Although millennials aren't taking on debt as quickly as their parents did, debt is still an issue. In a recent New York Times article, Americans under the age of 35 aren't buying houses or cars as readily as previous generations. However, student debt is still present, along with random credit card debt.
According to a recent survey by Bankrate, about one-third of American adults between the ages of 30 and 49 have more credit card debt than emergency savings, while 21 percent of young adults from 18 to 29 years old have racked up more debt than savings.
There are some steps you can take to both pull yourself out of debt and prevent racking up more debt. These tips are effective, though it may be difficult to implement them in the beginning. A little willpower can go a long way.
1. Change your habits. Going out every Friday night with your friends for $12 cocktails and tapas can add up quickly. After an Uber ride home, you may have easily blown $100 or more. Instead of going out, stay in. Invite your friends over to your place and create your own cocktails at a fraction of the cost. A cheese plate and crudité platter won't set you back much, and set up a designated driver rotation. Twice a month of these pared-down parties can save you up to $200 per month, which you can put toward debt.
You can also save money on date nights. Switch things up and have a date day instead. Movies and dinner can cost about $100 each time you and your partner go out. Instead, pick out a movie together and snag early bird tickets, which are about half the price of evening theater tickets. Then cook lunch together at home. Two dates per month can be pricy, but you two can save up to $100 per month by adjusting your schedule and habits.
If you typically buy lunch every day, you're likely spending $5 to $10 per day. An occasional latte or mocha can tack on another $5 per day. If that sounds like you, you're forking over about $25 to $75 per week – that's $100 to $300 per month. Buy an inexpensive milk frother and invest in a good espresso machine, and start packing your lunch every day. That's a savings of about $1,200 to $3,600 per year (subtract about $200 for that espresso machine).
If you can make all those changes for a year, you can potentially save $7,200. Those funds can be set aside for savings, used for investments or put toward debt.
2. Cut back on unnecessary memberships. Most of us have memberships and subscription services for added convenience. Many Americans have a gym membership, subscribe to Netflix and pay for Amazon Prime. Some of these memberships and subscriptions are necessary; others are not. Assess what you use and what you don't.
When is the last time you worked out? That's $20 per month. Do you order from Amazon at least once per month? If so, that $99 Prime membership is worth it; otherwise, it might be time to cancel. Are you subscribing to Netflix, Hulu and do you pay for cable? That can add up to about $65 or more per month. All told, you could be spending $1,100 per year for services that go unused.
3. Pay off debt – one card at a time. As you pay down debt, it may seem like a fruitless endeavor. Those $24 minimum payments aren't going to put much of a dent in your balance owed. When you have multiple credit cards to juggle, it can be daunting. If you're taking measures to cut back on daily costs for frivolous items and events, take that money and apply it to those balances.
To see an immediate difference in what you owe, continue paying the minimum on your student debt, your car payment and credit cards, but choose one to aggressively attack with big chunks of money. Throwing $200, $300 or $400 at a single credit card can pay it down quickly, and within a few months, you can have a single credit card completely paid off. Then repeat with another credit card. Soon you'll be free of credit card debt, and you can turn your attention to that looming student debt.
4. Consolidate your debt. When you have more debt than the average American – most Americans are looking at about $50,000 to $75,000 of combined credit, auto and student loan debt – you need to take extreme measures.
Debt consolidation is one way to help eliminate some of the stress and interest rates so you can tackle those debts with a solid plan. Loan consolidation companies work with the debtors to negotiate lower interest rates or even help you settle an account for a lower price, if you're able to pay off the debt in one lump sum. If you're considering these services, do your research first. There are risks involved, which you should carefully weigh to determine if this is a viable option for you.
5. Use cash only. It's important to get out of the habit of using credit cards to pay for everything. Change your way of thinking: If you can't afford to buy it now with cash, you can't afford it. Credit cards aren't the enemy, but if you need to control your spending, force yourself to use cash only so you don't delve deeper into debt. If you don't trust yourself to not use your credit cards, lock them up. Out of sight, out of mind.
6. Start saving – now! Many financial advisors suggest Americans save about six months' worth of money needed for rent or mortgage payments, bill payments and other essentials as an emergency fund. As you save, you may find you have more in the bank than needed, and you can then apply it to your debts, if you want – or continue saving.
7. Use budget software. You won't completely transform into your parents if you use financial software, so don't rule it out as a helpful option. Whether you use Quicken, a popular choice, or a budget app like You Need a Budget, knowing where your money goes each month can help you adjust your spending habits. It's easy to drop $5 or $10 here and there for a meal, but once you see it add up to hundreds of dollars per month, it can help you make better choices for the financial freedom you want.
8. Don't apply for more credit cards. Those envelopes and emails stamped with "preapproved" are tempting to open. It feels good to know that a credit card company is willing to take a chance on you. Instead of tearing open that mail or clicking on the link to see what the limit or interest rate is, throw it away. If you're in debt now, you don't need to add more. And if you're trying to stay out of debt, choose one or two low-interest credit cards and stick to that. Pay off your balance every month so you never have to pay a cent of interest.
If you follow the tips outlined above, you can get out of debt and stay out of debt. Then you can choose the lifestyle you can afford and enjoy life to its fullest – without having to pay interest.