Over a year ago I started out on what I thought would be a slow journey to getting out of debt. I did some initial introspection and wandered off in a random direction. I actually made some progress initially, but I got sidetracked and backslid considerably. However, something recently clicked and it’s given me the tool I needed: getting things done.

I’m a procrastinator so I’m always putting things on the back-burner and telling myself I’ll get to them later. That obviously does not work. My new weapon is—unfortunately, also the slogan for a sporting goods company—telling myself to, “Just do it.”

It took some time for this method to work. It started with switching to cash for purchases of gas & groceries. Then, changing my method of paying bills. It’s about building up a positive habit, so practice makes perfect. A recent change in my daily schedule has made me happier and provided significant motivation to make thinking “Just do it” really stick: getting my dog her morning walk every day. Sometimes the method comes out of left field, but being happy and healthy makes every decision easier.

Most recently, I’ve been getting through monthly bills by the skin of my teeth, so I’ve been trimming unnecessary spending:

  • Auto Insurance – I made an extremely poor decision and purchased a second vehicle a few months ago. What’s worse is that I was paying full insurance on both vehicles even though one is not being driven! A ten minute call to my insurance agent allowed me to lower my payment to only $10 more than I was paying for just one: first, I dropped one down to pleasure vehicle level; second, I upped the deductible on both to $500.
  • Late Fees – I’ve been committed to paying all my bills on time, but last month I managed to let one of my credit card bills slip until the day it was due. I payed it online, but after business hours. I soon found out that I have no grace period on that card when it’s carrying a balance, not even the one day it would’ve taken to clear. It was my fault, but I called my credit card company anyway and explained my mistake. They kindly offered to split the $39 late fee with me.
  • Recurring Payments – I’ve also switched my few recurring payments from my high interest rate credit card that carries a balance to a card with no balance so I’m not incurring extra finance fees every month.
  • Cell Phones – I had switched to UNICEL a few years ago to get better cell service at home and at the office, but it ended up being slightly more expensive than I had calculated. When AT&T bought UNICEL in Vermont, my bill went up even further. My employer now covers the data plan that I need for emergency server management, but it wasn’t enough and I had actually built up over 3,000 roll-over minutes. I just got off a 12 minute call in which I dropped down to a family plan with fewer minutes which just barely covers our usage, but was able to retain my rollover minutes and save $20/month. It’s also now on my calendar to check our usage every 1st & 15th.

For me, the biggest step has been getting to the point where I can tell myself to, “Just do it,” and actually do it. More importantly, this has allowed me to start whittling away at spending so that I can have more ammunition to attack my debt with. You can too. Everyone can build up their ability to tell themselves to “Just do it” and tick off the smaller issues that may be holding them back.

The best part of saying, “Just do it,” is that if you make a mistake, you can rectify it just as quickly as you tried it. Maybe not completely painlessly, but quickly. I’m certainly ready to change my cell phone service back up to a higher level if it doesn’t work out.

A classic digital short from Saturday Night Live.

“Well, let’s say I don’t have enough money to buy something, should I buy it anyway?”

“No.”

Simple and straightforward to follow. We may not all be in debt because of buying ‘stuff’, but we surely don’t need to buy more when we don’t have the money. I’m guilty of this.

[Via Smarty Pig]

This afternoon’s episode of American Public Media’s The Story starts off with an interview with a Barbara, a member of Debtors Anonymous. Eye-opening.

How does she manage now that she’s off credit? Cash-only. She has a strict spending plan, tracks her checking account carefully, and only uses a debit card for the few times when she’d need a credit card (at the gas pump, online purchases, etc.)

Do you feel you’re addicted to credit? It’s definitely a crutch I need to get off of.

[Via VPR]

This documentary is excellent look at where more and more of us are heading and some of the predatory lending that helped get us there. It doesn’t really provide any answers, but it’s reassuring that we’re not alone in this situation and it’s important to be aware of the pitfalls.

I streamed it from Netflix, but you can also borrow it from your local library or buy it from Amazon and iTunes.