You may or may not have heard of Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball. However, if you want to pay off debt, using this method combined with a few tweaks will help you pay off debt even faster. In just 6 months, we were able to pay off over $6,000 worth of debt! The craziest part is we did this on one full time income. If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be able to pay off an average of $1,000 per month of debt I would have told you you were crazy. Up until the point we decided to pay off debt, we had been living paycheck to paycheck. Here’s the breakdown of how we paid off $1,000 of debt each month for 6 months and what you need to know to do it too.
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What to do before you pay off debt
While you could probably leap head first into debt payoff and still get results, there’s a good chance you’ll end up back in debt. Most of us who wind up deep in debt do so because we have a tough relationship with money and haven’t properly learned how to manage it.
Before you start implementing strategies to pay off debt, I highly suggest following these steps first:
- Learn to create a complete budget – There is a little more to budgeting than just paying your monthly bills. The first thing to do is be sure to know your current spending habits and to include them in your budget. Ex. Gas, food, entertainment. You can create a free budget on EveryDollar.com, or if you prefer paper and pencil, click here to get minimalist budget printouts.
- Set up an emergency fund – While the rules of the Debt Snowball state that you should have a $1,000 emergency savings in place, I wish our family would have continued to make automatic deposits to our emergency fund during debt payoff. It’s a smart idea to start a fund that is separate from your current bank to avoid transfer temptation. See our 10x Savings Guide.
- Grow your money mindset – One of the smartest and least talked about things to do while paying off debt is to continually work to improve and enhance your money mindset. Read: 10 Books to Improve Your Money Mindset.
Do you need more than $1,000 for an emergency fund?
Through Dave Ramsey’s standard Baby Steps, he encourages people to build a $1,000 emergency savings. The problem with this can be that one single emergency can wipe out your entire emergency fund.
Instead, I recommend setting a savings goal along with your Debt Snowball payoff. Even setting a goal of $100 per month can help continue to build your savings beyond $1,000 so you are more financially supported.
Continually contributing to savings (even a small amount) can help prevent you from having to re-build your emergency fund from scratch, therefore adding to your financial stress. Making the choice to commit to $100 monthly deposits to our emergency fund, (or whatever you can) can make a huge difference!
Get your emergency fund in an HSA savings account!
A good rule of thumb is to have 3-6 months of monthly expenses tucked away in savings. Before working to pay off debt, our family had $1,000 in savings. My biggest regret is that we didn’t continue to add to our savings, even while we paid off debt. What I didn’t realize is that we could have continually built our savings to that 3-6 month goal even during debt payoff.
Another common mistake that people make when building a savings or emergency fund, is putting their emergency savings into a savings account through their current bank.
Why you need your savings in a high yield savings account while paying off debt:
- Having a savings account attached to your checking account makes it easy to transfer money out of savings for things that aren’t an emergency.
- Savings accounts attached to your checking often don’t pay you as much in interest.
- Opening a high yield savings account will help your money make more money! Accounts like the Savings Connect account through CIT bank pay an average of 11 times the national average! When you open a high yield account while you are working to pay off debt, your savings can be earning interest!
Setting up a high-yield savings account that is separate from your current bank is the smartest move to keeping your money safe (and to help it grow)! Accounts like the Savings Connect that pays you 11 times the national average when you automate $100 per month savings transfers! This way, you don’t have to commit to saving large amounts of money in order to reap the benefits! See our 10x Savings Guide.
Should I invest during debt payoff?
A big topic of debate during debt payoff is whether or not you should continue to invest while paying off debt. If our family were to have followed the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps during our Debt Snowball, the “rules” technically were to not to continue investing while paying off our debt.
However, I am so thankful we insisted on continuing to contribute to company matched 401K. This was something we started doing later in life and now have learned to understand the power of investing.
If you are currently investing a lot and want to consider lowering how much you invest in order to still take advantage of your company match while also having a little extra money to put toward debt, that might be a topic worth discussing.
After expanding my financial knowledge, I know understand how powerful compounding interest can be. (AKA our money makes more money), which is why I believe it is so important to continue investing even during debt payoff.
How to pay back less debt
When our family started the Debt Snowball method, no one mentioned to us that a good idea to help save money and speed up the debt payoff process would be to get a lower interest rate. Especially on things like credit cards. (Ours was at a whopping 25% interest!)
How to lower your interest rate are:
- Negotiating with credit card companies
- Getting a lower interest rate loan Payoff Loans are designed for this
- Transfer debt to a 0% interest credit card and work to pay it off (keep in mind you will have to pay this off within the promotional period, or you will be hit with major interest charges!)
Negotiating credit card debt
If you are also fighting a high interest rate, a good idea would be to look up online scripts to help negotiate interest rates on some of your credit cards.
Negotiations are definitely a smart tactic, but unfortunately they don’t always work. That’s why it can be good to have a backup plan.
Getting a lower interest loan
If you have a significant amount of debt to pay off like we did, (we had a $12K credit card bill on top of car loans, student loans etc), it might be worth looking into taking out a loan with a lower interest rate or consolidation. Options like the Payoff Loan are designed to help you pay off high interest credit cards so you can save money and pay back less!
By taking out a loan to pay off our credit card we were able to go from a 25% interest rate to an 11%! That was a huge load of my mind because it felt like we were actually able to make a dent in our debt payoff rather than just paying the interest. Check your debt payoff interest rate.
