Having a pile of debt hanging over your head on a daily basis is certainly not enjoyable. For many, the idea of cutting expenses to take care of it more quickly seems even worse. You might be thinking to yourself that your budget is tight compared to most people’s, but that comparison is often a mistake.
Instead of comparing our budget or lifestyle to that of others, we should work on aligning our financial goals and priorities.
Separating Luxuries from Necessities: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
I’m going to ask a few questions that might make you feel a bit grouchy — I know I feel that way when I consider my own answers. However, in order to become more efficient we have to shine a light on our weaknesses.
Answer the following questions honestly:
- Do you find yourself using other people’s financial decisions to support your spending habits?
- Are you using phrases like “I deserve this,” or “just this one time,” to justify purchases?
- Do you use your own bad luck or family history to rationalize repeatedly making poor financial decisions?
- Is your monthly budget being affected by purchases made when you are just feeling lazy?
- Are any of your monthly expenses due to a need to keep up false appearances in front of friends and/or family?
- Could you be spending more time being productive and less money on lazy entertainment (TV, junk food, video games, etc)
If you answered yes to any of those questions, there is definitely some room left to increase your monthly financial efficiency. (I am pretty sure we can all admit that we are guilty of that last one)
Increasing Your Monthly Financial Efficiency to Pay Off Debt
Whether you are married or single, working with one income or multiple, your financial efficiency depends entirely on striking a balance. There are certain expenses that can’t be cut (rent, health and car insurance, etc). I am not going to suggest cutting the essentials.
Getting married? Ask these student debt questions before the big day.
5 Items You Need to Cut from Your Budget
Of course, your motivation to cut costs will depend on your goals — and more importantly the “why” behind those goals. I can’t change whether your “why” is enough to make deeper cuts to your expenses. I can tell you about some of the things I know you can live without if you want to pay off debt badly enough.
Cable TV & Streaming Services:
Obviously, this one is at the top of the list because it is completely unnecessary. Even so, many of us struggle with the idea of losing that form of instant and nearly endless entertainment. Once you cut cable and streaming services from your budget, you’ll absolutely feel a shock. However, as time goes on, you’ll find other (hopefully more productive) ways to use your time.
Consider learning something new with your spare time, or making an effort to spend more time with family. You might not know what happened on the latest episode of that new show, but you’ll have time to get things done! (like that workout plan I’ve been putting off for several months…)
Dining Out & Drinking:
Another challenging way to cut expenses is by forfeiting your restaurant and alcohol budget. A tight budget means that you stick to eating at home whenever possible. No more noon runs to the drive-thru at lunch because you didn’t pack a lunch for work. No more late nights buying expensive drinks at the bar downtown.
If you want to trim your budget while you pay off debt quickly, cutting out spending on eating and drinking away from home will certainly help. (Bonus points for challenging yourself to learn more about cooking delicious meals while you are chipping away at debt!)
Unhealthy Treats at Home:
Making healthy, filling meals and avoiding snacking can save you money and even help you lose weight. Kick unhealthy treats and snacks out of your house. It means denying your late night cravings for that bag of chips or ice cream bar. It also means more dollars going towards your debt, and a quicker payoff date.
(Bonus points if you’re lucky enough to lose a few inches along the way!) You might think that the treats will make life more enjoyable while you’re paying off debt, but they’ll taste even better when you’re debt-free.
Purchasing *New* Clothes:
There are times when you’ll need to pick up an item of clothing for a special event or even for work. Outside of those rare occasions are all the other, unnecessary clothing purchases that you can cut out of your budget. Shopping is one of those sneaky habits that can really take you off track. If you’re one of the “I deserve this” shoppers, you might even find yourself feeling angry at the thought of giving up your freedom to make spontaneous purchases. Channel your discipline in the short-term so you can have the long-term happiness of a life without debt.
If you can’t cut the craving for adding something “new” to your wardrobe, consider heading to Goodwill to find something “new to you” for a great deal.
Cellular Data Plan:
Holy cow, I know this one sounds about as fun as wiping out on gravel. Not only is it entirely possible to survive without an expensive phone and data plan, but it might actually boost your happiness and increase your ability to live in the present. Not only do you have access to wifi most of the time, but you’ll find that you don’t actually NEED the internet when you’re out and about. Sure, it’s nice being able to search Google whenever you have a question, or use the GPS to get directions while driving, but people survived without those things for a long time. You can definitely make it work while you are working to pay off debt.
There are lots of smaller, local cell service providers that offer more affordable phones and plans to make ends meet with a tight budget. Don’t be afraid to disconnect a bit!
The Millennial Brain: Why Should I Have to Live With Less?
If you skimmed the tips and ideas above and found yourself saying, “I work really hard. Why should I have to live with less just to pay off debt I don’t deserve to have?” then it should tell you that the “why” behind your goal to pay off debt isn’t big enough.
Many people of my generation especially, feel frustrated, angry, and find themselves surrounded by student loan debt. As individuals, we have to actively choose not to fall into the trap of believing that we can ignore our financial situation just because it makes us uncomfortable.
Having the Choice to Live with Less is a Privilege
If ridding our lives of unnecessary, convenience-based expenses is all it takes to succeed, then it’s within our power to see it through. If we are lucky enough to have the opportunity and the means to pay off our debts, we should jump at the chance to make it happen.
A life free from the heavy shackles of seemingly endless monthly payments may seem outside of your reach. I know that when my husband and I finished school and took a step back to look at our own debt, it certainly seemed like more than we could handle.
Success Lies in Finding a Bigger “Why”
The key to tackling our debt was finding a “why” that was bigger than our need to attain a certain lifestyle. The “why” behind the goal of paying off debt comes into play whenever we find ourselves overwhelmed or tempted to give up.
Ask yourself whether you’re prioritizing luxuries over necessities, and consider whether the “why” behind your debt payment goals is big enough to take on any bumps along the way.
Explore More Money & Debt Payoff Inspiration
Find more inspiration and ideas for getting rid of debt and living with intention in the Life and Finances categories. We’re all on a journey to make the most of the time we are given, so keep reading and get on board. Let’s do this!
Need to get your spouse on board? Check out these tips to take the fight out of financial goals.