How to Pay off Debt

Accumulating debt has become an American past-time. Everything we want comes with “easy payments”, so why not buy it? Often-times we don’t realize how deep we’re in until we realize we can’t get out. 

How many of us find ourselves thinking things like: 

  • I don’t want to buy some else’s car problems, so I need to buy a new car.
  • My new baby needs the best and safest equipment, so I’ll just put her cute new stuff on my credit card.
  • My boss was really unreasonable today, so I’ll go to that new bar for a happy hour with my friends.
  • I need all this stuff to keep up. I wouldn’t want my friends to think I’m not doing well.

It feels normal because it’s what everyone else is doing. We have become professionals at retail therapy.

We’ve created a lifestyle that’s impossible to maintain. And we fund it all with debt. Take my word for it – this will NOT bring us joy. It only brings us bondage. Debt is a mental, emotional and financial drain that robs your future.

Debt Is A Product

Did you know debt is a product? Just like your favorite candy bar or the shampoo you use, debt is a product we buy. And just like the other products, it is heavily marketed to us.

Debt is sold to us in the form of credit cards, car loans and mortgages.

You Can’t Borrow Your Way Out

The only way to get out of debt is to quit borrowing. Taking out one loan to pay off another is just moving the debt around. 

If you are serious about wanting to get out of debt, you have to stop taking on new debt. You can’t get out of the hole by digging it deeper.

What Does The Bible Say About Debt

The Bible has a lot to say about money. That is one of the things I explore here at Started At 50. If you study God’s word, it doesn’t take long to see that debt is not part of His plan for us. He knows it’s not good for us. Here’s a couple of examples.

Proverbs 22:7 – The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Romans 13:8(a) – Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.

What Is Debt?

What is considered debt? The definition of debt is simple…Debt is anything you owe to anyone. Having debt means you are funding today’s life with tomorrow’s dollars. When does it end?!!!

It can end here and now. You CAN get out from under the stress and the bondage of debt. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. You can do it with a few simple tools and a plan.

Let’s talk a bit about the different kinds of debt and the effect debt can have on your life and then we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of Debt Payoff.

Kinds Of Debt

  • Credit Cards
  • Student Loans
  • Car Loans
  • Mortgage
  • Personal Loans
  • Medical Debt
  • Payday Loans
  • HELOC
  • 401k loans
  • Loans from Your Parents
  • “90 Days Same As Cash” Purchases
  • Financing Your Kids Braces

Did you see anything on this list you had not previously considered debt? Many of these types of debt are common in our culture. It’s normal to have a Car Loan or Student Loans. Other types of debt such as Payday Loans are truly insidious, but they are all damaging to our financial well-being.

How Can Debt Affect You Emotionally?

Frustration – It can be frustrating to have an unexpected expense that has to go on the credit card. Just when you thought you were making headway! Frustration can lead to giving up.

Denial – Do you shove unopened bills in the drawer? You just don’t want to know how bad it is! Denial could lead to unhealthy coping habits like drinking in an effort to forget.

Stress – Do you have more month than money? How can you juggle all these bills. Even with making minimum payments, you don’t have enough to go around! Stress could lead to weight gain or relationship problems.

Fear and Panic – Do you let all your calls go to voicemail because you’re afraid it’s a collector. Are you fearful your credit card will be denied while you are at a restaurant with your date? Fear and Panic could lead to feeling anxious all the time and not enjoying life.

Shame – Do you hide your spending or the amount of debt you have from friends, family or co-workers. You don’t want anyone to know how deep in debt you are. I mean, what would they think! Shame can lead to living an inauthentic life.

Anger – Are you having money fights with your spouse? Are you yelling at your kids or your co-workers because you can’t quit thinking about your money problems? Anger can lead to relationship issues.

Depression – You have just shut down. You can’t see a way out and your spouse doesn’t understand the pressure you’re under! You can’t deal with it anymore. Depression can lead to a whole list of mental, emotional or spiritual issues. Deardebt.com is a one of many resources for someone who is struggling with depression and mental health problems due to financial strain.

