Madoline and I live in fear of debt; that is one of the reasons we are so vigilant about saving money. We have witnessed firsthand the consequences of extravagant spending and debt (perhaps we will share these stories at a later time), and that is why we live the way we do. So how do we stay out of debt? The solution is so simple it almost doesn’t seem like bona fide advice, but it really is.
I know everyone hates hearing these trite statements, but the reason they are so often repeated is because they are true. In fact, they are so basic they should be considered common sense. These principles work for both staying out of (and maybe even getting out of) debt.
The simple solutions to staying out of debt are:
- Spend less than you make
- Don’t waste money
- If your expenses are higher than your income
- Cut back, and/or
- Make more money
How to spend less than you make
Before you spend money on any treats for yourself, set aside what you need to pay your regular bills. If you aren’t able to keep from spending that money by only mentally setting it aside, try the following:
- Open a new bank account for your regular expenses (rent, utilities, etc.). Tip: Credit unions offer accounts without fees or minimum balances. Let’s call this account your “Expenses Account.”
- Add up all your bills and expenses at the beginning of each month and transfer that amount from your main account to your Expenses Account.
- If the bank or credit union issues you an ATM card and/or checks for that account, keep them in a safe place at home instead of carrying them in your wallet or purse.
- If you get paid every 2 weeks and your bills are due at the end of the month, try not to spend any money on luxuries with the first paycheck of the month. If your expenses are less than the amount of your paycheck, put all of that amount into your Expenses Account, plus a little extra padding just to be safe (to prevent overdraft charges in case you added wrong).
- After you have set aside all the money necessary to pay your bills, see how much you have left. Put as much into savings as possible, but if you feel like you need to treat yourself to a little something, do so at your own discretion.
How to not waste money
Money wasted is money you will never see again. And money is one of the easiest things to waste and justify (at least at the moment of the wasting). The easiest way to keep from wasting money is to ask yourself the simple, and again oft-repeated, question of “Do I really need to buy this [item]”? It is likely that 60% or more of the time, you will find that you really don’t need it after some thought. But if just asking yourself this question isn’t enough for you, try some or all of the following:
- When tempted with an impulse purchase, leave it and think about it a week later. Don’t go and look at the item, but just think about it. Looking at it might bring the impulse back. After a week, see if you still really want it. Chances are that you will no longer feel as strongly about it as you did before.
- When there is something you really want to buy, make a list of “Reasons why you need this item” and “Reasons why you should not buy this item”. Take a look at your reasons and see if they are good enough reasons to justify the expenditure.
- If you do need to buy something, spend some time to research the quality of what you buy. Many websites have consumer opinions on all sorts of products. If you do spend money, make sure you are spending it on something that will last you a good while. Don’t compromise your desire or need for something by settling for something cheap and of inferior quality that won’t last in usefulness or value.
- Think about the potential of that money. Check out my earlier article Prune Your Spending and Watch the Savings Grow and use the savings interest calculator to see how much a few dollars here and there can grow into a sizable nest egg in future years.
How to cut back on spending
If your expenses are higher than your income, then go through all your bills and see which ones you can do without or downgrade. Do you really need lightning speed internet on your personal computer? Do you really need 1000 minutes, internet and 200 text messages on your personal cell phone? Check out these previous articles I have written that deal with lowering expenses.
- Discerning Luxury from Necessity – This is a basic guide to get you started on figuring out what you need and don’t need
- 20 Minutes Can Save $180 & Tips for Receiving Better Customer Service – This is an article on how I saved some money just by contacting my ISP to ask about lower rates.
- Insurance Matters: The Cost of Complacency – The lesson I learned about assuming that my auto insurance company was still giving me the best rate after I relocated.
How to increase your income
There are many ways of increasing your income. It doesn’t have to be a major endeavor, but a little bit of extra money never hurts. Here are a just a few suggestions for what you can do to increase your income. Some are one-time solutions, and others are things that you can do continuously.
- Sell your stuff
Go through your things and find some things you no longer need but are good enough to pass on. Hold a garage or yard sale, or offer them for sale on one of the many online trading sites. I know someone who always has to have the newest technology – computers, cell phones, MP3 Players, etc. I imagine he must have thousands of dollars’ worth of still good technology just sitting around his house.
- Sell your abilities
Do you have a skill not possessed by everyone? If you speak a 2nd or 3rd language, play a musical instrument, or have some knowledge of a subject, you can tutor or teach from your home or create an informative website on to earn ad money. If you are good at crafts, fixing electronics, woodworking, minding children, or any other special skill, there are numerous ways to earn a little money here or there and you may even end up being a professional in a field you never considered seriously. Some people do not even know how to install software on their personal computers and will pay to have this common task done for them.
- Open a CafePress Store
If you have photographic, artistic or graphics ability, open a CafePress shop. All you have to do is upload your images and create products with your artwork on them. Check out our store Mozartini, which we started in December 2007 and has begun to make more money each month. We love CafePress because once the artwork is up and products created, all you have to do is wait for the money to come it. CafePress takes care of customers, prints and ships the orders and sends you a check. I just love waking up in the morning and finding those “You’ve made a sale at CafePress” emails.
- Check out a few other suggestions by my fellow financial blogger, Jonathan from Master Your Card, who recently wrote a guest post for us: Five Ways to Make Some Extra Income on the Side.