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ASK CARRIE- Need to Adjust Your Financial Attitude? Start Here! PDF Print E-mail
Written by CARRIE SCHWABPOMERANTZ, Creators Syndicate   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 04:52

Dear Carrie: I'm 28 and have almost $4,000 in credit card debt — less than a year after I worked extra hours (and didn't go out) to pay down even higher balances on those same cards. As soon as the debt was paid, I lost sight of the budgeting mindset that I'd been so proud of. And now I find myself right back where I started.

I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle. I knowI need to adjustmy financial attitude, but I don't knowhow.Can you giveme some advice?

—Angela

Dear Angela: Congratulations, because you've already taken the first step in getting out of debt by acknowledging the problem. And this is great timing as you start to think about the new year.

So now it's time to dig a little deeper to understand why you lost sight of your budgeting mindset. I have a feeling that once you paid off your debt, you felt you could reward yourself for having been so disciplined by spending — and enjoying — just a little bit more. Unfortunately, those "little bits" can add up to a large balance, especially when it comes to credit cards.

Also, realize that good financial habits aren't just things you should do right now. They have to be habits you can live with for the long term. Of course, you need to take practical steps to pay down your debt once again.

But the bigger issue is how to reform your spending habits, so you can stay out of debt and be happy with your day-to-day life.

START WITH A REALISTIC REPAYMENT PLAN

How you pay off your cards can be as important as how much you pay. You need a debt reduction plan you can live with, which doesn't require you to give up everything. Here's what I suggest:

• Prioritize your credit cards: Start with the highest interest rate card. Pay the minimum on the lower interest cards. Then pay extra on the highest one. When that card is at a zero balance, apply the extra money to the next card on your list.

•Take a good look at your current income and expenses: After you've covered the essentials like rent, food, utilities and transportation, howmuch is left? Can you carve out money to put toward your debt and still allow yourself some fun? Depriving yourself completely is likely to backfire as it did in the past. So, strive for some balance as you tackle your debt payments within the context of your everyday needs and wants.

• Set up automatic credit card payments: Most companies will send you an e-mail so you can adjust your payments as necessary. The important thing is that payments aremade—andmade on time. The side benefit is that, because the payment is automatic, youwon't be tempted to spend the money on something else.

NOW FOCUS ON YOUR SPENDING HABITS

With your debt reduction plan in place, you can begin to focus on your spending habits. Here are some things to help you:

• Stop using your cards: This is essential. A credit card is often necessary to rent a car, book a hotel room or purchase something online, but limit yourself to one card. If you have several, put the others out of reach. Cut themup if necessary. I don't suggest closing them because this could negatively affect your credit rating.

• Track your spending for 30 days: Are you staying within your budget? If you're over, find ways to cut back. If you're under, put that extra money toward your debt. Keep tracking your spending until you feel you can control it.

• Set some goals: This can be the most important of all, especially when it comes to saving. Write down a list of short- and long-term goals and put a dollar amount by each. When you no longer need to putmoney toward your debt, direct that same amount toward one of your goals.

TAKE IT STEP BY STEP

Be realistic and take a systematic approach both to paying down your debt and taking control of your spending. You can't change your financial habits over night — but the small changes you make now could have a big impact on your financial future.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz can e-mail Carrie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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