Debt. It isn’t something that discriminates based on income. Even if you have a high income, debt can still creep into your life and stay, unwanted, for a long time if you’re not careful.
Even in my line of work, as a wealth manager for high income women and couples, I have worked with many clients to create money management and debt paydown strategies.
Once you get caught up in a debt cycle, it can become stressful, frustrating, and put a wedge in your relationships. If you’re reading this article, I’m sure you’ve attempted to tackle your debt head-on by paying down the balances and forcing yourself to spend less. However, that doesn’t always work, does it? If you find yourself trying and failing to pay off 6-figures of debt, it is likely you have missed the foundational mindset work. Taken from my client archives, here is an effective way to overcome the cycle of debt once and for all.
Married? Get on the Same Financial Page
Rather than simply trying hard to spend less each month, and then brow-beating either yourself or your partner for yet another failed attempt, I invite you to take some time to create the blueprint for your plan together. Many messy marital spending plans are the result of vastly different financial priorities and values.
If he values freedom and has a secret hankering for the creative passion he gave up to earn $250,000 as an engineer, you’ll have high costs as he stockpiles his toy, game, or instrument of choice. When you say, “We’ve got to spend less! How can you justify a $10,000 guitar?!?” … all he hears is “Now that we’re married, I don’t want you to have any fun.”
If you don’t take time for peaceful, restorative activities like walks in nature or casual, quiet reading, you might find yourself spending thousands on clothes or purses to assuage your inner child, who simply needs to feel cared for. If this is the case, every time you try to spend less, you’ll simply end up feeling more and more emotionally bankrupt.
Single? Set Your Financial Strategy
If you’re not in a financial partnership, that’s both good and bad news. The good news? You don’t have to impact anybody else’s behavior, just yours! The bad news? The only person to point the finger at is yourself.
Don’t spend too much time in self-criticism, though. You are where you are, and plenty of smart, well-meaning and hard-working people have been there before. It is likely that nobody ever taught you how your emotions and mindsets impact your money. It’s ok! You can recover.
How you think and feel about money correlates with how you act with money. Therefore, if you find that you are spending more of your money in certain areas, it could be motivated by an intrinsic need to impress others (clothes, dinners, trips). Or your overspending could be the result of a mindset that tells you that you have to spend on others in order for them to like you. The psychology behind financial behavior is vast, and your past personal experiences cumulate into your present reality with money and future.
I have worked through these types of financial “incompletions” and many others with clients and am confident that through a model of support, accountability, and gentle reflection you can as well.
Declare Your Intentions
Now that you’ve done the inner work, you’re ready to set the stage for more successful outer work. What do you intend to accomplish in the world of your money? Do you want to retire early? Do you want to feel like a proud parent as you write the last check for your children’s college education? Do you and your partner want to sail around the world or own your own vineyard? Would you like to spend a long weekend or two at Disneyland with the grandkids? Whatever it is, write it down and declare it widely! Get more attached to your future goals than you are to your current situation.
Now, how quickly do you want to pay off that debt? And the more important question is how much money can you find, on a monthly basis, to chip away at those high balances?
Automate Your Finances
When you’re ready to get serious about getting (and staying) out of debt, automating your finances is one of the most effective ways to do so. Why? Because automating your finances requires you to take a conscious and intentional action to prioritize the dollars you have. It builds a cash flow machine that automatically pays off debt and raises your net worth on a monthly basis.
Too often, people find themselves controlled by their money and lifestyle rather than the other way around. Yet, when you take a look at your monthly take-home income and decide how much money will go toward funding your specific saving and spending goals, something miraculous can happen – you actually fund them!
Sounds too easy, right? Conceptually, it is. In practice, it can be difficult (but certainly not impossible). Here is how automating your finances works to help you overcome the cycle of debt.
- Measure your monthly overhead
Take the time to add up all of your monthly obligations, including rent, mortgage, insurances, memberships, subscriptions, utilities and the like. Add up even lumpy expenses such as holiday gifts and property taxes and divide by 12. The number you come up with is your “monthly nut.” I call this Yesterday’s Promises. This is the amount you’ve spent even before the money comes in each month.
Now, from your remaining income, you need to prioritize between paying off debt and “fun” or discretionary spending. Most people fill that fun spending bucket first, but if you really want to flex your money muscle here, you target a number to pay off debt first. Now, the key is to right-size your life so that your fun spending amount is actually enough to allow you to have fun!
- You prioritize paying off your debt
First and foremost, when you automate your finances, including paying off your debt, it makes paying it off a monthly priority. Based on your other financial needs and priorities, you can create a plan to pay off your debt within a specific timeframe and stick to it. Credit card balances get paid automatically every month, by automatic transfer, and once a particular card is paid off, you simply send that same amount over to the next credit card until all balances are paid off.
- You avoid amassing more debt
When you automate your finances to fund your monthly expenses and future goals, you can avoid amassing new debt more easily. You will have to stick to your plan, however.
What this means is that you decide where your money is going before it is even spent. This will allow you to fund the areas of your financial life that are most important to you like retirement, emergency cash reserves, education savings, and debt repayment while also providing you with a specific dollar amount for what is left over for discretionary purchases that often keep people in the debt cycle.
Maybe you need or want accountability in this process, or maybe you just want to delegate some of the decision-making and get some support and hand-holding. I can help!
When you are ready to commit to your success and are then given the tools and direction on how to use those tools effectively, there is no telling how much you can accomplish financially.
Getting out of the debt cycle is easier when you understand how to balance paying it off while still saving for your retirement, your kids’ college education, travel, and all of the things that are important to your family’s life. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can fund your life and get out of debt. And just imagine how great it will feel when you’re done feeling guilty for spending your money when you know you can afford whatever it is you planned for and that the other financial priorities in your life aren’t compromised.