Sliding into debt can happen incrementally over many years or it can suddenly escalate. Depending on your circumstances, it can sometimes happen overnight. With families having to deal with high levels of redundancies, jobs being thin on the ground, escalating mortgage rates and constant fuel, food and energy prices, is it any wonder that so many are finding themselves far deeper in the red than they realised?
Debt is a huge cause of stress and can damage lives for those in debt and for their families. It’s essential to get help as soon as you can. Luckily there are many places that can help, including government agencies the Citizens Advice Bureau or websites like Debt Free Direct, all of whom are on hand to help you get out of debt in the fastest and least damaging way possible.
Before you can work out the kind of help you need, you need to know exactly how severe your debt problem is. We’ve put together a few tips to make a start and gain control of your finances and your life.
ANALYSE YOUR FINANCES
This is difficult to do when you know you’re not going to like what you find but it’s essential you know exactly how much you owe and to whom. Collect all the relevant information, start a spreadsheet or write in a notebook and write down everything. Include your incoming salary and all of our outgoings as well to see how much you have left over to repay your debts.
MAKE A HOUSEHOLD BUDGET
Work out what you spend money on. Be honest and be thorough. Write it all down in a list – that means everything, including meals out, nights out, cigarettes, luxuries, holidays and clothes. Don’t forget to include things like energy bills, council tax and TV licence. Then work out what you need to have and what can be knocked off your list. Careful budgeting and shopping doesn’t necessarily mean your life will change for the worse – it does mean you know you’re back in the driving seat.
DAY TO DAY SPENDING
Take cash out at the beginning of the week for day to day expenses that can’t be avoided (for example, bus money for work, and make it last all week. It’s easier to keep a grasp on what you’re spending if you avoid using your debit or credit card.
Look for a good deal and consider consolidating into one new, low or no interest card. Cut the rest up. Do not have a wallet full of store and credit cards. When you’re back in the black you can always get another one, but for now, they are not an option.
CHECK YOUR STATEMENTS
It’s always a good idea to keep a very close eye on your bank and credit card statements. Remember that banks won’t tell you if you’re going overdrawn, they’ll just charge you, so be one step ahead. It’s also a good plan to go through standing orders and direct debits with a fine tooth comb. Often you can find small amounts of money are leaving your account every month from long ago standing orders that are no longer needed. Again, it’s up to you to keep control of your outgoings and take notice of what is going in and out of your accounts.