Credit card debt creates a constant stream of headaches and stress. And those who suffer are definitely not alone. According to the Federal Reserve, in 2016, the median American family held approximately $2,600 in credit card debt.
To make matters worse, these credit card bills come with hefty interest rates, normally between 10 and 20 percent. The power of compound interest works against you. If you owe $2,600 on a credit card with a 15 percent interest rate and make the minimum payments of $52 (minimum payments are typically 2 percent of your balance), you’ll take six and half years to pay it off and pay an additional $1,421 in interest.
And here’s the harsh truth: your credit card debt did not accumulate overnight and, without a miracle, you cannot pay it overnight either. A quick fix doesn’t exist.
Most credit card debt is the product of a long-standing habit of paying for things you can’t afford. So, to get rid of your debts for now and into the future, you have to change your habits – for good. And, if you want to pay off your debt as quickly as possible, you’ll have to aggressively cut spending or increase your income. Here’s how.
It’s hard, but you’ll need to cut spending
It’s technically easier to not spend $20 than to make $20. But, buying things feels good and frivolous purchases happen. Try to stop yourself from unnecessary spending. Keep a log of your dollars saved and put this money toward your credit card payments. If you make it a game or a challenge, it has the potential to feel just as rewarding as buying new shoes. You can also cut spending using some of the strategies below.
Schedule yourself a weekly zero spend day
When was the last day you spend absolutely no money? You probably can’t remember – most don’t. Schedule yourself a weekly “zero spend day,” where you are not allowed to spend ANY money, whatsoever. It will get you out of the habit of mindless spending and force you to be creative with your activities. In order for your day to be successful, you have to plan ahead. If you need gas for your car, to pay rent, or go grocery shopping, plan to do it the day before or after.
Let’s say you didn’t buy your morning coffee ($3), took the bus instead of paid for parking ($5), didn’t buy that candy bar at the corner store ($2), and watched a movie at home instead of went to the theater ($10.) That’s $20 in savings. Multiply that by four weeks and you’re saving $80 per month.
Stop eating out so much
Eating out, even at McDonald’s or other fast food chains, easily costs $8 or more per person. Multiply this a few times a month, and you have a nice chunk of change going toward restaurant expenses. Eating at home is simple, cheap, and fun, especially if you try to recreate the meals you like to have out or cook with family or friends. If you’re new to cooking and want to save even more money, Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap is a great starting point. If you cook yourself a low-cost meal at home twice a week instead of going to McDonald’s, this can save you roughly $60 per month.
Reduce your monthly bills
You can reduce monthly bills, like cable, internet, and certain types of insurance by negotiating with the companies or shopping around. Oftentimes, cable and internet companies will give introductory rates to new customers, but leave their longtime, loyal customers to pay exorbitant prices. Just call customer service, ask for the new rate, and most times, the customer service representatives will oblige. A conservative estimate of your savings would be around $20 per month.
If you think you’re paying too much for car insurance, you probably are. Luckily, you can easily shop for car insurance and switch providers. This can save you tens or hundreds per month. Let’s say you save $30 per month by switching your car insurance.
Consider switching your homeowners insurance as well. Do a little bit of research and find out if you’re paying too much. At the same time, it’s important to reassess your coverage and its terms. Having good homeowner’s insurance can potentially save you thousands in the face of a disaster. After you switch insurance, let’s say you save $15 per month.
Question every purchase
In the same vein as planning a zero spend day, you should work to question every discretionary purchase. Some costs are necessary, but it’s actually possible to save on purchases like food, clothing, and shelter with a little creativity. Ask beforehand whether every purchase will make your life better. Even if you saved $5 per week from questioning every purchase, that would be a savings of $20 per month.
…Or increase your income
Maintaining a consistent side hustle can be tricky, especially if you already work full time or have a family. Here are some strategies to work around this.
Ask for a raise
Unless you work at a job that has a hard and fast salary schedule, it’s usually possible to ask for a raise. Your boss wants to be profitable. If you’ve been able to bring value to the company and raise its profits, it’s time to ask for a raise. Be sure to come prepared with concrete information that shows how much you’ve brought to the table. Any additional income should go not toward lifestyle inflation, but rather toward getting out of credit card debt. While salaries and wages widely vary, for the sake of the example above, let’s say you earn an extra $40 per month.
Become a part of the growing gig economy. You’ll be able to create your own schedule and, in some cases, work from home. If you have a car and a smartphone, you can start driving for Uber or Lyft to get some extra cash. If you aren’t into driving and technical skills, look into finding contract work on platforms such as UpWork. Once again, your success will vary. Conservatively, let’s say you worked 4 extra hours per week at $10 an hour. That would be an extra $160 dollars earned per month.
If you adopted all of these strategies, hypothetically, you could save and earn a combined $425 per month. If you used this, plus the additional minimum payment you were already making ($20), you’d have $445 to put toward the bill.
This amounts to only 7 months of payments and $81 in accumulated interest – a savings of about six years of stress and $1,300 in accrued interest. That’s huge. Once you’ve paid off your debts, you can put yourself past your debts and start working on new financial goals; you can open a savings account or start investing your money.