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$23,600 in debt paid off in 15 months

She used a spending freeze to become debt-free. Here are 16 steps to get your own spending under control.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 6, 2012 10:22AM

This post comes from Anna Newell Jones at partner blog Wise Bread

Wise Bread on MSN MoneyA spending fast (also known as a spending freeze or a spending lockdown) is a method of getting out of debt through the elimination of all "non-need" spending.

By doing a spending fast, I was able to substantially improve my financial life, paying off $23,605 in debt in 15 months. Now I am able to live a debt-free and autonomous life, one where my goals take priority and the debt doesn't. 

Before you decide to do a spending fast, there are a few factors to consider. They will affect how quickly you are able to become debt-free.

  • The total amount of debt you have.
  • Your income.
  • How much spending you decide to cut out.
  • The duration of time you chose for your spending fast.
  • How much money you can make by selling your unused possessions.
  • What you chose to do to generate additional income.
My life changed completely when I finally decided I had to be done with my debt. The cycle of debt and remorse needed to end once and for all. Life is better on this side -- the debt-free side. So, if you want to get out of debt and change your life by doing a spending fast, here's how:

Image: Worried Man (© Corbis)1. List your debts and their interest rates. Make a list of all your bills. Write the highest-interest-rate bill at the top of the list and the lowest-interest-rate bill at the bottom. This will determine the order in which you will eliminate your bills.

2. Ask your creditors for lower interest rates. Some credit card companies will actually lower your interest rate, so it's worth a shot to call them and ask.

3. Picture the life you dream of living. Determine your priorities by putting actual pen to paper and writing down your ideal life. What would you be doing if you didn't have to work for a living? How would you spend your time, and when are you the most happy?

4. Ask yourself, "Is there any way I can reach my goals with the debt I have?" If the answer is "no" and you don't feel good about it, it's time to start thinking about making some serious life changes. If you find yourself making decisions about things to do (or not do) based on how much debt you owe, be very honest with yourself. Does your debt prevent you from living a life that is true to you? Does your debt (and your obligation to it) pull you and angle your decisions in even the subtlest ways? (Post continues below.)

5. Decide to be done with debt once and for all.
If you're not ready to be done with your debt, then you might want to try some other methods first. The spending fast technique requires commitment and dedication. A spending fast is a way to get extreme results in a relatively short amount of time, but you have to be ready to go forward full-force with it.

6. If you have a partner, try to get your partner to do the spending fast with you. It's a lot easier to change your life if your partner is on board, but if he or she isn't, consider doing the spending fast solo (separate bank accounts are very helpful here).

7. Set a time frame for your spending fast. I recommend a year so you can quickly get past the difficult beginning part (where your habits are changing) and into the real benefits part (where your debt is getting paid off).

8. Make a public declaration of your desire to become debt-free. Tell your friends and family about your decision to do a spending fast so you can have the accountability that comes along with that. In addition to telling your family and friends, you can take my debt-free life pledge.

9. Create a "wants and needs" list. The "wants and needs" list will serve as the backbone of your spending fast. On the needs list include the bare necessities needed to live: rent, food, utilities, etc. On the wants side, put everything that is an extra in your life. Things that went on this side of the list for me were items like clothes, coffee at coffee shops, movies in the theater, gifts, new bed linens, new music, new makeup, shoes, etc. (Here is my original spending fast wants and needs list if you're interested in seeing it.) The list can (and will) be different based on each person's priorities in life.

10. Spend money on the needs side of the list only. This is the simple-but-not-easy part of the spending fast.

11. Think about what you can buy rather than what you can't. If you find yourself starting to feel bummed out when you're in the thick of the spending fast, try to shift your perspective, because it will do wonders for your morale. Remember to keep having fun (just the free kind). Remember that the spending fast isn't forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel (that's why you set a time frame at the start) and remind yourself of why you're doing the spending fast in the first place -- it's to get out of debt once and for all and to change your life.

12. Become immersed in a community of like-minded people. On my spending fast website, And Then She Saved, I've started a community page where people share their questions, struggles, accomplishments, setbacks, tips and tricks -- and most importantly, their getting-out-of-debt successes. It's a great place to get a reminder that we aren't alone in our dreams to live debt-free lives.

13. Attack your debts. At the end of the month, send all the money that is left in your account to the bill that has the highest interest rate. Continue to send the minimum due on your other bills. Once a bill gets knocked out, be proud of yourself. You're really doing it! Then, attack the next-highest-interest-rate bill on the list. Become competitive with yourself; try to get better numbers than the previous month and keep track of your savings from month to month. Seeing all of the savings at the end of the year is amazing.

14. Be committed to the process. It's unrealistic to think that mistakes won't happen, so keep going even when they (inevitably) occur.

15. Continue with the spending fast until you reach your end date. Stick with the spending fast for the entire time frame you committed yourself to. If you reach your goal of paying off your debt and you happen to do it before your predetermined end date, why not keep going? Squirrel away the extra money and prepare yourself for the next step: financial security.

16. Be proud of yourself for what you accomplished -- big or small. When you come to the end of your spending fast, look back on all you were able to do. Being willing to take charge of your life and finances is definitely something to be proud of.

Throughout the spending fast, always be on the lookout for ways to cut the needs list down even more, get creative with ways to save money, and be willing to make things yourself in an effort to save.

Before you know it, saving will become (unbelievably) more fun than spending, and your financial life will be forever changed.

More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

avatar takes a genius to figure this out...or any financial planning/advising book...or just common sense.  I paid off over 30K in student loan debt because I got a degree and job that is applicable in today's's called engineering...where's my story MSN??  Oh wait, I know why, because I'm not complaining about any of my previous debt by shifting blame to someone else for my choices...I made them and chose to deal with them myself.
Jun 7, 2012 1:52PM
You must make a lot more money than your average american.  If I was making 6 figures, I think I would have avoided this type of debt in the 1st place.  LMAO
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