Whether your current debt is large or small, the challenge of getting out from under bills and “I owe yous” can feel insurmountable.

Free yourself from the quicksand by doing the following.

1. Acknowledge that Houston, we do have a problem.

If you are in debt, you have a problem. The degree to which the problem is manageable depends on whether you are in planned, deliberate debt, such as student loans or the purchase of a specific type of vehicle for work; or in chaotic debt, such as the kind that results from taking too many pretty dates out for expensive drinks you can’t afford. You must accept that debt is a problem before you can fix it. So throw your hand in the air, state your name, affirm that you have a challenge before you, and commit to meeting that challenge and free yourself from debt.

2. Take stock of the situation.

Why are you in debt? What are you spending money on? How much money are you making? Has your debt increased, or are you having trouble climbing out from under hefty interest payments? Are your expenses driving you further into debt, or is it the costs associated with caring for a family member? Don’t worry about finding solutions just yet—first, identify the problem areas.

3. Step back from your emotions.

Spending habits are deeply personal, because they reflect our priorities. There are often added layers of shame, guilt, and regret when discussing debt.  Recognize that none of those emotions will help you solve your current debt problem, and step away from them.  Focus on the fact that you are taking control, you are asserting yourself, and you are disciplined and focused enough to make this happen, all of which are positive emotions.

4. Break out your pen.

Dedicate a notebook or binder to your “get out of debt” plan. Write down anything you identified as a problem area. Be sure to list all debts, who or what you owe money to, and your current payment schedule.

5. Stop flailing.

While you are evaluating your spending habits and developing a course of action to correct your debt, stop spending. It is much easier to evaluate how and why the boat is leaking without more water pouring in. When you make purchases again, you will be able to do so with deliberate intention.

6. Record all expenditures.

Create a section in your notebook, or an online spreadsheet, to evaluate all expenditures over the course of the last six months. Print credit card statements, online bank records, and dig those receipts out of your purse, car, and gym bag. You must gain an accurate picture of where your money is going, and if debt is a problem, you likely don’t have this picture as in focus as you would like.

7. Identify patterns.

Can you identify patterns in your spending? Do you, for instance, always break the bank when you visit certain stores, or the day you get your paycheck? Do you spend a great deal of money on certain activities?

8. Categorize spending, and prioritize.

Food, water, basic shelter, simple transportation, and functional clothing are needs.  Everything else is a “want.”  Break your spending into categories, starting with “needs” and “wants.”  Cut out all unnecessary items, and realize this might mean your cable subscription, smart phone, high speed internet, and a slew of other high-tag luxuries modern man is accustomed to having at his fingertips.

9. Be willing to make big changes.

Is rent eating you alive, or are you spending high dollars in gas each month to commute? You may have to move, locally or to another state, to lower your cost of living. You may have to drastically downsize. You may have to put that hobby on hold for a while. Commit to doing whatever it takes to get out of debt.

10. Seek expert help.

You are not the only person to stagger under debt, nor will you be the last. Talk to a financial planner at your bank, or attend a debt management class. There are numerous resources available.

11. Do your own research.

Anytime the subject is money, be sure to actively engage your brain, scrutinizing all information you receive to confirm or reject its application to your financial situation. Get a library card, and spend some quality time there getting smart on financial management basics, as well as any unique considerations you may have. Bonus: libraries often offer basic financial management classes

12. Get creative in boosting income.

An extra dollar earned is an extra dollar to pay off that debt.  No opportunity is too menial, too demanding, or too low-paying for your time; if you’re in debt, you literally cannot afford to pass up income opportunities. Take a formal second job, or babysit, walk dogs, shovel manure at a community barn, scrub dishes, freelance online—aggressively seek opportunities for additional income and seize them.

13. Pay the maximum monthly amount possible.

Does your lender have penalties for paying off your debt early? Pay the maximum monthly amount possible without penalty, on time, every month.

14. Stay the course.

It took you a while to accumulate debt, and it is going to take you a while to get out from under it. Remain patient, keep chipping away at it, and soon you will be debt free and relaxed.

Featured photo credit: LendingMemo.com via flickr.com

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