Get Out of Debt and Stay Out of Debt

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Originally published on Military1.com.

Most Americans are very attentive when it comes to making an appointment for an annual physical, taking the time to visit the dentist twice a year for regular cleanings, and even staying on top of scheduled oil changes to make sure the car is kept in good working order. But, many also neglect to give the same kind of diligent attention to their family’s finances. The first step to keeping your finances in tip-top shape? Get out of debt. Here are 5 tips to take control of your financial well-being by getting out of debt, and staying out of debt:

1. Think of your home like a business.

The primary financial goal of a successful business is to make a profit. From a personal finance perspective, this means to get out of debt. Once you’re no longer bogged down by it, you can start saving for the important and fun things to come.

Know what resources are out there for you to take advantage of that will help you stay out of debt like the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Be prepared for circumstances that are unique to the military community. When getting your finances in order before your service member’s next deployment, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

2. Have a strategy

Pay off those credit card balances. Credit cards are an easy way to fall further and further into debt. Strategy and a clear outline of your finances will help control spending. If you find yourself struggling to dig out of debt, consider breaking down your expenses and aligning them with the money you and/or your spouse bring in. Comparing what the earner(s) make in your family with what your family spends will quickly put things into perspective.

If you’re interested in getting some professional guidance, consider consulting a financial planner who understands the military way of life.

3. Create a prioritization list

Make a list of the things your family needs; these usually include expenses you already have like rent/mortgage payments, cars, a clothing fund and internet service. Then take a look at things like the primo cable package, the motorcycle sitting in the garage beside your car(s), and the 2 beach trips you and your family take each year.

Prioritize, eliminate the excess and work your way out of debt. Once you’re ‘in the black,’ you can start saving toward the ‘wants’ such as the super-duper cable package and that flashy motorcycle. Just make sure you’re living within your means.

4. Cash is king

If you’re still wondering where your money is going, work with your service member to manage money to the highest extent possible through allotments.  The money is getting set aside responsibly, bills are being paid and this money is out of sight and out of mind – removing the temptation to spend!

From there, make a weekly budget for those everyday needs and wants, and set aside cash – or set up a dedicated bank account – to get you through each week on that specific amount.

5. Don’t get caught short

Things happen. Unexpected costs come up. That’s where an emergency fund comes in. Save a percentage of your family’s net income just in case the car breaks down, or another situation comes up that might require money on short notice.

Don’t ignore the concept of accrued expenses when examining your finances. Things like your car insurance payments usually aren’t noticeable in week to week budgeting. Prepare for your annual, bi-annual and quarterly bills and save for them so you won’t pass out at the site of owing several hundred…or thousand…dollars up front.

Depreciation is another commonly overlooked financial topic families don’t account for. It’s invisible. As you use things, they lose value – cars are a great example. Set money aside to offset your next car purchase. When you sell your old car, you’ll need to be prepared for payments to cover the value difference of your new car.

Once you’re out of debt, you’re ready to make new financial goals that YOU want, instead of feeling caught in a whirlpool of debt and obligation.

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