2. Become a money expert
What can happen when you know nothing about personal finance and managing credit? In the case of Glenn Phillips of Birmingham, Ala., he wound up owing $250,000. Plus, Phillips was constantly late on payments and the interest rates on his accounts shot up to 29 percent. His expertise was -- and still is -- in the technology world, but that changed when he realized how severely his lack of financial acumen impacted his life.
To turn it around, Phillips grabbed the reins and educated himself. He sought out basic personal finance courses so he could understand how to best manage money and credit. "I admitted to myself that I don't know what I'm doing here, but I'm willing to learn," says Phillips, who went to classes once a week. He learned how to handle his affairs and deal with money productively. "I had to learn to say the word 'no', and not feel bad about it," says Phillips. "I learned to stop letting my self-esteem be based on my possessions."
3. Spend virtually, then actually
Matt Wegner of Sheboygan, Wis., used to believe that living in arrears was inevitable -- an attitude that caused him and his wife to accumulate more than $13,000 in consumer debt. Wegner says they "just let it happen. We accepted living in debt." One day, the couple resolved to never borrow again. Period. "We do a new budget every month and spend every dollar on paper before the month begins," says Wegner. "If we don't have enough money to cover everything we want that month, we take something off." They started this system three years ago. They paid off their debt and haven't spent more than they earned since.
Virtual shopping has helped them curb impulse purchases, and making it a shared activity has built trust in their relationship. The Wegners talk about items not on the plan, and "we often put 'wants' off for a month or two to see if we really need it. Most of the time we realize we really didn't want or need it that bad." This method worked so well, Wegner now teaches others to eliminate debt and build wealth.
4. Make a money vow
Ever make a totally committed promise to use credit cards wisely? It may be time you did. Marcia Noyes and her husband regularly held credit card balances between $7,000 and $10,000. "We used to pay just the minimums," says Noyes "even though we were wallowing in debt."
A stroke of good fortune was the catalyst they needed to make an abrupt change with how they dealt with credit: Her husband's early retirement package enabled them to pay down the debt all at once. "We made a vow right then that we would never again pay the minimum on any credit cards," she says. "Now we use the cards instead of them using us." The couple charges about $7,000 per month but then pays the bill off. Noyes admits that staying on track isn't always easy, but that vow is sacred, saying, "We'll do without food before we don't pay a credit card in full." Today, they track every penny and have perfected their money management routine. "Once you get out of the minimum payment habit," assures Noyes, "it becomes a way of life."
5. Use the 12-step program
Admitting a charging addiction put Stephanie H.* of Brooklyn, N.Y., on the path to good financial health. Using convenience checks her credit cards sent to pay for everything from rent to groceries, her debt soon swelled to $17,000. "I was living meagerly," says Stephanie. (Being anonymous is part of the 12-step program and so last names are never revealed.) "It was miserable."
Stephanie realized she needed outside assistance. She negotiated settlements with her creditors and now stays debt-free "one day at a time in Debtors Anonymous." Debtors Anonymous (DA) helped her realize that saving is her priority. DA's collective wisdom and endless support is crucial to her success. "Where else do you get a room full of people who cheer for you? They help you get what you want." With the organization's guidance, Stephanie went from living in debt with no savings to having over $30,000 in her retirement account and $10,000 in her vacation fund in a few short years.
6. Go to extremes
When Darryl G.* of Cincinnati got married, he let his wife completely take over their finances. He regretted that decision when he discovered she racked up $42,000 on their credit cards without his knowledge. After the divorce, Darryl repaid the balance by taking extreme cost-cutting measures. "I paid it off over three years by living horribly frugally," Darryl says. He saved money by turning off his air conditioner and heat, and he used the per diem his clients paid him for meals so he didn't have to buy his own food.