I can still remember the night she came over. Sarah, my wife, sent me a text message, “Can I come over tonight? I need some help!” At this time we weren’t married, we were only dating, and I could tell something was off.
When I opened the door, I could see that she was exhausted and stressed. She walked over to a big green chair I had in my living room, sat down, and started to cry.
She finally settled down and said, “I am behind on so many bills. I don’t know how I will ever get caught up. I already work three jobs. I just don’t know what I'm supposed to do.” And then she said the words that I hear so often in Roots when our members first join us: “I feel hopeless!”
Sarah found herself in a situation like many people do today. She was behind on bills, and doing everything she could to keep up. Sarah didn’t do this on purpose. It didn’t happen because she was lazy and didn’t work. It happened because she made some really poor decisions in the past, and those decisions were now crashing down on her. It happened because she handled her money like most people do today. Almost eight out of 10 people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little money in savings, and are making payments. That means nearly 80% are living on the edge of financial disaster, and all it takes is one card to fall in the house of cards they’ve built.
Sarah’s cards were falling fast!
Here’s the good news! Eleven months later, and after a lot of hard work, Sarah paid off $33,000, and became completely debt free! Yeah, you read that right!
If you find yourself behind on bills like Sarah, I want to give you some steps that I gave her all those years ago that helped her have HUGE results and led her to a stress-free and debt-free life.
These steps aren’t easy. These steps are going to be a little painful; maybe even very painful for you. There is no easy way to get out of your situation. There are no quick fixes or magic pills or late night get rich infomercials. No matter how you got to where you are, you got there by decisions you’ve made. It’s time to own up to them and take responsibility and take back control. Your short-term sacrifice will go a long way in creating a stress-free and debt-free life. What I'm about to share with you works, so do the work and your situation will improve.
99% of people I work with can’t tell me where every dollar they make goes. And I'm guessing you can't either. That’s okay, but today that needs to change. You need to make a list of all of your expenses so you can understand where all of your hard-earned money is being spent. The first places to look are your bank statements, and if you’re using credit cards, check those statements as well. Also, get rid of the credit cards. Those aren’t helping you, and in many cases, they're causing a lot of the stress. Every single dollar needs to be accounted for. As you spend your money, write it down. You probably have leaks, and you need to determine where they all are to get bigger and faster results.
Make another list of who you owe money to, the monthly payment, and if you’re behind, how much. Include EVERYTHING! If you don’t know everything you owe, you can get a copy of your credit report for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. You'll be able to see what's being reported and who holds your debts. WARNING! If you have old debts that aren’t being collected, meaning they aren’t actively calling you, DO NOT start calling them just yet. Calling them would be like waking up a sleeping bear. You can worry about those old debts later once you get a handle on your current situation. At this point I want you to have a clear picture of what you owe.
Here's the deal, in almost every case, and even in Sarah’s, there was spending going on that shouldn’t be when you’re behind on bills. Sarah was getting her nails done still at $50 a pop, and she was behind on bills! This spending can’t happen. When we get stressed and emotional, we tend to make decisions that don’t help our situations. I already warned you this was going to be hard. Once you have a list of everything you spend money on and everyone you owe money to, it’s time to trim the fat. Trim the fat means cutting high-priced cable/satellite bills, cell phone plans, going out to eat, high-end coffee, Target trips, expensive haircuts, nails, vacations, your kid's extracurricular activities, etc. You get my point! If it’s not a necessity, it needs to get cut. If you're making excuses that some of these are necessities, get used to being broke that much longer! The more you’re willing to sacrifice now, the faster you will get out of your mess and on the road to a stress-free and debt-free life.
In Sarah’s situation, she was working as much as she could—60-80 hours a week. But that’s not the case for everyone. In some situations, I see people working the minimum and then complaining that they can’t get ahead. If you need money, there's only one place to go—TO WORK! Yes, that means you’ll miss the fun things with your kids, family, and friends because you’re working like crazy to get out of your mess. Remember, it’s only temporary pain. The idea is that you're going to kick these bad decisions and habits for good and you're never going back! For now, the majority of your waking hours should be spent on income producing activities. That means finding another job or jobs to earn extra money. You can’t move the needle if you don’t have enough income, so it’s time to get to work.
Now that you know your expenses, cut out all the extra fat, and are working on ways to increase your income, it’s time to create a monthly budget. A monthly budget isn’t just for people like you who are behind and broke. A monthly budget is for everyone, and if everyone did one, most people wouldn’t be struggling. A few tips to create a successful budget: 1. Create it before the month begins and plan your spending for the upcoming month. 2. Spend every dollar of your income on paper before you have it in your hands. 3. Stick to the plan you created. 4. Prioritize your necessities first, such as rent/mortgage, utilities, food, and transportation. 5. Once your essentials are covered, spend the rest of your income in order of importance until the income runs out.
One way to help your situation is to reach out and negotiate a payment plan, agreement, or settlement (only if you have cash). Fair warning—your creditors don’t have to do anything, and in many cases, they couldn't give a rip about you and your excuses for not paying. But I've had members have some luck calling to get new arrangements such as smaller monthly payments, lower interest rates, grace periods, etc. In my opinion, this is worth a shot. The worst thing they can say is no. Then you can tell them they will get nothing until you have the money together.
Once you have a budget and you begin prioritizing, you'll begin to see how much money you have to pay the bills you’re behind on. Don’t be surprised to find that you won’t be able to pay every one; that’s normal. Even with the steps you’ve taken here, you very well might not be able to pay everyone on your list. You will have to draw a line. Those above the line get paid and those below the line don’t get paid—at least not today. You should ATTACK the ones you can pay and pay them off as fast as possible. Once those are paid off, you can move on to the next ones on the list. Slowly, but surely you'll get current and will start to get ahead. Just follow these steps and your situation will improve. I see it time and time again.
The last step is the secret sauce. Sarah pretty much knew what she needed to do without me telling her, and you probably do as well to some degree. The challenge is that you and Sarah are stressed out, emotional, and scared. Those emotions make you do things and make decisions you usually wouldn’t do. In many cases they make you do the worst thing you can do—IGNORE YOUR SITUATION. Don’t do that! As soon as Sarah allowed me to help her, things began to improve. Did I give Sarah something she didn’t already know? For the most part, NO! I just held her accountable to the plan, and we worked through it together. I held her hand during those rough spots. I told her it would work out, that she could do this, and that she would make it to the finish line. And she did! She paid off $33,000 in just eleven months. You can do this, too by finding an accountability system like our FREE Facebook group, LIFE WITHOUT PAYMENTS. Or even our paid membership, Roots of Personal Finance will help you get there FASTER!
Lastly, you can’t give up! Sadly, too many people give up and go back to their old ways, and they will remain broke and stressed the rest of their lives. I can promise you, the grass is greener over here. Over here there is money in a savings account, money going towards dreams, no debt, no stress, and no worry. There is hope, and you can have success, so don’t give up!