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Financial Learning Center


Looking at Your Spending and Debt

When You Have Too Much Debt

If you've got debt problems, completing the "Cash Flow" worksheet probably didn't make you very happy.

Take a good hard look at your cash flow. What is the lowest amount you can survive on?

Consider the following:

  • Think about interest rates. How much are you paying on your credit cards?
  • Could you go six months without buying any clothes? This is fairly easy for adults to do, but hard if you have growing children. If you do need clothes, could you buy them at outlets or only when they go on sale?
  • Could you go six months without eating out?
  • Rent a movie instead of going out.
  • Look in your local paper... there are lots of things you can do for free.
  • How much money do you spend on convenience foods and impulse items at the grocery store? Would you be able to eliminate most of these?
  • Could you survive without a vacation this year?
  • Could you drive your car an extra year?
  • Could you give up cable TV?
  • Could you stop using credit cards except for real emergencies?
  • How many things do you pay for that you could really do yourself, or talk a friend into helping you with?
  • Is the amount you spend on gifts really necessary? What about giving your time instead?
  • How about sending your children to community college for two years, and then switching them into four-year schools?
  • Could you live someplace cheaper?
  • Would your landlord be willing to trade some work around the complex for a reduction in rent?
  • Would you be willing to rent out a room in your house? Or trade living space for babysitting?
  • Watch your thermostat! Get an automatic timer so that you don't waste resources when you're out.

Now construct a cash flow, or spending plan, that will help you on your way of getting out of debt. Think bare bones. What is the absolute minimum it would take to feed and house you and your family? You may be surprised on how much less you can live on. Remember: We're not asking you to live like this forever. Wouldn't a year or two of sacrifice be worth it to get that debt cleared away? See the Spending Plan section to prepare this plan.

Then, look ahead to the future. What's a good compromise between where you are now and bare bones? Add back the luxuries that are important to you. Include an amount for savings. Make a new spending plan to prepare the future.

It takes a lot of time to put a spending plan together. But if you do it well and thoroughly, you'll have something to aim for. It may not work out exactly as you've planned, but a spending plan will give you a way to measure your progress. And that may be all you need.
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