecessary “Wants” and have gone through your “Needs” items and received bill reductions or discounts from the various companies, you need to add up all the money you saved. Using my info, I was able to cut $107.32 from my “Wants” items which were $17.32 for Netflix, $25 for my gym membership and $65 for my massage membership. Then, I was able to save $93 a month from my “Needs” items by asking companies for a bill reduction. This gave me a total of $200.32 a month to pay off debt. That means I will be able to pay off an additional $2400 worth of debt in the next 12 months. #winning!
Now, you need to list out all of the debt you are wanting to pay. Since I am a visual person, I like to use my debt tracker sheet to keep everything organized. It allows me to have an over view look of every single debt I owe, the total amount I owe and any payments I have already made or are planning to make. Download a free copy to use here.
There are a couple different ways you can approach this. You can either throw all of the money you have to use toward your debt at your largest debt, pay off the debts with the highest interest rates first, or pay off the smaller debts first which will result in a lower total number of debts you owe. Whew! Does that make any sense? I hope so. Here is what I did. I had 6 debt items I needed to pay that varied from $49 to $1500. I prioritized them from smallest amount to largest amount. The three lowest debts I had were for $49, $102 and $107. I paid the $49 and the $102 amounts in full. This left me with $49.32 which I paid towards my $107 debt making my balance owed now $57.68.
The following month I repeated the process. I took the $200.32 I had for the month to pay towards debts and paid the remaining balance I owed of $57.68 which left me with $142.62. This knocked off one more debt item and left me with three remaining debts that I still needed to pay. The next smallest debt that I owed was for $212. I used the remaining $142.62 and paid it towards this $212 debt. This left me with a balance owed of $69.36 which would ultimately get paid off the following month. I continued to use this process for the next 15 months, which is how long it took me to pay off my debt.
Living Debt Free
I know debt can seem daunting and I know seeing a small amount like an extra $200 a month doesn’t seem like much. It can make you feel like it will take you forever to pay off a debt. Don’t stop now! You can do this! You have to stay positive and stay focused. Chipping away at your debt, little by little, takes patience and perseverance. However, if you’re willing to trust the process and don’t give up, you will make it to the finish line with less debt than when you started this journey.
Living a life debt free and on my own terms is something I am striving towards. Next up on my list, kicking my six-figure student loan debt out of my life forever. I am using my debt payoff methods as well as multiple passive streams of income to help me chip away at my student loan debt. Leave me a comment below if this is something you would like me to share on my blog. Thanks for stopping by!