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6 Things to Ditch to Become Debt-Free in 2020

Megan Greathouse
7 min read
6 Things to Ditch to Become Debt-Free in 2020

It’s almost March, and the 2019 holiday craze already seems like a distant memory. If you came into the year looking to improve your financial position, you may find your resolve beginning to falter, or that you’re not as far along on your resolution as you had hoped you would be by this time.

Don’t give up! You still have three-quarters of the year left to become debt-free in 2020. But you have to be willing to make some real changes. Here are several things to give up if you want to achieve your debt-free goal this year.

1. Not Tracking Your Money

Budget spreadsheets probably don’t top your list of preferred entertainment. But if you really want to become debt-free this year, you need to move past the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants model of financial management.

At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I’m going to suggest that budgets can actually be fun. There is something cathartic about getting all that spending written down and categorized, rather than just lurking in some guilt-ridden corner of your brain. And it is empowering to realize you’ve compiled an actionable set of data that can help you make better choices, getting yourself on the  path to achieving financial freedom.

So, where do you start? There are a lot of great online tools, of course. Mint, Personal Capital, and other similar websites can automatically sync with your bank accounts, credit cards, and so on. These are great options when you’re in a strong financial situation and just want to ensure things are staying on track.

However, if you’re working to dig yourself out of debt, I recommend using a simple spreadsheet that requires you to be more hands-on with your tracking. Google “budget spreadsheet,” and you’ll find plenty of free options.

(If you’re looking for more details on tracking your spending and creating a budget, check out this article I wrote last year!)

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then it’s time to give up the low-touch approach to your finances.

2. Subscriptions

You’ve found a way to track what you make and what you spend. Now that you have an idea of your monthly spending, let’s go after some low-hanging fruit.

Subscriptions are an expense category that can sneak up on you because you sign up once, set up your automatic payments, and then kind of forget about it. Most of these subscriptions aren’t really that expensive—cable and internet for $100 per month, SiriusXM for $15 per month, a gym membership for $35 per month. None of these will make or break your finances on their own.

Related: Visualizing Cash Flow: How to Accurately Budget Expenses

However, many people may be surprised at how quickly all their small, “inexpensive” subscriptions add up. You may find several hundreds of dollars going to subscriptions that you don’t use or could easily live without for a while.

Seek out all your recurring payments as you work through your first month or two of budgeting. Can you cancel these subscriptions and still be happy? Could you cancel them just long enough to get out of debt?

Be honest with yourself, and you may find a good chunk of change to put toward your monthly debt payments.

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then stop paying for subscriptions you don’t use or need.

Young man sitting alone at a bistro table eating a delicious plate of mixed salad with a fork and drinking a cup of tea

3. Expensive Eating

Hate is a strong word, but I really don’t like cooking. I don’t find it relaxing. I don’t like the mess. I hate shopping for the groceries.

If I could find a healthy and budget-friendly way to avoid ever having to cook, I would do it. But the reality is, restaurants and prepared foods are much more costly than getting raw ingredients and making something yourself. This is especially true for those of us with children.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American household spends about 13 percent of its income on food—both groceries and dining out. If you’re looking to free up money in your budget, my personal rule of thumb is to start by looking at spending categories that take up 10 percent or more of your budget. Based on the statistic above, food will be a category where most Americans can look for opportunities to save.

If you are trying to get out of debt, but you spend 10 percent or more of your income on food, it’s time to bring down your average meal cost. This means less dining out, less prepared food, and maybe even switching grocery stores. It means smart grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking.

Fortunately, many lifestyle and personal finance bloggers have done the heavy lifting for us! The internet can be your best friend when it comes to finding ways to lower your food expenses. I’ve found more tips, recipes, and meal plans than I can count just by doing a quick Google search.

To my delight, many of the ideas involve easy slow cooker recipes (throw in some basic ingredients, set it for 6 to 8 hours, and go about your day) and weekly plans that suggest making enough food for leftover meals. (Hooray for not having to cook every day!)

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then it’s time to give up spending money on convenient meals.

