Today, we feature an insightful article by Brian from Debt Discipline.
Debt is one of those four letter words that most of us know but often don’t use in conversation. Talking about money, in general, is one of those taboo subjects. Why is that?
I know for my family and me it was simple, we never had any real education on the topic. We just followed the masses thinking everyone has debt, so it was okay for us to have it too, which lead to us becoming deep in debt for years and frankly we were ashamed to talk about it.
Our get into and stay in debt formula was straight forward. We didn’t have a plan for our money, and we never had a budget, we regularly overspent, using credit cards, we never had cash savings and always paid the minimum balances on our cards each month.
This debt formula slowly and painfully built a six-figure pile of debt. It wasn’t until we hit rock bottom that we decided to change our behavior with money.
That change took educating ourselves on the topic of money and personal finance, by finding books, and blogs. It took coming to an agreement with my wife on how we’d spend and save our money going forward. We did this in the form of our first budget. We involved our three children in the discussion as well. We wanted them to be aware of the change, and learn with us too.
Making a change with your money habits and behaviors is like any other change it will be hard at first, but after some time, it gets easier, as the new behavior becomes routine.
We found this to be the case. We also saw some fantastic side effects of the change our stress was reduced, and our relationship grew. The fact that we were now organized with our money we didn’t worry when those unexpected life events occurred that involved money because we had a plan. My wife and I communicated more often and were working towards common goals which strengthen our relationship.
I’m no longer shy about talking about our debt. So much so that I started speaking locally about it and got involved with my local school district to help promote financial literacy. My goal is to help others change their behavior with debt and money. Here are some of my favorite tips for you to change your behavior to avoid debt.
Define a Why
Anytime you want to make a change in your life, you’ll need a reason. Typically we don’t wake up and say I’m going to lose 20 pounds without a health reason or a new bikini driving that goal.
If you want to make a behavior change stick with your money and avoid debt, you’ll need a “why.” Just ask yourself why do you want to get out of debt?
My reasons were to reduce stress, build wealth, and provide better for my family. A why helps sets the motivation for the ups and downs you’ll face during the early going of the change. When I was having a particularly bad day and feel like spending more money than what was in the budget, I thought of my wife and children and the agreement we had.
It helps act as an accountability partner so to speak. It’s good to have one of those too. Many self-help groups refer to them as sponsors, a person you can reach out to for help, guidance or support when you have a bad day.
Know Your Numbers
Don’t worry no calculus is required. This is pretty simple math. It is as easy as grabbing a pen and paper and jotting down all of your monthly numbers. You’ll want two columns one for all income and another for all expenses.
This will give you a first overview of how much money you have coming in and going out each month. There are plenty of ways to capture this information like in a spreadsheet, software or apps on your smartphone.
The goal is to give yourself a starting point on your numbers. If you have more money outgoing (bills) then incoming (income) then cuts will need to be made if its the other way around you need to understand where the surplus goes each month.
A tip I also recommend is to save all receipts or review all bank transaction for a 2-3 month period to truly see where all of your money is going. By doing this, you might find some spending habits that you didn’t initially capture.
Build a Blueprint
What does a sports coach use? A playbook. What do you usually follow for a meeting? An agenda. What does a builder use to construct a house? Blueprints.
One you have a why defined and have your overall number capture the next step is to build a money blueprint for moving forward. Some like to call it a budget and others don’t, but either way, it’s the plan that will help determine where your money goes.
There’s no one size fit all plan, as everyone’s goals and numbers will be different. Some may have debt to pay off and use a technique like the debt snowball. Other may need to cut expenses, and some may need to increase income. Whatever it is, this is the step to build it, agree upon it and put it in action.
The action will be the biggest hurdle because that’s the change in your behavior being made. It will take some time to adjust to your new money habits, and it may be stressful and feel more comfortable to go back to the way things were before. That’s when you need to push through and rely on your “why” and accountability partner to push through. After some time, maybe as much as 2-3 months these new behaviors will become routine.
Once you’ve done all the defining, number gathering and plan building having regular communication about this work are critical. If you are single, finding someone who you trust to review this information and be your sounding board would help you meet your goals.
With a spouse or significant other having regular check-ins to review and adjust the plan is important. Life happens; things changes and adjustments may need along the way.
We found this type of communication invaluable. It’s kept my wife and me on the same page with our finances and built a stronger relationship. We also began to involve our children too. It helped them understand changes and began to teach them how to handle money.
Making a behavior change with your money won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
About the author: Brian is the founder of Debt Discipline – a blog about getting and staying out of debt. He and his family paid off over $109,000 worth of debt.