A reader at Lifehacker writes:

Over the past few years, I’ve accrued some painful, albeit modest, debt. Since I trust Lifehacker readers with my life(hacking), I’d love to hear some tips and strategies for getting out of debt. So, any advice?

First of all — and this is important — DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

You might notice that there’s some conflicting advice in this thread. “Pay off your highest interest rate debts first.” “No! Pay off your lowest balance debts first.” Etc. Different methods work for different people. Yes, there are theoretical “best methods”, but so what?

The best method didn’t work for me. I had to pay off my debts by tackling low balances first. This had a tremendous psychological payoff, a payoff that has kept me going. I spent years struggling to pay off my highest interest rate debts first, but I always gave up because there was not obvious progress.

This is what worked for me. I might not work for others. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

If you really do struggle with debt, then the most important thing you can do is DON’T TAKE OUT ANY MORE DEBT. Cut up your credit cards immediately. As you pay each one off, cancel it. Don’t equivocate. You don’t need them. Nobody needs a credit card. And if you’ve had problems with them in the past, the worst thing you can do is hold onto them. It’s like an alcoholic keeping a couple beers in the fridge.

The the next thing you need to do is understand how money works. It’s basic stuff, but many of us ignore it. Basically, you need to earn more than you spend. Sounds dumb, huh? But it’s important and it’s true. Reduce your spending and increase your income.

How can you increase your income? Sell things. Sell all the stuff you bought to get into debt. If you have a shiny new car, sell it. Buy a $3000 used car to replace it. If you have a shiny new laptop computer, sell it. Sell all the toys you bought while going into debt. Use craigslist. Use eBay. Work two jobs. Work overtime. Do whatever you can to bring in extra money.

How can you reduce spending? Don’t leave your house. Don’t go to the mall. Don’t expose yourself to advertising. Don’t give into peer pressure. Don’t buy things. It’s as simple as that. Avoid temptation.

Debt can be overwhelming. I know. I’ve been there. You think you can’t possibly recover. The good news is: you can. It takes hard work, but you can do it. Read personal finance books. Read my personal finance site — I cover this sort of stuff all the time.

Read about other people who have successfully escaped debt. Set goals. Work toward them.

Earn more. Spend less.

And get rid of those credit cards!

The most important thing is to start now! Waiting to get out of debt is a fool’s game. It helps nothing. Start now. Start with baby steps if you need, but do something.

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