There’s an old phrase that says ‘prevention is better than the cure’ – basically; it’s better to avoid a problem than it is to have to fix a problem. This couldn’t be more true than when you’re looking at how to avoid getting into debt.
There are some excellent debt solutions available if you’re struggling with debt – but if you can get to grips with your finances before you lose control, you’re going to be in a better situation moving forward.
So, where do you start if you want to make sure you avoid debt in the first place? We’ve explored nine tried and tested ways to keep your finances in check.
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Understand your money
If you’re never quite sure how much you have in the bank, how much credit card debt you have, or how much your monthly bills add up to, you’re definitely not alone.
Millions of people in the UK don’t know exactly what their income is or keep track of their monthly outgoings – and this can make staying out of debt very difficult – sometimes even impossible.
It might not sound like the most exciting task, but creating a budget planner is an amazing way of understanding what your finances look like every month and dealing with debts. The good news is, it’s not difficult and it doesn’t take long.
Chances are, you’ll only need your online banking app or bank statements – and perhaps a few bills – to get started. On a piece of paper, make two lists – incomings and outgoings. Now, work through your last full month of transactions add everything that comes into your bank account to the ‘incomings’ list, and everything you spend in the ‘outgoings’ list.
When you’ve finished, you can use a calculator to add each list up. This gives you an idea of roughly how much you earn each month, and roughly how much you spend each month.
Now, go through the ‘outgoings’ list again and put a star next to anything that you absolutely have to pay; like your rent, mortgage, credit card debt repayments, household bills – etc. Add all these essential outgoings up and, when you’ve done, take the total away from your ‘incomings’ figure.
The amount that’s left is your ‘disposable income’ – basically how much you’ve got to spend each month after your bills are paid.
Of course, there are things like shopping, travel costs, and other things that you’ll have to pay out of your disposable income – but when you’ve got these figures written down and you know how much everything costs, you’re in a great position to decide whether or not you really can afford to treat yourself – or whether you’ll be leaving yourself a bit short and adding to your debts to get through the month.
Build up some emergency savings
Savings are tricky; almost everybody wants to save – but actually getting around to putting some money aside or creating an emergency fund can feel like something you just never get around to.
The problem is, without emergency savings, there’s often no chance of dealing with life’s emergencies. What happens if the car fails its MOT? What if you get a bill through the post that was much bigger than you expected? Where do you turn if a family pet gets unwell and you end up with a big vet bill?
Without savings, many people will be forced to turn to credit cards or payday loans – and if you can’t afford to save, there’s a good chance you will struggle to pay off your new monthly payments.
So, what should you do if you want to save money to avoid this kind of debt? Well, one of the best ways to save money is to save little and often. If you can put aside just £25 per month, you’ll have £300 saved a year later – and if trouble strikes, a £300 per year emergency fund could be the difference between panic and relaxation!
£25 a month is just an example of course – you’ll need to check back over your budget plan from the previous tip to work out some ways to save money – but the key is actually doing it. Make sure you don’t rely on “whatever you’ve got left at the end of the month” as an amount to save. Instead, make saving one of your outgoings – like your water bill or council tax bill.
Use credit very carefully
It’s very, very easy to use credit products like credit cards, store cards, and ‘buy now, pay later’ offers – but these are all very quick ways of getting into debt.
The problem is, they all seem very harmless – and, used carefully, they can be – but there’s a temptation to use credit cards and store cards to buy things you can’t really afford.
It might sound boring and not very spontaneous, but before you use credit to make a purchase, go back to your monthly budget plan and take a look at whether you can afford the debt repayments and added interest going forward. If you can, then great – but if you can’t, don’t be tempted to talk yourself into doing it anyway.
“Well! It’s just one less takeaway each week!”
“If I cut back on how much I spend on lunch, I can afford the repayments!”
“I’ll start walking to work instead of taking the car.”
We’ve all said things like this, but guess what – when next months comes around, 99% of us won’t make the sacrifice we promised – so your outgoings start to spiral out of control. Use your credit card balance and other finance offers very carefully if you want to stay away from debt.
