Whether you have credit card debt, car loans, student debt, or all of the above, owing money is no walk in the park. While it seems easy to get into debt, getting out of it is a lot harder.

debt free woman

Interest compounding on top of your principal can make payments extraordinarily high. Even if you make your minimum payments, it often takes years to pay off that balance. Plus, high levels of debt can limit your access to additional credit, whether it’s buying a house or getting a new car.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution that simply erases your financial problems. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do so. By reevaluating your spending habits and your current financial obligations, you can create a strategic plan that can help you successfully get out of debt — and fast.

Follow these steps to find out how.

Stop spending.

It doesn’t matter how you got into debt, whether you racked up too much on your credit cards or had a debilitating illness that kept you from working for a while.

Regardless of how it happened, it’s time to stop spending money so that you can get your finances back on track. That may sound like an easy thing to do, but it really requires a mindset shift.

It doesn’t mean simply stopping major purchases or skipping a vacation this year. To truly get out of major debt, you have to funnel every extra penny you have towards paying off those balances.

No more takeout because you’re too tired to cook, and no more snack runs at the gas station. Small expenditures lead to recurring debt just as much as large ones do, so get both under control and start paying everything off.

Prevent future debt.

Before you conquer your current debt, make sure you don’t add any more to what you currently owe. If you’re having trouble stopping your spending, try to remove the temptation completely. Hide or cut up your credit cards if you have to. Also, remove your credit card information from any websites you frequently shop at.

Even if you do control your day-to-day urge to spend, you still need to prepare for unexpected expenses, like a trip to the mechanic or a doctor’s bill. Set aside an emergency fund of at least $1,000 to give yourself a buffer when you have a last-minute bill to take care of. Otherwise, you’ll keep tacking on new debt just as you pay off your old debt.

Scale down your budget.

There’s nothing more eye-opening than going through all of your bank and credit card statements and seeing what you actually spend your money on. In fact, you’ll probably be shocked to see how quickly small purchases add up over a month.

Comb through your last month’s statements and pull out everything that was an essential payment or purchase, like your rent or mortgage, your utilities, etc. From there, look to see where you can cut back.

If it helps, set up autopay for your bills on payday, then use an envelope of cash for your gas and groceries. Once you run out of money, it’s time to start digging in the pantry and getting creative in the kitchen.

Pick which card to pay off first.

When you’re trying to pay down your debt fast, pick one to focus your main efforts on. There are several different ways to choose, so pick the strategy that feels best for you.

One popular method is to pay off the card with the smallest balance. This helps you give yourself an easy win and feel motivated to keep moving forward. If you’re more motivated by saving money, pick the card with the highest interest rate so you end up paying less in the long run.

Any extra money you have goes towards that one payment you choose, rather than spreading extra payments equally across all of your outstanding debts. Set yourself up for success by picking a payoff strategy that will make you feel good about your progress, not bad about your debts.

Keep making minimum payments on your other debt.

Just because you put extra cash towards one credit card doesn’t mean you should neglect your minimum payments on the others. The point of getting out of debt is to free up cash and strengthen your credit. If you miss minimum payments, you’re likely to incur late fees and even go into delinquency on your account.

Once an account is 30 days late or more, your credit score starts to take a nosedive. Be sure to preserve your credit score while paying down your debt by making each minimum payment every single month.

Lower your interest payments.

Another way to get out of debt faster is to save money on your interest payments. For credit cards, call your company and try to negotiate a lower rate. It helps if you’re a long-time customer with a history of timely payments.

Transfer your balances or get a personal loan.

You can also look into transferring your balance to another credit card with a lower interest rate or even no interest for a set period. If you qualify, you might consider consolidating your debt with a single personal loan. Oftentimes, loan interest rates are much lower than those of credit cards.

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Refinance your mortgage.

If you have other types of debt, like student loans, a mortgage, or car loan, you can apply to refinance them and get a lower rate. Even if you’re focused on making extra payments on credit card debt, you can use the monthly savings from other expenses to put more towards those higher balances.

Find savings elsewhere in your budget.

Since you’ve cut back on your expenses and ideally your interest payments, it’s time to find more ways to save. Take a look at other expenses you pay, even if they don’t seem negotiable at first. Car insurance, homeowners insurance, cell phone, cable and internet — all of these services are negotiable. Shop around with different companies and look for the best offer.

Even if you don’t want to switch, you can use your research as leverage when you call your current servicer and ask for a better deal. For instance, if your cable contract is up for renewal (and you decide to keep it), look at all the offers from other companies. Call your company and tell them you’re considering switching. Chances are, they’ll meet or beat that pricing just to keep you as a customer.

Declutter and sell your belongings.

When you’re working to get rid of debt, it’s also helpful to get rid of the physical baggage surrounding you. This can help clear emotional clutter as well as bring in some extra money to put towards those balances. You can have an actual yard sale at your house or even hold an online yard sale. Consider posting items on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook classified groups.

Price your items competitively to help move them faster. While you probably think your stuff is worth a lot because you paid for it (and still might be paying for it), most people are only willing to spend a fraction of the original price when buying second hand.

Get a side hustle to earn more.

When you’re ready to find even more money to put towards your debt, consider getting a side hustle to supplement your current income. Pay down your car loan by driving for Uber or put more towards your student loans by tutoring. You can freelance, babysit, pet sit, or start an Etsy shop showcasing a unique talent.

There are endless opportunities to offer your services to earn extra cash. It doesn’t have to be something incredibly specialized and it definitely doesn’t have to require any kind of startup capital. Play to your strengths and your network of connections so you can start earning more and paying down your debt as quickly as possible.

Funnel extra cash towards debt.

Whether it’s a tax return or birthday money, remember that the ultimate reward is experiencing financial security. That’s way better than treating yourself to a mani/pedi that only lasts a week or two.

So, every time you get unexpected money that doesn’t go towards your usual budget, you know exactly what to do: make a higher payment on your debt. You’ll be pleased to see how quickly those balances start to diminish.

Appreciate life’s simple pleasures.

Much of our accumulated debt is driven by an urge for more stuff — and the bigger, the better. Get out of the mindset of “treating” yourself for good behavior with an expensive one-time shopping spree or splurge item. That’s not really fixing the problem of debt because you’ll always feel like you’re being deprived of something. Instead, appreciate what you do have.

Time and relationships hold much more value than anything you can charge. Once you realize that, you’ll find that the real secret behind eliminating debt is knowing that you already have everything you need.