In the visuals below we used the Bankrate calculator to calculate the savings we were able to get by lowering our interest rate. With our original interest rate of 25%, we would have paid $14,069 in interest alone (more than the original balance on our card) and by lowering our interest rate to 11% with a payoff loan, we were able to bring our interest to $3,016 (an $11,000 savings). **Keep in mind that this would have been our savings had we made the minimum payment on our credit card. Because we paid more toward our card we were able to pay it off quicker and avoid even more interest fees.** See what you qualify for with a Payoff Loan.
Using a 0% interest credit card balance transfer
A common promotion that credit card companies run is offering 0% interest for an extended period of time (usually a year). While running this promotion, they will often allow balance transfers from another credit card! This means you could turn a high interest card (think 25%) to 0%!
This can be an amazing way to completely eliminate the interest you are paying on your credit card debt, however, there is one big catch you need to be aware of.
If you choose to transfer your credit card debt to a 0% interest credit card, you will want to make sure you can pay off what you owe in the allotted promotional period. For example, if you have 1 year to pay off $12,000, make sure you can commit to paying $1,000 per month! If you cannot commit to this, and you go past the promotional period, you can be slapped with interest charges!
How does the Debt Snowball work?
Ok, that was a lot of debt payoff pre-game info, now it’s time to dive into the rules of the Debt Snowball if you’re not familiar with them yet.
How the Debt Snowball works.
- Create an extra $200 per month in your budget
- Apply that extra $200 to your smallest debt on top of your current minimum payment
- Pay off your smallest debt balance
- Take entire payment from your smallest debt and begin applying it to the next greatest
If you like the idea of having hands-on printouts to keep track, get the Debt Payoff Playbook + minimalist budget printouts so you can customize everything to fit your own financial needs.
Finding an extra $200
The first step in starting the Debt Snowball is finding an additional $200 per month to put toward debt. A lot of people believe that finding extra money means working more. In reality, there is a good chance you already have $200 hiding in your budget.
Strategies for finding $200:
Do a spending inventory
A spending inventory is when you do a deep dive into your spending habits so you have a totally clear picture on how you spend money, where you spend it, and where you might be able to cut back.
Cut your monthly expenses
One of the best and fastest ways to get more money in your budget is by cutting monthly expenses. All you have to do is go through your budget and find ways that you can reduce or eliminate the expenses that you pay for every single month. Top areas to cut:
- Subscription fees
- Reduce grocery budget
- Out-to-eat expenses
Get a side hustle for debt payoff
Another great idea to get more money to put toward debt payoff is to start a side hustle. I started a few different side hustles in order to help accelerate our debt payoff. These are jobs I was able to do from home while raising kids and homeschooling!
More posts on side hustles:
- 10 Things I Did to Make Money From Home
- 8 Ways to Make Extra Money Without Working More
- 5 Easy Start Make Passive Income Streams in 2023
Organizing your Debt Snowball printout
Grab the Debt Snowball Printout here to get started and follow along, or you can get all of the budget, savings and debt payoff printouts in the Debt Payoff Playbook + Minimalist Budget Printouts if you feel like you need a little more help with organization and tracking!
Once you have your $200 extra per month, the Debt Snowball gets pretty simple. I recommend downloading my Debt Snowball printable to help you keep track of your debt payoff and to get an idea of how quickly you can pay off your debt.
How to fill out the Debt Snowball printout:
- Write out your debts – In the top column of the Debt Snowball Printout, write out your debts with the biggest debt in box #1. The #2 box will be your second largest, and so on and so on.
- Fill in your totals – Below each of these, fill in your total balance owed for each debt.
- Enter your monthly payment amount – Below that, fill in your minimum monthly payment for each debt.
- Apply your $200 – Lastly, you are going to take your $200 and apply it to your smallest debt first.
Applying $200 to your smallest debt
As you can see below, our $300 credit card was our smallest debt.
Our minimum monthly payment was $30.
By adding the additional $200 to that $30 we were able to put $230 toward our smallest debt of $300.
*Remember, you can always put more money toward debt if you are able to! This will help you pay off debt faster and save you from additional interest!
What if you have money left over?
As you can see, after we finished paying off our remaining $70 from our credit card, we took the remaining $160 and applied it to our next smallest debt.
Getting the debt snowball rolling
Once we paid off our smallest debt, we were able to take the full $230 that we applied toward it and begin putting that money toward our next smallest debt.
Because our minimum payment for our next smallest debt was $100, that gave us a grand total of $330 to apply toward that debt. Once that debt was paid off, we had $330 to begin applying to the next debt in line.
Now we had racked up a huge debt snowball and it just rolled faster and faster.
By the time we got to our biggest debt it only took a little over a month to completely polish off that remaining balance.
When we were finished paying off debt in 6 months, we still managed to have an additional $210 leftover.
Can everyone pay off $6,000 of debt in 6 months?
While we were able to get out of debt $6,000 of debt in 6 months, this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. Depending on the amount of debt you have, your income, and your motivation, debt payoff will look differently for everyone.
What do I do after I pay off my debt?
Do not fall back into those nasty habits that got you into debt in the first place! This can be so easy to do as money management is largely a mindset issue!
Be sure to grab the Minimalist Budget + Debt Payoff Playbook to help you get organized and stay on track!