I experienced a lot of these emotions when Stephen and I were having our money issues. We had dug such a deep hole, I didn’t think we would EVER climb out. We couldn’t talk about money without getting into an argument. I was frightened and he had shut down. We were going nowhere.

The stress was unbearable and I became hopeless. This is no way to live.

You’ve Got This!

I want you to know that no matter where you are starting, YOU CAN DO IT! Your self-worth is not your net worth. Your past mistakes do not define your future. Forgive yourself and let go of the past! If you are starting your Debt reduction journey, let us know in my FB group, Started At 50. We are all there to support and encourage each other. We will not judge!

Getting back to Zero is a great feeling. You will be starting your Financial Freedom clock. This is where I was at 50 years old!

First Things First – Your Emergency Fund

Before you start to pay down your debt, you need to build a baby Emergency Fund. If you already have one, great! If not, you need an EF of $1000 in the bank. Why would I ask you to save $1000 when I’ve just spent pages telling you to pay off your debt? Because you need a safety net. Some cushion between you and life. As soon as you commit to paying off your debt, your car will break down or your refrigerator will go out. You don’t need to go deeper in debt while you are trying to pay it off.

This was one of the big problems I experienced in our dark days. We had no safety net and when life threw us a curveball, it sent us over the cliff financially.

Try to save your $1000 quickly. Have a garage sale, sell stuff on Marketplace, work some overtime or declare a “No Spend Month”. Find any way you can to get this first $1000. Then when you have a flat tire, it’s not a disaster!

How To Pay Off Your Debt

There are 3 commonly accepted methods for paying off debt. The Snowball Method, the Avalanche Method and the Hybrid Method. Let’s look at how they work and the pros and cons of each.

Snowball Method

This method is fairly simple. You list your debts starting with the smallest balance down to the largest balance. Ignore the interest rate, just rank them by balance amount. You make minimum payments on all but the smallest debt and throw everything you possibly can at the small one until it is paid off. This means any extra money you can get your hands on goes to this debt. This could be money from a side job, overtime, or by selling something.

After the first debt is paid off, take all the money you were paying on it plus the minimum payment you were making on the second debt and put it on the second debt. You keep doing this for each debt on the list until all are paid. Each time adding the money from the payments on the previous debt. This is the snowball and it gets bigger as it rolls to each debt.

Snowball Pros and Cons

The advantage (or pro) of the Snowball Method is it gives you a quick psychological boost. Paying off all your debt is not going to be a piece of cake. You didn’t get into debt overnight and you won’t get out overnight. It takes time, discipline and it will probably take some sacrifice. The Snowball Method gives you a quick win and helps you feel like you are making headway. This can give you motivation to stick to it.

The disadvantage is the Snowball Method does not take math into consideration. You may pay your first debt off quickly, but that might be a loan with a small interest rate. Meanwhile, the loan with the large interest rate, say your credit card, is treading water and accumulating interest while it waits for you to get to it.

Avalanche Method

The Avalanche Method is similar to the Snowball, but it considers the interest rate instead of loan balance. In this method, list your debts starting with the largest interest rate down to the smallest. Pay minimum payments on all but the first debt on the list. Throw all the money you can at the first debt until it is paid. Then, like in the Snowball, you add what you were paying on the first debt to the minimum payment of the second and keep going till all debts are paid.

Avalanche Pros and Cons

The pro for the Avalanche is you are considering interest rates. You save money as you pay down the loan with the largest interest rate first. As the loan balance decreases, the amount of interest being charged decreases also.

The con for the Avalanche is emotional. The loan on the top of your list may have a large balance and take months or even years to pay off. This can be discouraging to see all your other debt treading water while you work on the one.

Hybrid Method

The Hybrid Method combines the pros of the Snowball and the Avalanche. Using this method you can pay off one or two small debts first for that quick win to get you motivated. Then as you feel you have the discipline to “Stick To It”, start working on the debt with the largest interest rate. This method is a hybrid of the other two.

