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Debt Reduction Takes Tough Love

For the first three years of my post-college life, I had this nagging, troubling pain in the pit of my stomach at the end of every month. Will I be able to pay rent this month? Can I pay my credit card bill?

I came out of college with no personal finance experience and had no idea how to control my money. I quickly found myself in a pile of student loan, credit card, and car loan debt. It didn’t take me long to realize I hated that awful feeling in my stomach and wanted to get rid of it. I knew that I needed to do something about my debt, and I wanted quick results.

Here is how I got out of debt, using a little “tough love”. If you’re struggling with debt, perhaps it can help you, too.

If It’s Not Necessary, It’s Not Allowed

Contrary to what I used to believe, a night out on the town or designer boots do not qualify as necessary expenses. When you’re in debt, you must eliminate all frivolous and unnecessary expenses like these (even if the boots are on sale and just perfect) in order to meet your goal of debt-freedom.

Trim down all your bills to only your basic needs. Cancel your cable bill. Trim your cell phone bill to the lowest amount of minutes possible (say bye-bye to internet access or texting on your phone).

Call your car insurance company and raise your deductible and you’ll see a huge drop in your monthly premium (after all, how often do you make an insurance claim?). You can even check to see if you’re carrying extra car insurance you may not need.

For me, it was hard to cut out my dining out and entertainment expenses. These are expenses that 20-somethings thrive on and eliminating a social life is not an option for most people. The best solution is to still go out with your friends, just order a water or soda or eat beforehand. This may be hard at first, but over time you’ll most likely realize that getting out of debt is more important than one overpriced dinner or drink.

Free is More Fun

Cutting back on spending can be a huge lifestyle shock in the beginning, however, here are some ideas that will help you have fun for free when you’re knocking out that debt.

While you may be accustomed to spending your Friday nights at popular bars or restaurants, now is the time to invite friends over for movies, game night, or cocktail hour at home. Afraid you’ll miss all the shows you used to watch on cable? Most of those shows are now easily accessible online at websites like Hulu or even network websites like MTV or the CW. Plus, your local library probably offers most popular television shows in box sets that are free to check out. Speaking of the library, don’t forget about all the books, movies, CDs, and magazines they have to offer—for free!

Want more ideas on how you can have fun for free? Check out Cities On The Cheap, which has websites for over 35 U.S. cities and two Canadian cities.

Get creative when thinking of your weekend activities! The free (and fun) possibilities are endless! After all, aren’t the twenties supposed to be the best years of your life? Right now is the time to get debt-free and have fun while doing it!

Find the Hidden “Unnecessary Necessary” Expenses

Grocery shopping can be a great example of those “unnecessary necessary” expenses. Do you ever notice that there is food left over in the pantry at the end of the week, but you still feel like you need to make a trip to the grocery store? If this sounds like you, it’s time to start making a weekly meal plan.

Write down every meal and every ingredient you’ll need for every meal. The point of this list is to cut out all the food that we thought was actually necessary, but really wasn’t. Instead of haphazardly buying ingredients for 10 different meals, consolidate the ingredients to make only the exact number of meals you’ll need for that week only. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when your cabinets are bone dry come Sunday morning!

Use this technique in other areas of your life (clothing, gas for your car, household items, etc.) to cut out those hidden excess expenses and trim your budget even further!

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

As I mentioned earlier, when you implement these rules in your life, it can feel like a huge lifestyle change. It might even feel like a huge burden. Be sure to help yourself stay motivated and focused by keeping a calendar or timeline of your debt-payoff schedule close at hand!

Small rewards are definitely encouraged when you’re using such a strict debt reduction technique. The key to this technique is trimming down 99.99% of your unnecessary spending.

If, however, you’re really keeping your spending on a tight leash and want to enjoy a dinner out or new shirt every couple months while still keeping your eyes on the prize, by all means go for it. Tough love debt reduction is not meant to be a torture device, rather a tool that will give you fast results and teach you the fundamentals of living on less.

Put these tough but effective techniques to use in your life and your debt will soon be just a distant memory. Then you can go on and enjoy the rest of your twenties without worry; I have heard they’re supposed to be the best years of your life!

Published or updated on December 16, 2009

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. bryan says:

    Whenever I go into “lock-down” mode in terms of finances, I always ask myself “can I survive out in wilderness with out this ____.” So if I find myself shopping for a new shirt or looking at upgrading to a new Ipod, that question comes in handy. My wife isn’t a big fan of that question and I almost never have to ask it anymore. She just rolls her eyes and moves on.

  2. So far the new writers are posting some good stuff. I really enjoyed the article. Keep up the good work.

    -Dan Malone-

  3. SS4BC says:

    I still believe you should only have you deductible be as high as you afford. Sure it is cheaper to raise it to $1,000 – but then you’re just looking for more debt when you do have to pay out of pocket and you don’t have that $1,000. It may be more expensive monthly, but you should still have a deductible you can afford to pay.

  4. Andrea says:

    Nice job, I’m a big fan of David’s so I was skeptical about new writers but I think this is quality piece with good advice. Im going to try the meal planning. I’ve noticed when I do plan things out I spend less money than when I dont plan and end up at the office cafeteria but I never thought to write out a formal plan with ingredients for the week. Well done.

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