This is a guest post from Adam Jusko, founder of IndexCreditCards.com, a credit card information site where you can compare credit card offers. Please consider following Adam on Twitter for quick credit tips and opinions.
As the founder of a website about credit cards, I’m sometimes asked by financial reporters what advice I’d give to people trying to get out of debt. This used to stump me a bit, because the only true answer is “spend less than you earn and pay down your debt.” But of course, it’s not that easy.
Just as weight loss requires a certain psychological change that goes beyond “burn more calories than you eat,” so too does debt reduction. In fact, when climbing out of debt, you can adapt many of the same strategies used for successful weight loss. Let’s look at a few to see how you can put yourself on a financial diet that will lead to debt loss:
- Take it slow to build new habits – If you’ve ever heard the term “yo-yo dieting”, you know that it’s common for people to lose weight quickly, then put all that weight back on again once the “diet” is over. Why? Because it was a short-term fix, not a permanent change in behavior. The same is true of debt. You can put yourself on a complete financial sacrifice program to pay down your debt quickly, but once the debt is paid, you’ll feel deprived and you won’t have new habits to sustain you over the long haul. So, take it slow. Create a debt reduction program that requires real change in financial behavior but not a program that is such a shock to the system that you’ll never be able to maintain it.
- Make it public (at least somewhat) – A common goal-setting tactic for weight loss (and other goals as well) is to tell someone about the goal you’ve set. Doing so achieves a few worthy objectives: (1) friends & family understand changes in your behavior, (2) they encourage you toward your goal, and (3) you feel more committed because you want the praise that comes with success (or want to avoid admitting failure, depending on what motivates you). It may not be fun to tell of your debt, but people that care about you want to help you reach your goals. So tell ’em.
- Cut down on sweets – Weight loss isn’t without sacrifice, and neither is debt reduction. If you want to lose weight, you have to lay off the cupcakes (or at least cut down on them). If you want to get out of debt, you have to lay off the new purse or new cell phone or new whatever-it-is-that-you-LOVE-to-spend-money-on (or at least cut down on them). Obvious, but still worth mentioning.
- Exercise – Obviously it’s good for losing weight, but getting out of debt? Yep. You’re more likely to be overweight if you’re in debt, and vice versa. Why? We could talk about endorphins and depression and all sorts of possible reasons, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Exercise is good for everything. Don’t believe me? Here’s at least one study that backs up the positive effects of dieting, which include increasing wealth.
- Use small rewards – Whether it’s losing weight or getting out of debt, it’s hard to wait until you reach your ultimate goal to celebrate. So, don’t wait. Set small goals along the way and reward yourself for staying on the right path. Just don’t make your reward a big money splurge that defeats earlier efforts. One suggestion: coffee with a friend who supports your efforts and will give you the pat on the back you need.
Like weight loss, debt reduction ain’t easy. It takes sacrifice, there’s no way around it. But using small strategies to support your larger goal will help you through the slog and to the other side — where you know a happier life is waiting for you.