Get Out of Debt Fast With This Double-Barreled Approach

“Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.” – Benjamin Franklin

Do you spend more than you make? I used to. Struggling to pay for my education and start a family, I overspent because it seemed to provide some happiness, some relief.

But the thrill of buying stuff soon waned. Each new object brought less relief. Eventually, I realized that I was getting 80% of my pleasure from experiences that didn’t cost much money. But recognizing that you don’t need junk food and kicking the habit are two distinct things.

Here’s how I got myself out of debt:

First, I got rid of all my credit cards. I figured that what I couldn’t buy for cash was either worthless or worth saving for. Although the fear of going without credit was great, I never experienced any anxiety after I trashed the cards. It was surprisingly easy — much as it was for my family to live without television. It seemed like a drastic decision before we made it — but a half-hour after the TV set was gone, we never gave it another thought.

The second important thing I did to get out of debt was start saving. I had made myself a promise that I would save a percentage of my take-home pay — but I never did it. The breakthrough here came when, talking to a friend about how the IRS could never collect 20% to 40% of our income except through the evil genius of withholding, I recognized I had to do the same thing to myself. The only way I was going to save money was to be forced to.

The solution was available in a new-at-the-time savings-bank program, one that withdrew a set amount of money from my account every month and put it in another one. That program allowed me to gradually increase my savings from 10% to 25% and pay down my debt in a few years.

If you are spending more than you are making, get rid of your credit cards. And to get used to spending less, remind yourself repeatedly that most of the junk you buy (a) becomes unused after a few months and (b) doesn’t provide you with that much value anyway. Remember that the best things in life — the picnics you have with your family, the walks you take with your lover, the time you spend with your friends — are free, or nearly so.

Create a separate bank account that pays your debt down or have your debts automatically deducted from the one account you have. You might even consider a debt consolidator. (But watch out; most of them are crooked.) Increase the amount of your take-home that goes into debt payments every month. You might start, for example, at 10% and then increase that by 5% a month. Six months from now, you could be living on half of what you spend now — and I’ll bet you will be feeling a lot better about yourself.

You’ll have less stress, more energy, more confidence, and the beginnings of a lifelong habit of wealth building. There are so many ways to save money. You can spend less on just about anything without giving up either the pleasure you take in buying or the quality you get from your purchases.

Instead of buying new clothes that will be out of style in a year, buy vintage clothing that looks great and distinguishes you. Instead of signing a lease for an expensive car you can’t afford, find something old but still good that has a personality. Instead of going out to lunch every day, eat some fish or other protein at your desk. (This is one of the things I did. By eating a can of tuna every day instead of going to lunch with my co-workers, I saved almost $2,500 in a single year — plus I went from staff editor to publisher by applying that extra lunch-hour time to improving the business.