Step 1 - Get Your Finances in Order
Jumping into the market without first taking careful stock of your finances is like asking for seconds at the dinner table before finishing your first portion. Though you can technically invest before your debts are paid off, financial planners advise strongly against this move, as it is somewhat irresponsible. So, before your money gets near the market, it’s time to kiss your debt goodbye!
To live completely debt-free, examine every aspect of your financial life. Here’s how, in four easy steps.
- Track your expenses. Save every receipt. Hold onto every grocery bill and each restaurant check. Keep the tabs from the dry cleaners and the gas station. Everything counts – even the 5 bucks you blew on a grande latte. At the end of the month, add up your total living expenses and see where you can cut down. Any money you can save by trimming your expenses is earmarked for paying down debt.
- Increase your income in any way possible. Now’s the time to ask for that raise you’ve been wanting, freelance whenever possible, or even seek better or more employment. All extra income goes toward getting rid of that debt.
- Get rid of all credit card debt. Examine every credit card statement and begin paying them off, starting with the one that has the lowest amount. Don’t concern yourself with interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. In that case, start paying off the higher interest rate debt first. Your goal is to get rid of these bills completely, one at a time.
- Pay off all personal and student loans. You don’t want to owe anyone a dollar, so pay back all money you’ve borrowed as soon as you can. If possible, consider shortening your mortgage or, if you have the means, even paying it off completely.
Be aware that this process may take a while. What’s important at this point is that you have a plan to become debt-free. While your debt is slowly shrinking, you can follow our next few steps toward investing. And, if you begin aggressively paying off your debt today, you will be ready to invest sooner than you think!