This post is sponsored by Lexington Law.

It’s really hard to change our habits and adjust our lifestyle.  Because when something becomes a habit or something that we’re accustomed to, it becomes the new “normal.”  This especially rings true when we’re talking about money.  For better or worse, we’ve put ourselves in a position and can almost justify that this position is OK.  Even if it means we’re constantly going in and out of debt.

In order to break this vicious cycle, there are a few steps to follow.  The steps that we talk about below, will help you to visually see where you are and where you need to go.  They will help you form different habits and create a lifestyle where you’re financially comfortable.

Step 1: Get a clear picture of your debt.

Pull your credit report, look at your bills, debts (credit/student loans), and other finances and get a clear understanding of where you currently stand.  It’s hard to break the cycle or even get yourself out of debt if you don’t understand or know how to navigate the big picture.

If this seems over your head or you’ve been struggling with understanding, ask someone you trust to help.  This can be a friend or family member who is willing to sit down and help you piece together all of your bills and identify where your debt is.

Another option is to speak with a professional.  The professionals at Lexington Law will help you better understand your credit score and help you to repair it.  Having someone work with you that has your best interests in mind will help make the process easier.  If you don’t know where you start, it’s hard to know what you’ll need to do.

Related post: How to Read Your Credit Report

Step 2: Be open and honest about your situation.

Once you have a clearer picture, you need to be honest about where you stand.  When a few of my college friends looked at their credit card bills (that eventually became large debts), they just brushed them off.  They would give them a quick look and throw them away as if they didn’t exist.  By not looking at them and making regular payments, the bills became larger, interest rates increased, and they found themselves in a much larger hole that was really difficult to get out of.

While you might be feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or any other number of emotions; by not facing them head on, nothing will change.  When we don’t take debt seriously, we’re more likely to brush it off and continue down a path that we struggle to get out of.  And if we start paying it off, it’s easier to get back in the same cycle if we don’t truly remember how it felt to be in that situation in the first place.

Step 3: Create a realistic budget.

Now that you know what you owe and who you owe it to, it’s time to make some progress paying it off.  But in order to do that, you have to create a budget that you’re actually able to stick to.  If we’re going to break the cycle of debt, this needs to be something you’re comfortable with and doesn’t lead you down a trap.  This means making some lifestyle choices.  Do you want to:

  • Adjust your lifestyle to fit your budget

OR

  • Adjust your income to fit your lifestyle

This might mean adding in a side hustle, switching jobs, cutting spending or all of the above.  You can create a budget on a simple spreadsheet, Google doc, or use one of many budgeting apps to keep track of all of your spending.  You should be able to track your money in and out.

Related posts: 5 Tricks to  Avoid Budget Fatigue, How to Align Your Side Hustle with Your Interests to Get Out of Debt

Step 4: Identifying your trigger.

As you’re creating your budget and making a plan to increase your credit score and get yourself out of debt; it’s important to figure out what triggers you to spend more than you have.  Is it a person who might be a bad influence?  A specific situation or circumstance?  Where have you noticed that you fall into bad habits?

While this might take time, you want to make a point to not put yourself in situations where you’re triggered.  For some, this is when a store offers a freebie for opening up a credit card and they find themselves overusing the card and not being able to make payments.  For others, it can be FOMO on events with friends.   And for others, it can be taking out loans without a plan on how to pay them back.  Understand and be honest about your personal triggers.

Step 5: Adjust your mindset.

You’ve put the time in and know the importance of getting yourself out of debt, not only this time but in perpetuity.  Now, you have to own that you can actually do it.  When we don’t believe in ourselves, it makes it much easier to fall into bad habits.

If you don’t think you can do it on your own, get an accountability partner.  Someone who can cheer you on along the way and help you remember why this is important.  This can be a friend, family member, or mentor.  The professionals at Lexington Law can also help you put your credit score in perspective and work with you to find concrete and practical solutions to increase your score.

Related post: 3 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself to Determine Your Financial Goals

Step 6: Don’t look back.

Celebrate that you’ve paid off your debt!  It’s a huge accomplishment to achieve but it’s also not the time to accrue new debt.  When you feel like you have “extra” money or that you “need” something you can’t afford is when we can get sucked into bad habits. If you were already living off of a certain amount, continue living that lifestyle and put the “extra” money into savings or retirement.  Remember how great it feels to be debt free and use that as motivation to keep your lifestyle.

Step 7: Pay it forward.

You know what it’s like to be in debt and how it feels.  Take the time to be there for someone else that might be in a similar position.  Share what helped you, resources you used, and how you’ve changed your lifestyle.  When we give back to others, it not only helps that person but also keeps us accountable.  It’s much harder to fall into bad habits when you know someone is looking up to you for advice.

Related post: Benefits of Having Good Credit and How to Maintain It

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to pay off your debt or have paid it off and are fearful that you might fall down the debt trap again, know that it is possible to break the cycle.  Once you have a clear picture of where you are, gotten support to create a realistic budget, and narrowed down your triggers; you’re well on your way to being more fiscally responsible.  If you’re looking for one-on-one support, the professionals at Lexington Law can provide you with personalized assistance to help you understand your credit score and help you to work to repair your credit.

Alissa Carpenter

TEDx Speaker, Author, Facilitator at Everything's Not OK and That's OK
Alissa Carpenter is a multigenerational workplace expert, owner of Everything’s Not Ok and That’s OK and host of Humanize Your Workplace podcast.
She provides training, consulting, and speaking services to organizations all over the world. She has an MEd in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. Her work helps to bridge communication gaps across generations, job functions, and geographies, and she has worked with organizations ranging from non-profits to multi-billion-dollar enterprises. She has delivered a TEDx talk on authentic workplace communication, and has been featured in media outlets including Forbes, ABC, FOX, and CBS. Her book, Humanize Your Workplace (Career Press), is set to release next year.
Alissa Carpenter