9 habits that can get you out of a deep debt hole

Learn how to shift your spending habits.

In 2008, American households carried $280 billion in debt. While debt dwindled in the following years, in 2017 the country hit another record — $13 trillion in household debt, including mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and student loans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. If you, too, are struggling with debt and you’re looking for some strategies to reduce what you owe, try implementing these smart money-management habits.

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Set up an automatic savings account.

If you find that you’re always struggling to have enough money in your account, establishing automatic payments is a simple way to pad your savings. “When you get your direct deposit from your payroll, you can set it up with your bank that a certain portion automatically goes into your savings account,” says Danial Tariq, vice president at Quontic Bank in New York City. “The idea is that you do not spend what you get. You are not tempted to spend a portion of your income because you don’t even see it. It’s human [nature to think] ‘Oh, I have $500. I can spend $500.'” (Getty Images)

While there are obvious travel expenses such as hotel rooms, airfare, car rentals, train travel, airport transfers and meals, what about everything else? Here are a few hidden vacation costs to keep in mind to avoid bursting your budget.(Thinkstock)
Have an emergency fund.

Along with saving money that you can use for vacations, holidays and retirement, experts suggest putting money regularly into a savings account dedicated to emergencies. If you don’t set aside money for emergencies, you can easily get saddled with — and stay in — debt, says Erika Jensen, president of Respire Wealth Management in Houston. “Debt occurs when income minus expenses equals a negative number,” she says. “In the absence of savings, that extra spend is going on credit cards. We all know that there will inevitably be months where our expenses exceed our income,” she explains. “Everyone knows that scenario. If there isn’t any savings, then both of those expenses are covered again by debt.”

(Thinkstock)

The D.C. area ranks No. 1 among metro areas for student loan debt and many ow more than $100,000. (Thinkstock)
Don’t automatically use an unexpected windfall to pay off your debt.

You might think it’s a wise idea to use leftover cash, like a holiday bonus, to pay down your debt. But you also want to make sure you’re setting aside extra money for things like an emergency savings account. “Don’t put all extra funds toward debt. Doing so just leaves you in a place where you do not have any cash to cover an emergency. Having no cash for an emergency, say a car repair, means taking on more debt, perpetuating the problem,” says Krista Cavalieri, a certified financial planner and owner of Evolve Capital, based in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Keep in mind, that additional money could be better spent on essential big-ticket items.

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erasing debt, hand written word on blackboard being erased concept
Pay off smaller debts first.

Focus on paying off your smallest debts first, suggests Kalen Omo, a financial coach in Tucson, Arizona, and owner of Kalen Omo Financial Coaching. This repayment strategy is known as the “debt snowball” method. “You list your debts from smallest to largest, paying minimums on everything except the smallest, and attacking that small debt with a vengeance. The goal is to get small wins along the way to motivate and give you hope to tackle the next one and the next one and so on. Once the smallest one is paid off, you take that payment to the next smallest debt, and the process acts like a snowball on the top of a hill. It picks up more snow as it goes downhill,” Omo says.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto/sebastianosecondi)

FILE - This Oct. 4, 2016, file photo shows a mockup of an American Express Platinum Card provided by the company, in New York. Credit card companies are taking the next step in using their points programs to influence what their millions of customers buy, going as far as influencing what color blender you might purchase. American Express is piloting a program that will allow merchants to reward specific customers for purchasing specific items at their stores, starting with the online merchant Boxed. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)
Pay your debts on time.

While this might seem like an obvious debt-repayment strategy, Cavalieri — and many personal finance experts — suggest that you set up your payments with your bank or debit card, so that anything you owe is automatically paid every month. “Automation is key. Setting up payments to go automatically will help keep things humming and ensure you do not miss any payments,” Cavalieri says. That way, not only will you start filling the debt hole, you’ll avoid late fees and you’ll improve your credit score, which may allow you to refinance some debt for better interest rates.

(AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Use cash as much as possible.

“Unlike a credit card exchange, where you swipe your card and get it back, you actually give away your cash when you spend it,” says Joshua Schumm, a financial coach who owns Kansas Financial Coaching in Hutchinson, Kansas. Using cash “creates a loss-type feeling in your mind and makes you less likely to make impulse purchases.” Schumm says that until he and his wife began using cash at the grocery store, they often missed their budget goal. “Now, with cash, we can’t overspend it,” he says.

Measure your debt.

Kevin Han, a Minneapolis-based attorney who runs FinancialPanther.com, a blog focused on side hustles and reducing debt, says that after law school, he got in the habit of calculating the cost of his debt. His suggestion: “Figure out how much your debt costs in interest per year, then divide that by 365. When I did this, I found out my debt after I graduated law school cost me $17 per day. When I realized this, it got me super pumped to pay off my debt as fast as possible. Each time I paid off more of my debt, my daily interest that I was paying dropped,” he says. Thanks to that strategy, along with smart budgeting, Han ended up paying off $87,000 in student loans in two and a half years.

(Karen Roach)

Beautiful young mixed race woman in headphones cooking salad and dancing while standing in kitchen at home
Dine in.

Omo says that reducing what you spend at restaurants could have a dramatic effect on your finances. “I had a client, a single person, who spent almost $900 a month on food, and the majority of that was eating out. [By] working with this person, I was able to get them to reduce that number by almost 50 percent and put that difference in paying off debt.” Plus, in recent years, restaurant prices have been consistently climbing from month to month, according to the Consumer Price Index.

(Thinkstock)

Know your finances. (Thinkstock)
Continually monitor your budget.

To get your finances in order, it’s key to create a budget and track your progress. There’s no universal approach for monitoring your budget, but if you’re in debt, you’ll want to take inventory of your finances often and take note of your spending habits at least once a month. The goal is to avoid overspending — and understand how much you spend each month to create a plan to pay off your debts. “This word ‘budget’ seems to be such a painful word to everyone, but there is actual power and freedom in having a budget in place and having the power to tell your money where to go,” Omo says. “It’s the basis of your plan to get out of debt.”

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Double exposure financial indices and stock market in accounting market economy analysis with graph business concept background
While there are obvious travel expenses such as hotel rooms, airfare, car rentals, train travel, airport transfers and meals, what about everything else? Here are a few hidden vacation costs to keep in mind to avoid bursting your budget.(Thinkstock)
The D.C. area ranks No. 1 among metro areas for student loan debt and many ow more than $100,000. (Thinkstock)
erasing debt, hand written word on blackboard being erased concept
FILE - This Oct. 4, 2016, file photo shows a mockup of an American Express Platinum Card provided by the company, in New York. Credit card companies are taking the next step in using their points programs to influence what their millions of customers buy, going as far as influencing what color blender you might purchase. American Express is piloting a program that will allow merchants to reward specific customers for purchasing specific items at their stores, starting with the online merchant Boxed. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)
Beautiful young mixed race woman in headphones cooking salad and dancing while standing in kitchen at home
Know your finances. (Thinkstock)

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9 Habits That Can Get You Out of a Deep Debt Hole originally appeared on usnews.com

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