So, should you save or pay off debt? It may seem impossible to do either, especially during these uncertain times. The pandemic has left us concerned about the economy and job security. However, with a plan (better known as a budget) and determination, you can find a balance to accomplish both simultaneously to help you reach your financial goals.
It’s not what if something happens, but when it will happen. Life tends to throw us off track from time to time, and the pandemic is a good example of life happening. Paying off debt is important, so is saving and planning for the future. Building savings helps you prepare for the unexpected, avoid debt, gain a greater sense of financial freedom, and relieve you of the burden of financial stress.
Establishing an emergency fund is essential to your financial health. It helps protect you when the unexpected happens – job loss, a flat tire, a broken appliance, a sick pet, or a trip to the emergency room. The unexpected can impact your budget, and it can cause you to go further into debt if you’re unprepared to cover these expenses.
Financial experts recommend saving six to eight months of living expenses. This may seem out of reach to accomplish, but you can start small and work your way up using smaller increments as your goal. If you’ve found it difficult to factor in a budget for savings, try paying yourself first. Instead of relying on what’s leftover at the end of the month, you can set up an automatic draft to send a portion of your paycheck into a savings account. By paying yourself first, you remove the temptation to overspend (out of sight, out of mind), and you increase your savings over time. Also, you could even consider using a money market account to hold your emergency fund to earn more interest than your checking account.
If you’re in a position to continue paying off your debt and possibly paying more than your monthly payment, then repay as much as you can towards that debt. Ultimately, paying down your debt frees up additional money you could use to boost your savings.
If you're serious about tackling your debt, it helps to approach it with a debt repayment plan. First, start off by knowing who you owe and how much you owe. To get a clear picture of all your debt, make a list of all creditors with the highest interest rates (credit cards, payday loans, and rent-to-own payments) to the lowest interest rates (student loans and auto loans) and the balances. Two of the most common ways to pay off debt are the debt avalanche and debt snowball methods. These plans will help you achieve your goal of being debt-free.
The debt avalanche method tackles debt with the highest interest rate first and working down to the lowest interest rate. While paying down debt with the highest interest rate, you'll continue making the minimum payments on all your other debts. If you have additional funds available, apply the extra funds to the highest interest rate. This method reduces your payments over time and saves money on interest.
The debt snowball method focuses on making the minimum payments on all debts and applying additional funds towards the smallest balance. Once the lowest balance is paid in full, you add that amount to the next lowest balance. You repeat this cycle until your debts are repaid. The snowball method allows you to build momentum with each balance payoff. With this method, you are able to see results faster and feel a sense of accomplishment.
No matter if you are concentrating on building your savings or becoming debt-free, you'll want to considerate these action steps to accomplish your goal: create a budget and stick with it, cut the credit cards, trim your expenses, add a side gig to earn some extra cash, or explore debt consolidation. Everyone's situation is different, and there is no right or wrong choice or one method to get you there. Whether you choose to focus on saving, paying off debt, or balancing both, it's up to you. The right choice is the one that is best for you - one that will motivate you to stick with your plan.