Being debt-free has a number of benefits, especially when you’re trying to buy a home. Lower debt tends to increase your credit score, which means that you’ll qualify for better mortgage rates. Reduced debt payments can increase the amount of money the bank will lend you for your home. And eliminating your debt gives you more financial freedom with your budget.
A lot of financial advice focuses on the little things you can do to get rid of debt: things like cutting out fancy coffees and not hanging out at the bar on Friday nights. These things do make a difference, but if you want to pay your debt down quickly, you need to look for ways that you can save an extra $500, rather than an extra $20. Here are a few tips that can help you aggressively pay down your debt.
Stop Using Your Credit Cards
It’s often easier to pay with a card than with cash, but when you use your credit cards, you’re not always accountable. It doesn’t matter whether your grocery bill comes to $100 or $150 if it fits on the card. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to get out of debt. You might feel good about putting $300 towards the bill, but if you added $250 in purchases, you haven’t gotten very far.
Leave your credit cards at home. If you want the convenience of a card, start using your debit card, and always make sure you have enough money in the bank to cover the charges.
Get Rid of the Rent Payment
For most people, rent is the biggest payment of the month. If you’re renting your own one-bedroom apartment, you’re probably spending at least $800. That’s a lot of money that’s not going toward your debt. It may be time to suck it up and make some changes that will help you improve your financial situation.
If you can, ask your family if you could live rent-free with them until you’re out of debt. Be sure that you’re contributing in some way, such as watching your sister’s kids or running errands for your mom. If this isn’t possible, look for other ways to reduce your rent payment. Instead of paying for a one-bedroom on your own, you might look for a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. That could shave a couple of hundred dollars off your monthly payment.
Take on a Second Job
For some people, cutting major expenses isn’t possible, or it isn’t enough. You can make a bigger difference by increasing your income. A part-time job at the grocery store could earn you $100-200 a week, and you may even get a discount when you shop there. If you could tutor high school or college students, you could get paid $20-50 an hour. A stay-at-home parent might be able to bring in some income by creating a home daycare.
Once you start earning extra money, it’s important to put this money toward the debt and not start treating yourself every chance you get. Otherwise, your efforts are in vain.
Have a Garage Sale
You may have hundreds of dollars just lying around your home. Check every nook and cranny for things that you’re no longer using that could bring in a bit of extra cash, then have a garage sale. If you don’t mind going through the trouble of making plans to meet buyers, you can often fetch better prices for your items by selling them on sites like Kijiji or on neighbourhood Facebook groups.
What are the things you could sell? Kitchen gadgets, clothes that no longer fit, toys, or furniture. People often hold onto things they might need or want in the future, but you have to think about the present. For instance, if you’ve been holding onto baby things just in case you decide to have another, it may be time to get rid of them. You can always replace things in a few years if you need to.
Apply “Windfall” Payments Toward the Debt
It’s important to not think of any big chunks of money you get as a fun bonus. Think of them as an opportunity to pay off debt. This includes things like an annual bonus, overtime pay, and tax refunds. If you get some money for your birthday or Christmas, you can still treat yourself a little, but try to put some of that money toward your debt too.
Consolidate for Lower Interest Rates
If your debt is tied up in accounts with high-interest rates, you need to look for other options. Keep an eye out for zero interest balance transfer offers. These are offers to transfer your entire balance to a new credit card that has zero interest for a certain period of time. You do need to read the fine print. Sometimes, you have to pay back interest if you don’t pay the balance in full or if you forget a payment.
Another option is to consolidate the debt with a loan. In this case, you’ll get a lower interest rate, but you’ll have to make a steady monthly payment, similar to what would happen if you take out a car loan. People like this option because it really forces them to pay off that debt, but it doesn’t offer the same flexibility you have with credit card payments.
Getting out of debt requires a lot of focus, but if you’re aggressive about paying things off, you’ll be able to relax in your new home sooner.