Money & Career

Your debt diet

The holidays are over and while your waistline might be bulging, chances are your wallet isn't. If you've got a stack of bills you're unable to pay off, then here are some tips to help you take control and trim that debt before it gets out of hand

Chatelaine

Here are a few quick steps that can help you tame your bill pile – who knows, you might even lose a few pounds in the process:

Don’t panic
It’s hard not to freak out when you see all those zeros on your monthly credit card statement, but you need to stay calm and face the proverbial music. Start by adding up all your bills to figure out how much you owe. You can’t make a plan to pay it off if you don’t know what you’re dealing with – you need hard numbers before you can start to whittle that debt down.

Consider a loan
Fight fire with fire – borrowing more money can actually help trim your debt. If you’re carrying a balance on a high interest credit card, find a lower interest loan through a line of credit and use that to pay it off. Start with your own bank and see what they have to offer, then shop around and compare rates. Lower interest rates mean you’ll be able to pay off the debt at a much lower cost.

Live cheap
Cutting down your variable expenses immediately is key. Tote your lunch and coffee to work and find cheaper ways to entertain yourself. With winter blasting outside your door, there’s no better time to host a cheap and cheerful potluck or movie night.

Trim your monthly bills
Find ways to reduce your monthly bills, from putting on a sweater and keeping the heating low to shopping around for a better deal on your phone or cable package. Cutting down on your shopping bill can also help you trim your waistline – avoiding pre-prepared or packaged foods in favour of fresh fruits and vegetables can also lead to healthier, more balanced meals.

Don’t just pay the minimum
Make a plan to pay off your debt within a certain timeframe (say, six months) and stick to it – set up automatic payments towards your debt every month. That way the money can go towards your debt before you get a chance to spend it.

Avoid ATMs
Budget your expenses for the week and take out just enough cash to cover your costs at one time. Taking out 20 bucks here and there could cost you in ATM fees and it also makes it harder to track your spending.

Consider professional help
If you think your debt is way more than you can handle, get help. There are lots of resources around that can help you come up with a debt repayment plan. Credit Canada is a good start – they offer free counseling services to help people deal with debt.