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No one wants to go into debt. Unfortunately, keeping those red marks out of your ledger is easier said than done. After all, the typical American will pay an average of $279,002 in interest over their lifetime. (You can calculate your personal lifetime cost of debt here.) Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take to avoid living in the red. Here are 20 smart spending habits, budgeting tips, money-saving strategies and more that can help you stay out of debt.
1. Make shopping lists (& stick to them)
Before heading out to run errands, write down what you need. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. Cutting back on impulsive purchases can help keep your spending in check.
2. Talk about money
Even if one person in a relationship tends to handle financial matters, it’s crucial for both people involved to know what’s going on. Take time to chat about your financial goals, priorities and struggles so you can help each other stay on track.
This tip goes beyond love and money: Talking to your peers about something you all deal with — money — can expose you to new ways of thinking about personal finance or help you find answers to questions you never knew you had. Others’ experiences can be immensely educational.
3. Read about money
No one knows absolutely everything there is to know about personal finance — it’s a massive topic. Plus, things change. No matter what you’re interested in or have questions about, there are a lot of quality resources available on everything from budgeting to investing to getting out of student loan debt and everything in between.
4. Maintain good credit
A good credit score can save you on everything from interest rates on loans and credit cards to cable TV subscriptions, cell phone plans and insurance policies. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
If your scores are currently looking stellar, you can maintain good standing by paying all your bills on-time, keeping your debt levels low and adding a mix of credit accounts as you can afford to. If your credit is looking rusty, you can improve your scores by paying down big credit card balances, limiting new credit inquiries and disputing any errors on your credit reports.
Read more: 10 tips to quickly improve your credit score
5. Use a budgeting app
There are plenty of apps out there that can help you establish a monthly budget based on how much money you have coming in and what you typically put your dollars toward. These apps will keep you on top on how you’re doing over the course of the month and let you know if you’re going in the red.
6. Try sticking to cash
You can’t overspend cash — once that $30 in your wallet is gone, it’s gone. So you can spend it on one dinner out or you can buy groceries that will give you a week’s worth of lunch. That’s up to you.
Read more: Managing your money the old-fashioned way
7. Make coffee at home instead of stopping at the shop
This one can be a big challenge — your favorite coffee shop’s menu is so much more elaborate than what your Mr. Coffee or Keurig at home can do. But even cutting back on your shop visits a couple times each week can give your bank account some extra breathing room.
8. Turn off instant online ordering
Having 1-Click or a similar service turned on with your Amazon or other online account sure makes it easy to order the latest book in your favorite series or those new shoes you just don’t feel you can live without. But that’s the problem, right? It’s just too easy. You see something you like and one easy click of the mouse or tap of your finger and — boom — just like that, the item is at your door. Problem is, this quick and easy purchasing tool can really damage your budget if you aren’t careful. Giving yourself a few more steps to make an order happen can give you a moment to decide if you really need another pair of Toms or not.
9. Unsubscribe to emails that alert you of sales
Your closet is full of T-shirts and shoes, but when that comes in practically shouting at you about a deal, how can you refuse? So, you head to the store and before you know it, you’ve used your plastic for the T-shirt featured in the email, as well as a couple others that were just too cute to pass up. You have the discount coupon, so it’s all good, right? These purchases may be OK and even fun every once and awhile when your wallet allows, but had you not known of this sale, you may not have ventured to the store. Imagine if this happens every time you get one of these emails. Save yourself the temptation (and the inbox space) and unsubscribe.
10. Cancel the memberships you don’t use
Do you remember the episode of Friends where Chandler tried to quit the gym? He decided it was finally time to stop letting $50 come out of his bank account every month for a place he hadn’t been to in almost six years. Whether you’re not using your gym membership or you only use one streaming service versus all the ones you’re paying for, it’s a good idea to look at the subscription fees you’re paying and see if there are any you could eliminate.