Stick to your limits
We all know about credit limits and overdraft amounts, right? Well, what a lot of companies don’t tell you is that – a lot of the time – a credit limit isn’t set in stone. In fact, when companies allow you to go over your credit limit, they often make a lot of money from you.
How does it work? Well, let’s think about an overdraft, for example:
If you’ve got a £500 overdraft and your balance is at -£495, you can’t take £10 out at a cash machine – but your bank might still let payments come out of your account. So, if a bill comes out and you’re close to your limit, the payment won’t fail – it’ll often just take you into an ‘unauthorised overdraft’. The same thing can happen with credit card payments and limits too.
When you find yourself using credit cards and overdrafts like this, you’ll almost always end up on a very high-interest rate – as well getting admin fees and other charges too.
You may even find that your credit rating is damaged and the bank or card provider asks for the debt to be repaid immediately. This can lead to suddenly being in a lot of debt – so make sure you stick to those limits carefully.
Payback more than the minimum
Credit card debt can feel like it never goes away. You can be making payments for months – then, when your credit card bills arrive, you find that the amount you owe is practically the same as it was six months ago.
Why does it happen? Well, most of the time it’s because people only pay back the absolute minimum. Your payment will cover the interest that’s been added and a little bit of the overall amount – but not much. So, by only making a minimum payment, you could be looking at paying off even a small amount for a very long time.
If you want to steer clear of debt that hangs around for what feels like forever, then try to pay off more than your minimum payment each month.
Try to stop shopping as a hobby
There’s no doubt about it, shopping and spending money can feel like an amazing thing to do with your spare time – but if it becomes your main hobby or favourite thing to do; you might be on a slippery slope towards debt you can’t manage.
The trouble is, doing the things you love is a great away to relax and wind down – so if you need to relax and the best way to do it is spending money, it can be very tempting to do it – even if your debit card can’t handle it.
Shopping websites are carefully put together by experts whose job it is to get you to spend money. So even if you’re just browsing, you’ll almost certainly see low price deals, low-interest finance deals, buy now – pay later offers, interest-free deals, or discount codes that are designed to help you make those impulse purchases and push your price limit up.
We know; reading a book or baking a cake might not be as exciting as splashing out on a luxury purchase – but if you want to avoid getting into debt, shopping definitely isn’t the best hobby to have.
Don't buy anything you don't really need
This is a quick and simple tip. Next time you’re about to head for the till or hit ‘checkout’ – ask yourself “Do I really NEED this?”
Sure, sometimes you need to buy something – but most of the time, luxury purchases aren’t essential. If you can comfortably afford what you’ve got in your basket then go for it – but if buying it means using credit and adding interest; the stress of debt might outweigh the short term pleasure you get from your new purchase.
Boost your income
We’ve talked a lot here about being careful with what you spend as a way to avoid credit you don’t need – but spending less is only one way of keeping your money in check. Another way is increasing how much you make each month.
Now, boosting your incoming isn’t likely to be quick or easy – otherwise everyone would do it, but there are opportunities out there.
Could you ask for more hours at work? Perhaps you could pick up another part-time job that would fit around your current commitments? If you’re looking for a hobby to replace shopping, perhaps you could think about a small business you could begin from home?
It might not be practical for you – but if it is, adding even a small amount each month can help you avoid using credit and getting into debt.
Get proper debt help if you need it
Where do you turn if you’re struggling with your finances? Perhaps you could talk to family and friends? You might even call your creditors (the companies you owe money to) and see if they can help? Pay day loan companies? Of course, you could do what millions of people do and just hope for the best.
At times like these, it’s important to know where to turn for real advice and debt management help.
Rather than just hoping that debt will go away or a good balance transfer deal or low-interest loan will help you get back on top of your debts, consider talking to specialist debt advisors to understand your options.
It can be tempting to just hope money problems go away – but as things become tighter and tighter financially, it becomes harder to avoid debt and all the stresses and strains that come with it.