Simple steps toward a debt-free life

I don’t know about you, but I have made some pretty dumb choices with money over the years. I have put things on my credit card that I don't really need. I took out a loan to “treat myself” to a trip to Europe for two weeks after college because I thought I deserved it. I have fudged parts of my monthly budget to go out to dinner with my friends. In other words, sometimes I focus more on what I want instead of what I really need, when it comes to my finances.

But I can now thankfully say that within the next few years, I will have paid off my college loans. I recently did the math, and within the next two years my debt-reduction snowball will gain some significant traction. It is such a proud feeling to know my hard work is paying off.

While I have made a lot of poor choices when it comes to money, there are three certain principles I find helpful in keeping me focused and on track.

I do not carry my credit card with me

Yes, you heard correctly. I have one credit card, but I choose not to carry it in my wallet. While owning a credit card is a big no-no according to the Dave Ramsey principles (which I follow in my own life), I am very aware and intentional about how and when I use it.

I only purchase something with my credit card if I have the ability to pay it off in full almost immediately. I choose not to carry it in my wallet because I don’t want the extra temptation when I see an upcoming sale at Ann Taylor or DSW Warehouse. I do think a credit card is a good thing to have for emergency purposes, but not because I want a new pair of boots for autumn or a nice dinner out with my girlfriends. For me, not carrying my credit card has helped me get better at determining whether a potential purchase is a need or a want. In effect, it has become a tool that keeps me honest and accountable in my purchasing power.

Pay in cash as often as possible

One of the best things Dave Ramsey has taught me over the last few years is to pay with cash as often as possible. Why?

When you pay with cash, you feel it more. You can physically see how much money you have to work with. And because you’re handing the stack of bills over to the cashier, the pinch of the purchase is felt more. Consider how paying $60 in cash feels compared to $60 spent with the quick swipe of a card and signature.

I have found paying in cash makes me more choosy when it comes to things like deciding what to buy at the grocery store or how to handle an unexpected bill that comes up. There are studies that show people who pay for items in cash are typically more motivated to stick to their budget. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense.

Use an effective budgeting app on a daily basis

One is hard-pressed to stay on track with finances and paying off debt these days if you don’t have an accessible budgeting tool to implement in your daily life.

When I started getting much more serious a few years ago about becoming debt-free, I tried a few different budgeting apps and programs. The one I have found most successful for myself is Every Dollar. It is a simple and free app with which you can break down and assign every dollar to certain categories in your monthly budget. I can see each month (and with every purchase I upload) exactly where my money is going and how much I have left to work with. It is user-friendly, and it has become second nature to me to load every purchase onto the app.

Whatever your relationship with money looks like, it is possible to make positive changes. Your current financial reality doesn’t have to be your future. With these accessible changes, I have found that with focus and hard work, it’s possible to become debt-free.