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I have been coming off and on for several years reading this board, never applying any of the common sense actions/advice to my own messy life of overspending. All the while continuing to pile on mountains of debt. I am 51, recently divorced and a single mother to a 9 year old son, also a daughter 22yr old at home. Lately I have been growing spiritually and making some major changes to my life. I have been living my life foolishly being irresponsible, ungrateful and always looking for immediate gratification. I am ready to clean up my life and be a better person. I have grown comfortable living in a state of fog. I feel scared and a little nervous but I am excited at the same time. Finally I am ready to do what it takes to get out of debt. I would appreciate any advice along the way.

Welcome!

One of the first things to do is to stop using all credit cards for anything, if you haven't done so already. You can't make progress on paying down debt if you're still digging the hole by adding more expenses onto the cards.

Then, you probably want to take stock of where you currently are, because if you don't know where you're starting from, it's hard to know if you're progressing.....

Even though it's scary - tally up the debt that you have, including interest rates, balances, minimum payments, etc. After you tally everything up, you need to figure out your paydown order - from a mathematical perspective, in order to pay the least interest, you should pay down the highest interest rate items first. However, if you are struggling from a cash flow perspective in order to even make all the minimum payments, you probably want to choose some of the smaller debts, and pay them off more quickly, so you can decrease your minimum payments owed each month. You also may have some debts that you want to get rid of because you don't like dealing with the company, or you just 'hate' a particular debt. Whatever you decide, you need to put a plan together, so you have a path to follow.

Speaking of cash flow - you need to look at your income vs. your expenses, probably month by month, for several months - and you need to look at actual information for both - not just things like "Child support - $100/month" that you are *supposed* to get or "Electric bill - $100 per month". If you don't get the child support regularly don't count on it as income every month. If your electric bill was $122.47 2 months ago and is $84.38 this month - that's what you need to track. If you can reconstruct the last few months, that will be a good start. But even if you can't - starting today, you need to write down every penny that is spent, so you can see where the money is going. And don't forget that there are probably some expenses that don't happen every month - like once a year car registration or every other month billing for some utilities.

Once you understand your income and expenses, you can see if you are living above, at or below your means - if your monthly income is less than your monthly expenses, you are living above your means and need to start making some immediate expense cuts, or find immediate ways to increase your income. Even if you are at or below your means (expenses equal or less than your income) if you want to make better progress, you should look to increase income and/or decrease expenses.

Ways to increase income:
- Another job
- A better job
- rent a room out/get a roommate
- Sell stuff

Ways to cut expenses:
- track expenses regularly - write everything down
- focus on your needs - food, shelter & clothing for you/your family - everything else is pretty much a want, and should be looked at to be cut
- within the needs - can you substitute less expensive things for some of the big ticket items?
- are you paying expenses for your 22 year old, like a car (including insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.) schooling, room and/or board? She's old enough that she should be paying her own way for those things, or at least contributing

If you post your information here, you will get lots of feedback. You probably won't like some (a lot) of it, but if it helps you to think about things differently and adjust your life to get out of debt more quickly, it will be helpful in the long run.

AJ
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