One note about credit cards. Your credit card debt may have the largest interest rate of anything on your list. Check into transferring your CC balance to a zero-percent card. If your credit score is high enough, you can open a card with a zero percent interest rate for a period of time (6 or 12 months). This may save you some money as you pay down your debts. WARNING: Don’t do this if you have not changed your spending habits. It will only make your problem bigger!

Choose What Is Right For You

Is there a right or wrong way to pay your debts? Probably not. As with other financial tools like Budgeting or Expense Tracking apps, pick the one that works for you. If sticking to your payoff plan may be hard for you, choose the Snowball. If you think you can stay with it and don’t need the “pat on the back”, pick the Avalanche. If you’re not sure, try the Hybrid.

You can accelerate your journey to being debt free. You can Earn More or Spend Less. Better yet, do both.

One note about interest rates – If you have anything with a greater than 10% interest rate, this is “Hair On Fire”. Address this loan as soon as possible. If you have anything worse, like a payday loan at anywhere from 200 to 2400%, this is “Nuclear Armageddon”! Do Not pass GO, Do Not Collect $200…borrow the money from your brother if you have to. Pay this thing off TODAY!

Conclusion

No matter which method you choose, the much BIGGER point here is to Get Out Of Debt! As I said earlier, these methods are simple. The execution of the plan will take grit. It won’t be easy to turn down that invitation to go out for dinner or forego a vacation. Life may feel very restricted…for a while. Remember, this is a season. It won’t last forever and it will be SO worth it.

Exercise Your Frugal Muscle

One unexpected benefit to the hard work of paying off your debt is you are building your frugal muscle. You will need to really think about every purchase while you pay off your debts. Then when the debts are gone, you will have created your frugal muscle. You will know how to pay attention to your spending. You will be in the perfect position to start saving! And saving money is what sets you up for a great future of financial freedom.

Assignment 1 – Accumulate your $1000 baby Emergency Fund if you don’t already have one. Do it NOW!

Assignment 2 – Pull out all your debts. I mean ALL of them. Make a list of loan balances, minimum payments and interest rates. Decide which pay off method is right for you. List the debts in the order needed for the pay off method you have chosen. Smallest to largest balance for the Snowball. Largest to smallest interest rate for the Avalanche or your choosing for the Hybrid.

Assignment 3 – DO IT!!! You have a plan, so NOW is the time to get started. If you have trouble starting or you just need help from a real person, email me at becky@startedat50.com. Also, don’t forget the FB group Started At 50. We can crowd-source any question you have.

Key Takeaway – Debt is NOT your friend. It robs your future, and more stuff won’t make you happier. Pay off your Debt as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Then you can start to design the future you’ve always dreamed of.

Coming Soon – Managing those Credit Cards

Spreading the Message of Hope in Our FI Community

Becky’s story published on other platforms

Over the last few months I have been interviewed for other podcasts and websites. They have all gone “live” recently. I want to share these with you. Not to pat myself on the back, but because my story contains a message of hope. Hope that you or your loved ones can improve your finances, can improve today, and improve your future. Hope that It’s Not Too Late!

If you aren’t familiar with my story, you can read it here. In a nutshell, my husband Stephen and I made terrible financial decisions – for years! We found ourselves with no income, no emergency fund and paralyzed with fear. We turned things around at age 50 and retired at 63. In those 13 years we paid off our debt, funded 3 weddings, 4 college degrees and saved enough to retire comfortably.

During those bad years, we thought there was not hope. No chance we would ever retire or be free of the fear we lived with because of finances. But, there is hope.

Meet other friends in the FI community

My story has been published recently on two podcasts and one website. The podcasters and website writer come from different backgrounds with different perspectives. The reason they podcast and write are similar to mine: to reach people where they are and give them tools to improve their finances.

I would like for you to meet them and check out their sites. You might find new resources for your toolbelt.

One Life, Live It! Podcast and Go Bucket Yourself Website


Click here for my story on Episode 011.

One Life. Live It! Episode 11
Sound Bite #1
One Life. Live It!
Sound Bite #2

This is a podcast developed by Chris and Debbie Emick. Here is a little about Chris and Debbie and their website/podcast.

