If the bottom line of your bank statement has you up late worrying about the dark clouds of debt—or worse, reaching for an extra drink or two to cope—take heart. We’ve got a quick set of solutions that will help you get your money under control and dreaming of bright sunny skies again.
1. Take debt one small step at a time.
Maybe bills, loan payments, and collection agencies are making it feel as if the wolf is at the door. If that’s the case, get those obligations organized. Taking it debt by debt, contact your creditors to work out a payment plan that works for you.
Most creditors would much rather get regular payments—of any size—than go through the expense and hassle of legal action. Be honest about your ability to pay and how much you can afford. Don’t over-commit. Negotiate. You’ll need to stick to the plan to stay on track.
2. Make a budget.
There’s no doubt that budgeting is less fun than spending. But when you have a complete and realistic budget in place, it helps you better understand both spending and sacrifice. There are rewards—material and emotional—to giving up the things you only somewhat want or need, in favor of what you really need.
Be realistic, but not severe. You must of course budget for things like food, rent, and utilities. But if you know that you need new clothes, a night out, or even something luxurious once in a while, be honest with yourself and plan for some of those expenses. Just plan to spend less in those areas that have been problems in the past, and find ways to make those limits work.
3. Think outside the box.
We get so used to our lives the way they are, we can actually forget that other options exist. If you’re just not bringing in enough to make your budget work, ask yourself what changes you could make—even what you might happily live without. When was the last time you compared carrier rates on your cell phone plan, or your auto insurance? Could you make do with one less car? Or make your own morning coffee, rather than a run to the coffee shop?
4. Harness your inner accountant.
You don’t have to become an expert with bookkeeping and financial instruments. Just get more comfortable being the person who says: “We don’t have the funds for that,” or “Not right now.”
This can be tougher than it sounds, especially if you have a kid, or partner, who isn’t exactly on board with making a few lifestyle changes. Make time to explain to family and friends that you’re taking positive steps to make your life—and theirs—more sustainable and less stressful. Be up front about the budget, but emphasize the solution, not the problem.
5. Ask for help.
Don’t go it alone. Enlist the help of partners, spouses, or other family members. Keep your close friends in the loop. And don’t be afraid to lean on community resources for advice or assistance.
Finally, keep your mind on your most precious resource: your mental and physical well-being. Take care of yourself, and don’t sacrifice your health or medical care for financial purposes. In the long run, good health is always worth the investment.