Read more: 7 easy ways to cut your monthly bills
11. Visit the library instead of buying books
Your library card is probably the only plastic in your wallet that won’t hurt you, no matter how many times you swipe it at the register. If you don’t have one, or the one from your childhood expired, consider getting a new one. Libraries are full of books and movies you can borrow for free, helping cut down on your online spend.
12. Remember the Wi-Fi
It’s a good idea to always connect to your home and office Wi-Fi to reduce your cell phone’s data usage. Doing so can you avoid getting hit with hefty overage fees on your bill. And you also may be able to take advantage of reputable free Wi-Fi hotspots. Just make sure the network you’re hopping on is secure. You don’t want to risk having your identity stolen.
13. Pay your credit card balances more than once a month
It can be all too easy to rack up credit card debt, given how simple it is to swipe your plastic and not think about those purchases until the very end of the month. But to avoid running up a balance you can’t pay off in full, consider paying your balance down every week or even every day from a linked debit card account. Note: this helps you reap the benefits of a credit card — rewards points, better fraud protections, etc. — without having to carry debt and pay extra in interest.
14. Tell your credit card to holler at you
You can also ask your credit card or debit card to let you know when you’re about to do something costly. Many issuers let cardholders set up spend alerts that will text or email them when they’re bumping up against their credit limit, about to miss a payment or have even have made a purchase over a certain amount. These alerts can be extremely helpful when it comes to monitoring your spending — and they can also help you readily spot fraudulent activity. Just imagine getting an alert about a $300 purchase while you’re at home watching TV half-asleep.
15. Remember to redeem your credit card rewards
It’s important to note that credit card rewards can incentivize overspending, which makes them an iffy choice for someone trying to avoid debt. That being said, rewards credit cards can help you save money by way of cash back or some sort of redeemable points or miles. Just don’t forget you have them. Some rewards expire if you don’t use them. Even if they don’t, it’s important to check up on how many you have from time to time. Racking up a ton of points is only worthwhile if you actually redeem them at some point.
16. Prioritize credit card payments
If you do wind up carrying balances on a bunch of credit cards, you may be able to pay your debts down faster by prioritizing payments. Make the minimums on all your cards, as a missed payment can wreck your credit, but put more money toward the card with the lowest balance or the one carrying highest the annual percentage rate. The former can be a great motivator, while the latter can keep your debts from snowballing. You can calculate how long it will take you to pay off your current credit card debts here.
17. Use your credit card’s price guarantees
Oh no! You bought that thing that you absolutely couldn’t resist only to find it much cheaper elsewhere. You could be in luck if you used your credit card. Many credit cards come with price protection plans if you overspend on an item. Just read the fine print of your agreement, and provide the necessary documentation (some require advertisements).
18. Tap your credit card warranty
Sometimes a thing goes on the fritz seconds after the store warranty expires. If you bought it with a credit card, again, you might be in luck. Some credit cards can double the life of your warranty up to a certain amount, meaning, you can replace the appliance or fritzy thing and not have to tap your savings.
19. Get a side gig
In case you haven’t heard, the gig economy is real and thriving. These days, savvy side hustlers are earning some dough by sharing their rides, starting a blog, running tasks for others, bidding for freelance work — you name it. If spending less isn’t curbing your debts, you may want to consider taking on a side gig to generate some extra income.
Read more: 18 easy ways to make extra cash on the side
20. Sell your stuff
Looking for another way to generate some other dollars to stay out of debt? There are plenty of apps and websites out there that can help you sell your gently used clothing or start your very own online consignment shop. Bonus: these digital boutiques can help you recoup some cash on all those designer duds you bought back in your less frugal days.
You can see the full list of 50 ways to stay out of debt on Credit.com.
More from Credit.com
- Can You Get Your Student Loans Forgiven?
- Pay for Removal Deals: Removing Collection Accounts From Your Credit Reports
- Repayment Options for Student Loans
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
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