Chris and Debbie created Go Bucket Yourself after reaching financial independence by 40 through investing in rental real estate and while raising their two daughters. They were inspired to pay it forward by empowering others to create the life of freedom they desire.

At Go Bucket Yourself, Chris and Debbie believe it’s absolutely possible to build the life your soul is calling you to. All of their content is designed to guide you through overcoming fear, growing your mindset, eliminating obstacles and living an authentic, adventurous life.

On the podcast One Life. Live It!, you’ll hear stories designed to do just that, as well as show you that you’re not alone. There’s a community of folks out there navigating the messy middle of life together who are supporting and learning from each other along the way.

Micro Empires


Click here for my story on Micro Empires dated April 23, 2020.

The Micro Empires podcast is about real people achieving financial independence, one step at a time.  The host, Jennifer Grimson, has some experience with this. After losing everything (twice!), she rebuilt her financial well being using her W2 and some grit. In 4 years, she created $1.4m in income producing investments.  Jennifer pulls no punches, is refreshingly honest, and her guests are too! The guests are people with real experience and provide tactical steps that anyone can take to build toward their own financial independence.

Fiology


Click here for my story on Fiology.com dated May 29, 2020.

Meet David Baughier, the developer of Fiology.com. David believes pursuing Financial Independence results in a happier life.

His passion for educating and helping others led to the curation of the online resource Fiology, where knowledge and confidence in the concepts of Financial Independence build as you experience the 52 free lessons.  

Fiology uses content from the best and brightest of the FI community and creates lessons covering the critical concepts of FI. It is designed to help educate and motivate without scouring the internet reading, watching, and listening – wondering if you’ve educated yourself enough on any particular topic before moving onto the next. The intended audience ranges from those just beginning their FI journey to those who have achieved FI.

You can download a free fillable pdf version of The Fiology Workbook: Your Guide To Financial Independence here.

Final Thought

Check out One Life, Live It!, Micro Empires, and Fiology for other great content. See you next time!

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:10-12

What I’ve Learned Through My Self-Quarantine

I’m sure, by now, we have all learned some new things about ourselves, our spouses, our families and even our pets! This time of quarantine has presented us with challenges and opportunities. Here are a few of mine.

What I’ve Learned in Quarantine

I should have had more money in Bucket 1 or the Cash Bucket. Stephen and I use the Bucket System for allocating our investments. Bucket 1 is cash and cash equivalents, Bucket 2 is Bonds and Bucket 3 is our Total Stock Market Index Fund. Bucket 1 should contain 2-3 years worth of money. Bucket 2 should contain 3-5 years and Bucket 3, the balance of our investments. The market had done so well over the last few years that we got greedy and kept a larger percentage in equities than our plan laid out. When the pandemic hit and the market fell, we found ourselves wishing there was more cash in the cash bucket. We will be fine, but a bigger cash cushion would have been comforting.

Be flexible. One thing Stephen and I always built into our budget plan was flexibility. We have set our budget in 3 phases. Phase 1 is the normal budget with all the bells and whistles. This includes our two biggest spending categories – our race car hobby and travel. Phase 2 would be normal budget without those two big categories. Phase 3 is what we call Skinny Budget, or cutting down all non-essential spending. Interestingly, most of us are probably operating in skinny budget right now. We can’t travel, can’t spend money on entertainment and we’re cooking at home. One thing I hope most of us have learned is that life goes on without all the frills. When life throws you a curve that affects your money, remember it’s probably temporary and you can cut back drastically if you need to.

I was going to use some of my cash to buy more equities, but now… no! When the market first started to tumble a couple of months ago, I reacted like a lot of others in the FI community: “It’s on sale and I should buy more.” As the reality of the virus and our US stock market started to sink in, I realized that this might not be the time to buy…for me. I am not in the wealth accumulation stage anymore, I’m in drawdown. Since I’m not investing new money, it was not a time for me to take my cash (Bucket 1) and invest even though the funds were “on sale.” For others, buying more stocks is a viable option, just not for me.