4. Car Payments

If you want to better your financial situation, it’s time to join the high mileage club! Remember that U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data? It shows that the average American household spends another 16 to 17 percent of its budget on transportation. While this figure includes fuel and upkeep, the majority of that transportation budget goes to car purchases and payments.

You’ve probably seen people post photos of their pristine, brand new cars on social media. Nice vehicles are undoubtedly a status symbol in our culture. However, did you know there’s a group of people who pride themselves on having old, inexpensive, reliable vehicles? Check out any FI (financial independence) group on Facebook, or follow financially savvy personalities on Instagram, and you’re bound to see people proudly posting photos of their car’s odometer at 100,000 miles, 200,000 miles, and higher!

Related: How to Pay Off Your Car Loan Early (& Never Pay for Your Car Again!)

Why all this excitement about a 2002 Honda Civic with 276,000 miles on it? Because it represents all the money that these high mileage car owners have been able to save and invest instead of spending it on car payments.

Many financially fit people purchase gently used vehicles, have little-to-no debt on the car, and drive them for as long as they can. Some even buy cars for just a few thousand dollars that are already 10 years old with six-figure odometers and manage to drive them for another 10 years.

Do you have to buy a vehicle from the 1990s to get out of debt? Probably not. But could you save hundreds of dollars in car payments per month by trading in your new 2019 vehicle for a 2014 that will run just as well? Absolutely!

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then it’s time to give up the brand new car—and the car payments that come with it!

5. Expensive Housing

Let’s look at one final fact from that U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data. The average American household spends a whopping 33 percent of its income on housing, making it the single largest expense for most of us each month. Changing your housing situation can help you pay down debts, although it comes with its own set of challenges.

Moving can involve some upfront costs, and it can take time to sell, sublet, and figure out your next move. And if you’re renting or you own a home that you really love, it can be an emotional process, as well. You have to remember why you’re doing it!

Can you handle living with family for just one year if it means you’ll finally be rid of your debt? Could you spend $1,000 to move to a smaller, more budget-friendly home if it means you’ll have an extra $500 per month to put toward paying off your debt? Can you find a way to house hack so that your living costs are dramatically lower than everyone else you know?

If you haven’t read about house hacking yet, go look up some articles on BiggerPockets. Then consider reading Craig Curelop’s book The House Hacking Strategy. This strategy alone could help you pay off your debt and build some true wealth in just a few short years.

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then it’s time to give up the norm when it comes to housing expenses!


6. Making Excuses

Chances are you’ve heard some of these recommendations before. Most of you will have read similar articles, heard these points on podcasts, or received similar advice from friends. If you still haven’t found a way to get out of debt, it may be because you’re hanging on to excuses.

I’m not here to make you feel bad—we all make excuses for ourselves about things big and small. It’s the people who recognize they’re making excuses and work past them who make it the furthest in this world.

So, as my parting gift to you, here’s a list of some excellent BiggerPockets Money Podcast episodes that may help you see that none of these “excuses” need to stop you from achieving your debt-free goal.

  • “But I don’t make very much money.” Listen to BiggerPockets Money episode #6 with Sarah Wilson.
  • “But I have so much student loan debt!” Check out BiggerPockets Money episode #22 with Travis Hornsby.
  • “But I don’t know how to get my partner on board.” Try BiggerPockets Money episode #82.5 with Aditi Shekar.
  • “But I have kids.” Listen to BiggerPockets Money episode #37 with Kyle Renke.
  • “But I have a LOT of kids!” Try BiggerPockets Money episode #63 with Jordan Klint.
  • “Other people have advantages, but I don’t!” Check out BiggerPockets Money episode #21 with Tony Gayden.

Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? Then you need to give up the excuses that are holding you back.

You Can Do This!

None of what I’ve shared today is very complicated. It just takes commitment, putting in the work, and maintaining a good mindset to see you through the days when you just want to give in and live with debt forever.

Keep educating yourself. Seek out communities (online and otherwise) that allow you to surround yourself with encouraging voices on your journey. Think about the weight that will be lifted from your shoulders when you’re finally debt-free.

You can become debt-free in 2020. I’m rooting for you!

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Are you committed to becoming debt-free in 2020? What do you intend to give up that’s holding you back?

Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.