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The Most Important Things to Do to Start Paying Off Your Debt

“Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

—G.K. Chesterton

I’ll be honest. I’m not much on New Year’s Resolutions. If a goal is to be made and met, it can be done on January 1 as easily as May 1 or December 27 or March 14.

We all know the odds of actually keeping a resolution are fairly low (womp. womp.) However, the quicker you act to put change into place, the more likely you’ll gain a result and the more motivated you’ll be to stick with those choices.

Our family spent four years paying off $127K+ in debt. I wish we would started doing these five things much earlier in our journey:

Believe That It’s Actually Possible

I know what you’re thinking. You want charts and graphs and a specific plan and maybe even an easy way out. Certainly you need specific strategy to pay off debt, but if you truly don’t believe that you can pay off your debt, you never will.

I love Neil Gaiman’s paraphrase of a G.K. Chesterton quote: “Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Your debt dragons can be beaten. It’s time for you to start acting like you believe the God who keeps the universe spinning can also help you find your way out of what seems like an impossible situation.

Stop Thinking There’s an Easy Way Out

Speaking of that easy way out … there is none. I’d be wary of anyone who tells you there are three easy steps or a simple balance transfer program or any other simple methodology that doesn’t involve some sort of sacrifice.

If you don’t feel the pain of getting out of debt, you’ll return to it again. Eliminating debt has less to do with the dollars in your pocket than with small, gradual changes made over time and with great resolve.

Own Your Junk

Debt is spiritual. Hymns are filled with imagery of having our debts paid by Jesus’ sacrifice. When we owe, we basically give someone else (or an entity of someone else) control of our lives.

For me, it was incredibly difficult to admit that I had been wrong to spend what I didn’t have and borrow to the point of financial exhaustion.

Own up to your mistakes, ask for forgiveness when necessary, and then move into a new pattern of earning, giving, debt-slaying and spending.

Get Your Budget Together—Now

To pay off debt, you have to organize your finances. You need to know specifically what you make, what you owe and how much you need to live.

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Don’t put off this essential step. Today, sit down with an app, an online service like mint.com, Quicken or a pencil and paper (free budget printables here)—whatever it takes to begin to get a good handle on the particulars of your money.

Ignorance is not bliss. It might be scary to see the balance sheet drip red but you can’t begin an epic battle without a plan.

Seek Help

Want to fail in your financial resolutions? Take advice from someone who is stone cold broke.

We were never meant to live this life alone. You need community. When you’re in debt, you need other people who are successful with money or on a path to recovery.

Sign up for a money management class at your church (Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or Crown’s Journey to Financial Freedom would be great choices). Find a virtual community (I have one I’d love for you to join). Speak your financial fears out loud. Let other people pray for you. Seek out a community of individuals who will help you when you fall and cheer you on when your feet feel faint.

Personal finance is personal. Money is emotional. Changing our mindset and the orientation of our souls is just as important as cutting expenses or creating a spreadsheet. Don’t skip these essential steps no matter when you resolve to begin paying off debt.

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