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This article was written by our guest Jeff from DollarSprout. All thoughts expressed are solely those of the author. Enjoy!
Credit card debt: It’s something that most of us, at some point or another, have to deal with in our lives.
Once we take on that debt, it can be tough to get rid of. It’s sort of like having a monkey on your back…except for most Americans, it’s more like having an 800 lb gorilla crushing down on your shoulders.
According to a 2017 study by NerdWallet, the average American household that is carrying credit card debt has a balance of $15,983.
When I first dipped into the scary world of credit cards, I did it for the same reason so many others do: I needed the help. I was almost a year into starting my own business, and things weren’t going so great.
I knew I was going to need to pick up an extra job to make things work, but until I did that, using a credit card was my only option.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but having a low credit limit really saved me. I only racked up about $2,000 in credit card debt – nothing to shake a stick at, but still well below the nearly $16K average.
Paying off that $2,000 in credit card debt as a single guy living on a (very) modest income wasn’t easy. Along the way, I learned a lot about myself and my attitude towards money.
Here are the three biggest mindset shifts that helped me finally break free from what felt like a very crippling debt at the time. Whether you have $2,000 or $20,000 (or more) in credit card debt, maybe you can apply one of these to your own situation.
1. I stopped ignoring the problem
It’s weird. One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll find on personal finance blogs is to “automate your bill payments.” And 99% of the time, I think automation is a great way to stay on top of everything.
But for me, that was the worst thing I could have done for my credit card debt!
By automating my (minimum) monthly credit card payment, my credit card debt suddenly became out of sight, out of mind.
My interest rate was just a touch under 17%…definitely not something I should have been content paying the monthly minimums on. At $15 a month, I was going to have this debt for what felt like forever.
After about a year of making the monthly payments, I logged in and saw that my balance was basically the same as when I had started.
That’s when I knew I needed to get it together and actually do something about it.
2. I relentlessly focused on boosting my income
Having a scarcity mindset when it comes to money will only get you so far. There’s only so much room we can make in our budget.
That being said, we all have massive untapped potential for increasing our income. Whether that means starting a freelance side hustle, finding a higher paying job, getting a pay raise, or something else, there are so many ways to make extra money.
When I decided to start taking my credit card debt seriously, I didn’t want to cut out even more from my already bare-bones budget.
I couldn’t just “find” an extra $2,000 hiding somewhere in my budget. I needed to create that extra money, on top of what I was already making.
Since I was self-employed, that put all the pressure on me. It was time to step up my game in my business and finally make a dent in this debt.
Here’s what that looked like for me, in all its non-sugar-coated glory:
- I temporarily stripped out all non-essential activities in my business that didn’t immediately generate revenue
- I worked 7 days a week (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, but as a single guy in my late 20s it worked for me)
- I cut out as many workday distractions as I could (limiting social media time, YouTube tangents, etc.)
Was this fun? Of course not. It sucked.
Credit card debt is a beast – in most cases, it’s going to require some discipline and sacrifice to get out of it!
3. I created a payoff plan for my credit card debt
Once I made the decision to tackle my debt with an earn more mindset versus a making ends meet mindset, it was time to come up with a plan to get it done.
I needed something better than “pay $15 a month until I die.”
I decided to set a goal to pay $500 a month and completely pay off everything within 4 months.
$500 a month felt lofty, especially considering the fact that I was only paying $15 a month up until that point. That’s the point, though: I wanted to be as aggressive as realistically possible!
Now it was totally up to me to — any way I could — come up with an extra $500 a month. And since I felt like my business was making progress, I knew this was 100% possible for me.
A surprising outcome
With my plan in motion and hustle mode in full gear, I was off to the races.
The first month in, I was able to make my first $500 payment.
(I run a blog full-time, so my increased income came from a combination of affiliate income, sponsorships, and other writing-related gigs).
Making that first lump sum payment was a huge rush for me. It’s quite hard to explain, actually, but somehow seeing my balance drop by that much really lit a fire inside me.
My motivation was through the roof.
The next month I worked even harder.
And wouldn’t you know, my business income went up again as a result. In fact, I made enough extra that I could afford to pay off the remaining balance 2 months ahead of my plan!
And I did:
The biggest barrier to paying off your debt is YOU
I carried a credit card balance of roughly $2,000 for 14 months.
After I made the choice to get real with myself, the debt was gone in two months.
Sure, I had less debt than the average household (fortunately), and my life circumstances allowed me to kick my workload up a notch. What’s practical for me might not work for someone else, and vice versa.
Even though all of our debt situations are unique, I’m convinced that a few simple shifts in thinking can help all of us pay off credit card debt more effectively.
Looking at your own credit card debt situation, what are some changes YOU could make to finally break free?
Jeff Proctor writes about all sorts of money topics over at DollarSprout.com. When he’s not busy whipping up new content for readers, he enjoys working out and playing golf with his dad. You can follow his blog on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.