Paying for school sucks.

You end up getting a decent education (maybe), but come to quickly find out that most of what you learned is not exactly everything you need in the real world. In fact, you may find that you learn more in the first six months at your new job than you did during your entire time at school!

What hurts worse is that most people, at least in the US, are paying more every year for school. This means larger and larger amounts of education debt as well as consumer debt. Think of all that pizza!

But, the size of your debt doesn’t have to scare you. Trust me; it scared the hell out of me for a while. This is how I dealt and continue to deal with it.

Budget

A debt snowball doesn’t work without a good budget in place. I know that this may be the last thing that you want to hear about getting rid of your debt, but seriously, it won’t work without a budget. I didn’t realize the strength of budgeting until I got on the You Need a Budget bandwagon and followed that “system.” This helped me see my life in the form of item buckets and a “Buffer” so I could get close to being a month ahead on all my bills.

Having this leeway in your money is the first step to trying to find the little extra each month to pay down your debt fast. When you have the month buffer sitting in front of you, you can more realistically and with less fear, approach paying down your debts.

Make the list

Next, you need to know the exact amount of each of your debts as well as their interest rates and minimum payments. After you get this information you can make the list in either two forms:

  1. In order from lowest to highest amount.
  2. In order from highest to lowest interest rate.

To be honest, most people will tell you to pay the highest interest rate debts first. That makes sense for the most part, especially if you want to save money with some debts with ridiculously high interest rates. But, I chose to pick my lowest amount first.

Why?

Because I could get satisfaction of paying off one of my debts and see the effects of the debt snowball faster. That’s all.

You should take it by a case to case basis though. Try to weigh how much you owe against the interest rate to see which method is better. You may even need to approach it a different way, like if you have a very low debt amount with a super high interest rate and a huge debt amount with a mediocre interest rate. You have to see which way you are paying more money in the long run, then avoid that way.

The law of three

After you know your minimums and add them and everything else you need in your life to your budget, you should have some shillings left. If you don’t, this isn’t the post to tell you how to make more money. Instead, try to stick to the absolute essentials in your budget. If you have entertainment money; cut it. We will create some of that shortly.

Now that you have some extra money un-budgeted for the month, you have to split it into three equal pieces for:

  1. Savings
  2. Debt
  3. Fun money

Some debt gurus will say that you shouldn’t have any fun money, you should strictly concentrate on paying down debt and saving. I say, “screw that,” that is unless you are in dire straights and need out of debt in a hurry.

This extra money you have for debt, that is the money that you will put on top of your minimum payment to your first debt in the list you made above. Once that first debt is payed off then you will move the minimum plus the extra money for debt to the next debt payment and so one.

See it? A snowball!

Here is what is awesome. None of this accounts for you making more money during the month. As soon as you start pulling in any more money, you can throw it towards you debt, or use it as more play money, or buy some pizza. It doesn’t necessarily matter.

Now calculate

You can do this on paper, if you are like a crazy mathematics ninja, but I prefer the digital way because it is easier to keep track of and idiot proof. One of the best ways that I have found that works on Mac and PC is with the trusty ol’ Vertex42 Debt Reduction Calculator Spreadsheet. I first saw this thing mentioned on Get Rich Slowly in 2006, but it still holds true today. Since then I have migrated to an iPhone app called DebtPayoff Pro that is great. There are many more out there, but these are the ones that have worked well for me in the past and present.

Now that you have a tool you can enter all your debt information, how much money you are going to throw extra toward your debt, and the starting balance date. Then you can get an idea of when certain debts will be paid off as well as when the total debt will be paid off. If you are putting away a decent amount of money extra toward debt, you are going to be very surprised at just how fast your debt diminishes.

Now party

Paying down your debt fast can feel like the biggest burden in your life, especially if you have a lot of it. The truth of the matter is, if you can cover your minimum payments right now and have a little money extra every month, you can put a serious hurtin’ on your debt.

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