Now may be a good time to do your ROTH conversion. If you are in a position to do a ROTH conversion, now might be a good time. You can move more shares than before because of the lower per share price. We have moved about two-thirds of our planned 2020 conversion from a Traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA, and will re-evaluate later in the year for the other one-third. (Originally, I had added doing RMD’s to this paragraph, but I believe the IRS has suspended RMD’s for 2020.)

Look at rebalancing your allocations. Most of us probably re-balance our allocations at least once a year. Look at you current allocation. It may be a good time to do your re-balancing. I would also suggest keeping an eye on it for the rest of the year. 2020 may be the year of multiple re-balances.

I’m so thankful I don’t have a mortgage. There is a lot of debate on whether to pay off your mortgage early or invest. This discussion is as charged as the debt snowball vs debt avalanche debate. The right answer is always what’s right for you. For me personally, I’m so glad I don’t have mortgage payments right now. I’ve heard someone say that no matter what side of the mortgage payoff/invest debate you’re on, think about paying off that mortgage before you enter retirement. I agree!! Right now, my only required expenses are food, utilities and insurances. If I still had a mortgage, my expenses would be double.

Be the voice of calm and reason to your friends and family. We will get through this. Not everyone is in the same place emotionally or financially. Some are doing fine, and some have lost loved ones and/or jobs. For the most part, there are tons of “silver linings” that have come out of this quarantine. Be the calming and comforting voice in the ear of your family and friends.

Here are a few tips on ways to use your quarantine time.

Spend time with God. Spend some time to deepen your relationship with your Lord. Pray, meditate on scripture, listen to praise and worship music. Time with your Father is never wasted.

Temper feeling the need to homeschool your kids with just letting them read, play boardgames, play basketball and walk the dog. Every school district is handling the homeschool issue differently. Don’t stress yourself or your kids. Do your best and they will be fine when school starts next fall. The best thing they can do is READ.

If you have older kids, teach them a life skill. Teach them to cook, sew, change the oil, check the air pressure, balance a checkbook, use basic tools or properly clean the house. This is a great opportunity for enhancing life skills.

There are tons of free resources that have been recently added to the internet. Many organizations, like Scholastic, are offering their resources for free. The guys at ChooseFI (choosefi.com) have added several new resources to their website. They can be found on the home page. There is a section called Financial Resilience with tools for this time of quarantine, the Accidental Homeschooler, the K-12 curriculum for financial literacy and the FI 101 online class for adult financial literacy. These resources are all FREE.

Have your kids keep a journal (written, computer, video) of what is happening and their experiences and feelings. We are living in what will be an unprecedented history.

Have you lost your job or afraid you may lose it in the near future? Don’t be too proud to go get another job temporarily. Some businesses like the grocery stores or shipping warehouses are hiring.

Stay in touch with family and friends. Keep the connection with people even though we can’t be together physically. Stephen and I have made a list of people to stay in contact with, and we’ve been surprised by the reaction we get when we call “just to check in.” Even those of us who are introverts needs human contact. God did not create us to be autonomous.

Develop a new skill. This is a great time to develop a new skill or hobby. Especially if you have lost your job or think you might. A new marketable skill could be advantageous in the next few months.

Create your family emergency binder/legacy box. All of us need a set of legal documents like a will, medical directive to physicians and power of attorney. Another set of documents we all need is a family emergency binder or legacy box. This would contain instructions for family members in case of an emergency where you temporarily could not make decisions for yourself, or in case of your death. This is one of the most loving things you can do for your family. Don’t leave those who will come behind you guessing about what you want and where all the documents are. Various versions of this can be found online for a small cost.

Flex your generosity muscle. If you have the resources, give to your local food bank, church’s needs fund, pet shelter, or the local charity of your choice. Get take-out food and give a big tip. Offer to pick up your neighbor’s groceries. Find ways to be extravagantly generous!

This is not an exhaustive list. Please add anything you have discovered in the comments.

Stay safe and healthy! Let’s pray for each other, and we will get through this together!

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11