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Pay Down Your Debt Fast: The Snowball Effect

Pay Down Your Debt Fast: The Snowball Effect

    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!

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    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:

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on November 27, 2020

    How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

    How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

    Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

    In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

    4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

    Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

    1. Be Clear About the Objectives

    Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

    It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

    Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

    2. Keep Goals Realistic

    It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

    It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

    3. Account for Inflation

    Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

    Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

    For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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    4. Short Term Vs Long Term

    Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

    As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

    By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

    How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

    Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

    • Ensuring healthy savings
    • Making smart investments

    You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

    Ensuring Healthy Savings

    Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

    This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

    1. Track Expenses

    The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

    Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

    If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

    2. Pay Yourself First

    Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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    Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

    The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

    Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

    3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

    Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

    Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

    At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

    Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

    You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

    4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

    In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

    Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

    • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
    • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
    • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

    The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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    5. Talk About It

    Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

    Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

    6. Maintain a Journal

    For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

    If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

    When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

    Making Smart Investments

    Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

    1. Consult a Financial Advisor

    Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

    Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

    2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

    Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

    Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

    As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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    3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

    Einstein once remarked about compounding:

    “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

    Use compound interest when setting financial goals

      Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

      Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

      4. Measure, Measure, Measure

      All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

      If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

      Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

      The Bottom Line

      Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

      and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

      More Tips on Financial Goals

      Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

      Reference

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