Even if you make a great income, you may be feeling the mental burden of rising debt. In the United States, 35% of adults carry debt from month to month, according to a Bankrate credit card poll.
Average credit card and loan balances for Americans increased last year, fueled by higher interest rates, inflation, increased demand for goods and services and strained supply chains. According to Experian data, the average American consumer debt balance increased by 5.8% to $101,915 in Q3 2022, a $5,544 jump.
Double Down On Debt As Your Top Financial Priority
Seven years ago, I had all the bills of a typical American household — mortgages, credit card bills and $72,000 of student loans. My husband and I had good jobs, a nice home with a backyard, and we did exactly what our parents told us to do financially.
Except my mental health was in decline and I felt daily stress. How would we ever be able to get out of $300,000 of debt and still be able to retire at a reasonable age?
In hindsight, I wasn’t able to pay down debt quickly because I was juggling too many things at once: my monthly bills, my retirement investing, cash savings and discretionary purchases that were fun, but unnecessary.
We tend to think of multitasking in the context of work; however, it applies to managing your finances, and humans are not wired to do it well, according to Psychology Today. Multitasking creates stress and burnout, while also lowering productivity, slowing task completion and decreasing your quality of work.
My debt was last on the list of financial priorities, and when I stopped multi-tasking and made it my top goal, I was able to pay off $72,000 of student loans in a year. It sounds too simple, but make it the first and only priority until it’s done. It will go by faster than you think. By choosing to pay down your debt you will:
- Guarantee a known rate of return (what you would have paid in interest);
- Have fewer accounts to track; and
- Increase your cash flow to eventually fund your other financial goals faster.
In particular, with credit card interest rates averaging 24%, funding any other financial goal with a 24% guaranteed return will be hard to come by. Find out the following:
- How much debt you have;
- Who holds your debts;
- How to access that information (tracking down all your usernames and passwords) and;
- Put all that information in one safe, digital location such as Mint.com.
Spend Every Dollar You Earn Each Month
According to a 2022 survey of Americans by Credit.com, 27% of Americans don’t think they need a budget, and 24% don’t think they’ll stick to it.
I was one of those Americans until I learned how to do a zero-based budget. And I learned that the way I was originally taught to budget was flawed because I thought leftover money was a good thing.
When starting to budget, people often plan for the expenses they have, thinking they’ll send any additional funds to their debt. The intention is great, but when you take that approach, you usually get to the end of the month without any funds left over.
Rather than waiting for possible leftovers, allocate all the money you have coming in, including the amount you want to have paid off in your debt, before the month even begins. If you’re doing your budget correctly, you should have no leftover money in your plan, with every dollar being allocated to an intentional line item.
Decide ahead of time where your money is going, versus figuring out where it went after you spent it.
Cut Down To 20 Total Monthly Bills And Money Accounts
Most people have multiple cash accounts, credit cards, and loans in addition to monthly cost of living bills. When I first started gathering my accounts, I had more than 40 different accounts to keep track of on a monthly basis. It was too much to keep organized.
A study commissioned by Chase found that 55% of Americans with recurring payments don’t know exactly how much money is automatically taken out of their account on a monthly basis due to these expenses including utilities, subscriptions and monthly bills.
In particular, consider these that I see most often with my financial education students:
- Consolidating multiple checking accounts into one;
- Closing any savings accounts that aren’t a high-yield savings account;
- Canceling subscriptions you can do without for now (you can always re-subscribe later if you miss them);
- Paying off debt balances under $1,000 and closing those accounts; and
- Consolidating investment accounts such as old 401(k)s into one individual retirement account or rolling over into your current 401(k).
Even if you don’t have a single extra dollar right now to throw at your debt, streamlining all of your money accounts and payments can have a huge effect in finding extra money, but also reducing the number of things you have to track while you pay down your debt.