Book offers a plan for getting out – and staying out – of debt
June 23, 2022
“Debt,” begins Michael Steven in his book Getting Out of Debt, “is more than just a weight on your shoulders that causes stress and financial strain, it is a manacle that holds you back from achieving your dreams and becoming the best version of yourself.”
There are, he continues, “good debts and bad debts. Unfortunately, most people take on bad debts, either because they lack information or have competing priorities in life.”
There are a number of factors that can cause us to fall into debt, Steven writes. Loss of a job or reduction of income, a divorce, “poor money management skills,” underemployment, gambling and other factors usually are to blame.
There are also psychological issues behind debt, Steven notes.
“We also tend to define wealth from the standpoint of material possession. However, true and real success is being free from debt. Unfortunately, most people incur debt to purchase goods that depreciate in value and do not generate additional income. The desire to acquire certain social status drives people to make irrational financial decisions that eat into their future income and denies them the ability to invest in wealth creation.”
The Coles notes version of this important thought is that if we want toys to show off that we can’t really afford, we will burden ourselves with debt and rob our future selves of savings.
After reviewing the psychological impacts of debt – anger, regret, dread, shame, and so on – Steven looks at how to get out, and stay out, of the red ink.
First, he writes, you need to know “where you currently stand financially.” Figuring out your net worth – what you have minus what you owe – is a good first step.
Next, set goals for debt reduction. “Your goals should be realistic so they feel attainable, but aggressive enough to get you out of your comfort zone,” he writes. A budget is also a must, he writes.
The harder steps include controlling your expenditures – to “stave off the behaviours that initially got you into to debt,” and to control costs by cutting back on dining out, unused memberships, streaming services and subscriptions. Cut where you can, he advises.
Build an emergency fund, he recommends, so you don’t have to depend on credit for unforeseen expenses. As well, he writes, make saving a habit.
“If I told you saving is easy, I would be lying,” he writes. “Saving requires discipline, a habit you build over time. It can be hard to save instead of spend, but if you have to attain financial freedom, then saving is one of those things you will have to embrace.”
There’s a handy chapter on how to negotiate debts with your creditors, and a comparison of the main debt reduction strategies. With the “snowball” strategy, you start by paying extra on your smallest debt, and then when that is paid off, you add what you were paying on the smallest debt to the next smallest. The “avalanche” uses the same principles but starts with the highest debt first.
Once you have debt under control, you will have achieved the important state of financial discipline. “The main cause of financial problems is a lack of financial discipline and self-control,” he writes. “Therefore, achieving financial discipline should start with rewiring the mind and your perceptions about money. Start linking happiness to saving, investing, being debt free and having a good emergency fund that you can fall back on when things get tough.”
Stevens makes another key point late in the book – the fact that debt can restrict your retirement savings.
“It is highly likely that you slowed down or halted retirement contributions while paying off debt. Now that you are debt-free, though, you should work on building your retirement contributions…. always increase your retirement contributions as your income increases.”
He notes that paying off debt is a great accomplishment, but avoiding slipping back into debt requires the same discipline needed to pay it off. Boost your monthly savings once debt is gone, he suggests. “Target” your savings – save up for a trip, and pay for its costs only from that fund. Think before you spend – a used car may be better than brand new, a simpler wedding will help you avoid bringing debt on the honeymoon. You generally need to try and live within your means – meaning, spend less than you earn.
This is a helpful book and well worth a read. We have always felt that getting out of debt is very similar to losing weight – it’s an effort to lose the pounds and even more difficult to keep them off after you’ve succeeded. But in the long run it is good for you.
A good destination, post-debt, for your retirement savings is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, available to all Canadians with registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) room. With SPP, you get professional investing – a good thing to have in these volatile markets – at a low cost; your savings are pooled with those of other members to keep investing costs low. SPP will grow your savings and help your convert them into retirement income at the appropriate time. Find out more about SPP today!
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Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.