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Three Tips for Living a Debt-Free Life

Written by Steve Repak on January 14, 2014 in Credit  |   10 comments

Paying off debt can feel impossible, and can get harder the longer your debt lingers. Fortunately, with a few simple steps and a positive outlook, it is possible to get out—and stay out—of debt.

pay off debtPaying off debt isn’t easy, and it takes time. In addition, the thought of getting out of debt can become more daunting the longer your debt lingers.

As I’ve gotten older and gone through the financial highs and lows of life, my perspective on debt has changed. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to live debt free, and I know from experience that there are things you can do to get out—and stay out—of debt.

1. Change your perspective. I believe there is no such thing as good debt. I am not saying that all debt is bad, but having outstanding debt of any kind adds significant risk to your financial health.

Buying a house, paying for an education, or starting a business are a few examples of debt that can be worth taking on—and paying off. Unpaid bills and high credit card balances, on the other hand, can be very harmful to your financial well-being. These types of debt don’t pay off down the line and aren’t worth having. Over the long term, it’s safer to have no outstanding debt.

2. Pay yourself first. Before you pay any bills or spend any money, you should pay yourself. The car that sits out in your driveway, that new pair of shoes you just bought, that big screen TV hanging in the family room—these things could not care less if you lose your job or have an unexpected emergency.

It’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when you’ll face unexpected expenses. If you haven’t been paying yourself (putting money into your savings), then you will have no choice but to rely on credit cards to get through your financial predicament.

3. Conduct a periodic spending checkup. If you can spend less money than you earn each week, chances are you can live debt free. If you’re having a difficult time making ends meet, try tracking all of your spending for two weeks to see exactly where your money is going. Then, see where you may be able to cut back.

Once your finances are under control, it is still a great idea to periodically track your spending. Just like diet and exercise, after a period of time most people become complacent and fall back into bad habits with their spending.

Just as you go to the doctor or dentist for a periodic checkup, it’s important to do the same for your spending. Start paying yourself, if you haven’t already, and assess what’s most important to you—living debt free or, for example, having a designer wardrobe. I bet you’ll find that enjoying a debt-free life later is worth making some small sacrifices now.

Steve Repak, CFP®, is the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money.

10 comments

  1. James says:

    These are all great tips! I got a ton of credit card offers in the mail, maybe not a ton but it felt that way. I had to finally opt-out!

  2. Mikah J. says:

    I wish I knew then what I know now. I wonder how many of us think this when we look back at our financial history! Good advice is usually simple and straight-forward, and that is what this is. If you are in debt, get his book and read it at least once a month. It’s short, simple and very motivational.

  3. Brenda J says:

    This does not work well, having problems with disputes.

  4. Randy S says:

    Know the difference between “wants” and “needs” keeps my perspective in check when it comes to spending my money.

  5. D.H. says:

    Mr. Repak:

    I’m pretty sure that incurring debt is the only way to establish credit—and the only way to establish a credit score. Right or wrong?

    Few people are well off enough to never incur debt, i.e., the few that can pay cash for everything from soup to nuts.

    And then there was that very rare person of movie fame, who carried around the British 1 million pound note and couldn’t get change for it at restaurants, the tailor, the grocery store, etc. It seems that all of the vendors were happy not to charge this person—in exchange for the publicity that in turn led to additional customers for them.

    • Steve Repak- the author of "Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money" says:

      D.H
      You don’t have to incur debt to build your credit. A great example would be a secured credit card where you use your savings account as collateral. You are true to say that only a few are well enough to never incur debt. I am just saying that debt no matter how you look at it, can get people into trouble. I did mention that there are three things that might not be consider bad debt. (house, education, or starting a business) As a FYI- I left the service with over $32,000 of Credit Card debt so I write about debt not as an outsider but from personal past experience.

  6. Rafael Garcia says:

    I believe that debt is a malignant conduct wich provoke depression as drugs do and the person need more debt to feel happy. I suggest a mental health specialist or religious help.

  7. Stephanie says:

    There is also a responsible way of incurring debt if you are looking to establish credit…pay if off regularly and don’t run up a balance that you cannot afford to pay off. The point is that debt is potentially harmful to your long-term financial health – it brings more risk into the picture. And too many people use it irresponsibly. If they don’t already, they should offer a budgeting/finance course in high school!

  8. Laura says:

    I concur with the idea that most debt can pose a problem. People need to realize what they think of as a NEED is often just a WANT to keep up with everyone else. I have budgeted and done without (dishwasher, dryer, cable, intranet,cruises, etc.) and find myself in my 60′s with managable debt. I pay my 1 credit card off each month. I pay bills on time. I save a little each paycheck so vacations are paid for before I go and I have money to spend. I have done all this with the goal of retiring a couple years early and not having debt when I retire. It has taken a lifetime of planning but it can be done. Just stick to the plan. There are often unexpected expenses but get through it then get back on your plan. You CAN DO IT.

  9. Tom P. says:

    Having medical emergencies that you don’t plan on really hurt and I felt I had no other choice but to pay some of my medical bills with my credit cards. I will just have to work longer now but I really hate having any debt.


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