You’ve seen the get-out-of-debt advice: Quit buying lattes. Sell your stuff. It’s good advice, but it doesn’t apply to you. Because of your low income, a latte hasn’t touched your lips in years. And your stuff? You’ve been limping along for months now. No one wants what you have.
You know Dave Ramsey says you need a bigger shovel to dig yourself out of this hole; but right now, all you have is a trowel. And besides that, the more dirt you scoop out, the more dirt falls back in. Sound familiar? If so, this article is for you.
First, you need to ask yourself one question: Do you want to get out of debt enough to grit your teeth through the discomfort ahead? You have to be determined to challenge your comfort zone, because no matter how uncomfortable it may seem now, challenging your status quo is hard. Next, evaluate every expense — and I mean every expense! – and concentrate your effort on your highest three expenses. Anything that you can cut can be applied to your debt.
If you are like most people, your top three expenses are, in order, housing, transportation, and food. (Several of my recent articles discuss ways to save on food, so I won’t talk about it in this post.) But you may have some credit card debt, medical debt, or car payments that also make you feel like you are drowning. Let’s talk about the housing first.
One of my favorite family stories happened in the early 1930s. A young German immigrant from Chicago couldn’t find work and traveled to my grandmother’s family’s farm. In exchange for room and board, he worked on the farm. For years after, he and his family spent their family vacation at the farm, and he always remained a close friend of the family. It’s not the 1930s anymore, but would you consider traveling to get free housing?
This next idea has some problems associated with it, but I would still consider it. If one of my friends needed help, I would allow them to stay in my home for a predetermined amount of time, with predetermined responsibilities, for free, to allow them to get back on their feet. Do you have friends or family who would be willing to do this?
If you own your home, could you rent out any rooms? Refinancing your mortgage to a longer term will cost more money in the long run; but if what you need is money now, this can free up $200 or so. When your financial situation improves and if interest rates are reasonable, you can always try to refinance again later.
At different times in my life, I really wanted to get rid of our mortgage. Each time, I came up with excuses why it wouldn’t work. The fact is, it is challenging to sell a home, to move, or to downsize; but think of what an unexpected $500 per month would do for your debts and stress level.
If your real estate taxes are unreasonable, you can also contest them.
If you can sell your car, doing so will free up the money you spent for gas, the car payment, insurance, repairs, and all the other expenses that come with a car.
Although we have two paid-for cars, together they have 420,000 miles on them. I see at least one new-to-us vehicle purchase in our future, probably two. As we’ve evaluated our transportation needs, I have also made excuses about how we can’t be a one-car household. Since we live in a rural area, public transportation is minimal, and we live 15 miles from the closest grocery store. Did I mention that it’s a cool -25 degrees with the wind chill here this week? So it doesn’t seem like we could be a one-car household, but is that really true? Can you (can I?) do without a car? Can you ask for rides in exchange for any of your skills? Can you walk to work, take public transportation, or work from home more often?
While vehicles take us places, I believe they can also keep us from making progress. I used to work with a girl who had a vehicle that worked sometimes and guzzled her paycheck frequently. She couldn’t afford to have a vehicle, but she said she couldn’t NOT afford to have one, either. I think of her as I write this. She clearly was working hard and had a great attitude; but she was getting buried alive by expenses, not just transportation expenses. Analyze your transportation situation and clearly evaluate whether or not you need a car and, if so, how you can maximize this four-wheeled investment.
Do you have any children in diapers? While disposable diapers are only about 10 to 20 cents each, factor in 8 fresh changes a day and you’re looking at $48 per month. If you are interested in cloth-diapering, you can get cloth diaper “loans” for free if you’re a low-income family and send them back when you’re done. Other places across the country give away free cloth diapers, too, no strings attached.
Apply any savings (no matter how small) you achieve in the above categories to your debts. But wouldn’t you agree that debt reduction would be even better? Speaking of that…
If you have credit card debt, transfer all debt to the lowest interest rate card. If you have medical debt, contact the hospitals and doctors to see if they have a charity program you can apply for. Many healthcare institutions have foundations that may work with you to pay off or minimize your medical debts.
Will any businesses extend your deadlines or drop your interest rate? The worst thing they can say is no, so ask.
Saving money is obviously only one part of this equation. If you have a low income, you need to make more money, too. Some of my upcoming articles will discuss how to make more money.
But whether you are finding ways to make more money or squeeze more out of your budget, it takes a lot of energy. The problem when you are stressed or overwhelmed with debt is that you may not have energy. If your debt is because of bad personal decisions, you may continually berate yourself, which is also an energy-zapper.
Your best resource will be supportive friends and family who can stand by you until you are standing on solid ground.
If you have had a low income when you paid off debts, which techniques did you use?
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