Sometimes your spending spirals out of control. Once you realize that you've lost control of your debt, you need a plan of action to get your finances back on track. No matter what situation you're in, the relief of a debt-free life is a feasible goal. Take these simple steps to assess and then improve your personal finances.
If you've been burying your head in the sand, it's time to face facts. "A lot of people will say they've got a certain amount of debt — $9,000, let's say — when in reality, it's $11,000 or $14,000," Cate Williams, Vice President of Financial Literacy for Money Management International, told CreditCards.com. She's right, of course; it's impossible to hit your target if you don't know what you're aiming for.
Action step: Write down your debts, including the interest rate, on every card you have.
Pick Up the Phone
Speaking of those interest rates, getting them lowered can be as simple as picking up the phone. Get on the horn, as they say, and ask nicely. Even a reduction by a point or two can earn you big savings.
Action step: Here's a script for exactly what to stay on the phone with credit card customer service.
Pick Your Strategy
Paying off credit card debt is not a game of chance. You'll need a strategy to lessen the financial burden you're carrying month to month. What are your options? Think of snow:
- The Avalanche Method: You pay off your highest interest card first, erasing your debt as quickly and efficiently as possible. With this method, you'll save hundreds or even thousands on interest charges in the long run. The downside is that it's arguably the most painful to execute. Action step: Make minimum payments on all of your cards except the one with the highest APR. For the card account with the highest APR, pay as much as you can afford. When that card is paid off, apply that same amount to the card with the next highest interest rate.
- The Snowball Method: What the avalanche saves you in money, the snowball saves you in morale. What this method offers is a psychological advantage. If paying off the smallest balance first will give you the confidence and headwind to carry out your debt payments, then this method may be for you. Action step: Make the minimum payments on all your accounts except the one with the smallest balance. For the card with the lowest balance, pay as much as you can afford. When that card is down to zero, repeat the process by paying the same amount to the card with the next-lowest balance.
- The Blizzard Method: You combine the best of both strategies by paying off the smallest balance first and then moving on to wipe out the highest-interest balance next. Combine the best of both, and you've got a blizzard.
"The avalanche saves the most money, but some folks prefer a quick win with the snowball method," Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan, tells Credit Karma. "The blizzard combines both — you get the emotional boost and then you can save money by using the avalanche."
Transfer Your Debt to a 0% Interest Card
You may be able to tackle your debt with no interest at all by transferring a high-interest debt to a single card using a balance transfer. Many balance transfer cards allow you to pay 0 percent interest on your balance for a set amount of time, allowing you to pay more toward your principal and reduce the overall amount of time it'll take you to wipe out your debt.
Action step: Check out NerdWallet to see what the current best cards are.
Make a Budget
You need to figure out where your money is going — aka how you got into debt in the first place. Harzog, who paid off more than $20,000 of her credit card debt, says it takes persistence, self-discipline, and "a darned good budget."
Remember the cabbage soup diet? Remember how after three days you were ready to scarf a large supreme pizza? The same principle is at play with living on a budget and paying down debts. An extreme strategy with zero flexibility could quickly activate your desire to rebel and spend more than you can afford, putting you right back where you started.
"Cutting back can be more effective than cutting out," Gail Cunningham, the former spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, told CreditCards.com. "It's hard to adjust your lifestyle too dramatically, and often, little adjustments can add up to big savings."
Instead of making a No Dining Out rule, limit restaurant visits to once per week and cap your drinks at two. Instead of cutting the cable cord altogether, cut out the premium channels; don't go without heat, but try lowering the thermostat by a degree or two.
Action step: Write down three ways you can cut back on some of your splurges and downgrade or cancel some of your services starting today.
Put Your Credit Cards on Ice
We mean that literally. Put your credit cards in a cup or bowl of water and place it in the freezer. You'll still have the card(s) for emergencies, but they won't be in your wallet. Clear any stored credit card data off your computer, too.
Have a Smart Social Life
Derek Sall paid off $116,000 worth of debt before age 30 when he stopped trying to keep up with his friends, especially the luxury-filled highlight reel social media versions of their lives.
"The best tip I can give is just live your own life," Sall told CNBC. "The best way to just live simply and be content is just to turn it all off and hardly pay attention to it at all. Because that's what gets people in the most trouble. They see 'Oh, my friend went on this great vacation, and I wish we could do that!'"
Action step: If you need a digital social media detox to limit the visual envy and distractions, delete the apps off your phone.
Remember why you're doing this. Will paying off your credit card debt allow you to save for a down payment on a house or stop panicking when you open the mailbox?
Action plan: Write your goals down and tack them to the fridge or bathroom mirror. Put a picture in your wallet of your dream house or something that represents financial peace to you. Join a money-saving community on Facebook or post regularly to forums where you can vent, be motivated, and remember you're not the only one in your position.
Keep Healthy Financial Habits
As you pay off your debts, think about healthy spending and saving habits. In particular, practice differentiating between wants and needs. Food and shelter are needs; bills and emergency funds are, too.
But wants are those ads you see on Instagram, a $14 French martini, a new spring blouse. When it comes to spending, make sure your needs are taking precedence over your wants.
Action step: You made that budget. Stick to it.
"Staying out of debt isn't a big mystery," Regina Blackwell, a certified budget counselor at credit counseling service Transformance, tells Credit Karma. "Account for your money. Live within your means. Don't spend what you don't have. After becoming debt-free, apply the lessons you've learned and work toward the establishment of healthy financial habits."
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As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.
Extensive Plants and Greenery
A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.
As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.
There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.
Usable Outdoor Furniture
Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.
A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.
Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.
The Age of Your House
Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.
The One-Percent Rule
An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.
The Square-Foot Rule
Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.
The Mix and Match Method
Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.
Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.