Having high debt and a low income can feel incredibly hopeless. Sure, you know you need to get out of debt, but you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it because you are only making so much. We have some tips to help you find more money so that you can get out of debt faster.
Know Your Numbers
First of all, know your numbers. I know, I know, you cringe at the thought of listing all of your debts and expenses. But taking a good, clear look at your money is the first step to crushing your financial goals.
Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.
To get started, list out all outstanding debt. Then look at all of your transactions for the last 3 months. Were there categories that you overspent in? Perhaps you could aim to spend a little less in those areas.
Make a Budget
If you don’t have a budget yet, now is the time to create one. You already looked at the transactions for the last 3 months. Try to come up with an average. Are there areas where you can trim? Stick to your budget as much as possible throughout the month.
Reassess Food Expenses
As you assess your budget, you might want to look closely at your food expenses. Many people try to fix the big ticket items in their budget (i.e. large car payments, etc), but quite often, the best areas to find money are in the small, everyday expenses, such as food.
One way to save on food is to create a weekly meal plan. Base this meal plan off of what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Use up as much as you possibly can--try to pick meals that allow you to use up these foods and then make a grocery list of what else you might need.
Pay More than the Minimum Payment
As far as paying off debt goes, you will want to pay more than the minimum payment. If you pay off just the minimum payment every month the debt will never go away because the interest accruing on that debt is greater than the minimum payment.
Hone in on One Debt
One popular strategy for paying off debt is by paying minimum payments on all debts except one. Then you work earnestly to eliminate that one particular debt. This will feel far less overwhelming since you’ll begin to see your number of debts decrease. There are two primary methods used for paying off one debt at a time: the avalanche and the snowball method.
With the Snowball method, you pay minimum payments on all debts, but focus primarily on paying off the debt with the lowest balance. Once you are done paying off that debt, you’ll then focus on the second smallest debt. You’ll pay not only the minimum payment you were already paying on the second smallest debt, but you’ll also add to that what you were paying to the debt you just paid off. Many individuals find this plan motivating because they see the number of their debts decrease.
The Avalanche method works similarly, but instead of paying aggressively on the debt with the lowest balance, you focus on the debt with the highest interest rate. The benefit of this method is that you pay less overall in interest. The downside is that your largest interest rate might be your biggest debt. In other words, it would take you much longer to pay off this debt than a smaller one you may have. You might feel demotivated paying off that huge debt for an extended period of time.
Regardless of which method you use (which some argue makes little difference), aggressively paying off one debt at a time is an effective strategy to make significant progress towards lowering your debt.
Go on a Spending Freeze
One effective strategy for throwing a little extra at your debt is to go on what financial blogger Jordan Page refers to as a “spending freeze.” She further explains that “you freeze your money, and withhold from spending any money for a specific period of time.”
This means that you cut the iced coffee trips, eating out, and even grocery shopping. Jordan recommends hitting up the store for only $25 worth of essentials for the week (such as baby diapers and milk), but otherwise eating out of what you already have in your freezer, fridge, and pantry. Don’t have bread? Bake a loaf. Instead of swinging by fast food during your lunch break, pack a lunch.
The ideal freeze window is 7 days--short enough to be doable, but long enough to build up a significant amount of money to throw towards debt. If you did this even just once a month, you may find hundreds of dollars to put towards your debts.
“Go to the Ranch”
Another useful strategy offered by Jordan Page is what she refers to as “going to the ranch.” She uses the NBC television show, The Biggest Loser, as an example. Contestants go to the Biggest Loser ranch and undergo a huge lifestyle change. They give up a lot, but it gives them rapid results. Consider yourself “at the ranch” while you pay off excessive debt. Sell items. Stop buying clothing. Halt eating out. Buckle down so that you can get out of debt much faster. It is not a comfortable period of time, but you’ll feel much more comfortable paying off your debt faster than if you continued with your existing lifestyle.
Have an Emergency Fund
Financial Guru Dave Ramsey recommends building up a $1,000 Emergency Fund. He describes this as a “rainy day fund, an umbrella. It is for those unexpected events in life: a job loss, an unexpected pregnancy, a car transmission going out, and so on.” This fund prevents you from having to charge to your credit cards whenever unexpected expenses pop up. Keep in mind that these “unexpected expenses” aren’t a fancy new car, family vacation, etc. These are real emergency expenses.
Pick Up Side Income Opportunities
Another viable option is to pick up some side income opportunities. You could sign up to be an Uber Driver Partner or Delivery Partner, seek out freelance work, or complete online surveys. There are many options out there that can work around your schedule and allow you to chip away at that debt.
As an absolute last and final option, you could consider filing for bankruptcy. Keep in mind, however, there are a few drawbacks. First of all, it doesn’t clear student loan debt. Second, it stays on your credit report for up to ten years. Third, you can expect to pay roughly $300 to file the papers in federal court and $1000 in attorney fees. You definitely want to consider all other possible options before going this route.
Having high debt and a low income can be stressful. But here’s one final thought we want you to consider: try not to look at your debt as a giant mountain to clear. Instead, chip away at it one bit at a time using the strategies we’ve outlined. Desmond Tutu once eloquently put that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Focus only on the small, seemingly insignificant changes you can make right now. Trust us, they’ll add up.
1. https://www.moneyunder30.com/get-out-of-debt-on-a-low-income 2. https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-manage-your-debt-960856 3. https://www.listenmoneymatters.com/how-to-get-out-of-debt/ 4. https://funcheaporfree.com/how-to-do-a-spending-freeze/ 5. https://www.daveramsey.com/company/faq 6. https://docs.youneedabudget.com/article/205-budgeting-with-non-monthly-pay-cycle 7. https://www.moneyunder30.com/snowball-vs-avalanche