Paring Toronto’s consumer debts down to a “zero” balance marks only the end to one stage in a process. The most important stage – the one that continues from one day into the next – piles up one victory after another in altering the persistent habits the lead individuals, families and businesses of all backgrounds and sizes into debt.
It startles many among our own clients to learn how much more quickly any debt can shrink by changing just a few everyday rituals that quietly and unassumingly result in unneeded spending. Even once the debt has been laid to rest, these are sinkholes worth sidestepping; when the consumers we counsel either cease or at least significantly reduce cash-flow into these wasteful places, they come away empowered by the sudden “found” income that could’ve been theirs to invest as they’d chosen all along.
Ask yourself: honestly, what would it take for the entire Greater Toronto Area to pay down debts more efficiently and have more money to spare at the end of every month? The answer: surprisingly less effort and sacrifice than we suspect most Torontonians would think.
- RELEVANT TO YOUR INTEREST
Paying down the debts with the heftiest interest rates earliest almost always makes the biggest, fastest dent in rising debt. Committing to on-time payments and responsible spending within one’s means after zeroing out the balance is always the surest way to put a permanent plug in letting interest fester and compound again.
Fact is, credit card rates are on the rise from current 7.99 to 30.25-per-cent interest rates with no signs of those percentages trending any other way any time soon. Pay the rates off quickly by any reasonable means necessary and then go out of your way pay on time and prevent interest from ever building up again. If it turns out that taking the 3 to 5-per-cent hit on a balance-transfer fee would save you money in the long run, move a high-interest card’s total and pay it off quickly.
Be warned, though: like debt consolidation, transferring balances merely rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic if you don’t ultimately change your spending habits to stay out of debt once you’re zeroed out.
- DON’T EAT THE COST
We all need food. We don’t necessarily all need to eat ourselves out of house and home and right into debt just to remain healthy.
Reassessing your monthly grocery budget could carve out valuable savings. Produce, dairy and meats have especially limited shelf lives and should be eaten in fairly short order after purchase and bought in proportion to how much your household will likely consume before expiration.
Incidentally, buying groceries in bulk can also be deceptive. Receiving a volume discounts on institution-sized quantities of cooking oil, nuts, bleach and other goods cost far more than they save if more of the purchased product spoils or otherwise goes to waste before it can be realistically used up.
By the time you factor in many warehouse club stores’ membership fees, it may be less costly just to stick with organized meal plans and more carefully planned grocery lists when shopping.
- THE JOY OF COOKING
Toronto has some world-renowned options when letting “professionals” handle the cooking sounds preferable to communing with a hot stove. Every now and then, dining out is a refreshing change of pace, too.
Consider the realities of making it a habit, however.
The cheapest fast-food options also have some of the least nutritional value. Conversely, prices over the years for standard “combo meals” have increased dramatically without a corresponding increase in how much food you get for your dollar. Finally, and most importantly, a decently skilled cook can replicate almost any restaurant recipe at home for a fraction of the cost and often with fresher ingredients.
(There are exceptions; sushi and pizza in particular are, in fact, often cheaper to order out.)
Give it a try. Limit yourself to a single ordered-out meal per week. Meanwhile, pick a favorite recipe or two that you would often order at a favorite eatery and explore mastering its home preparation.
- ATM FEES
Paying the surcharge at any ATM other than your own bank’s branded machines won’t sink anyone into debt by itself. Those $1 to $3.50 fees will add up and quietly take away a surprising sum over a year.
Usually, avoiding this trap comes easily: simply stick with your own banking institution’s ATMs. On the other hand, when pulling money from, say, a Capital One or PayPal account, it’s rare to find an ATM that withdraws without an added charge. If you don’t bank with an institution that offers ATM reimbursement due to such circumstances, we know a way to withdraw for less than a buck.
Make a purchase from a grocery, drug or convenience store and request cash back. Withdrawal limits will vary by location, but typically range from $20 to several hundred dollars at some grocery stores. For bigger withdrawals, buy a couple packs of gum or a few individual bananas and take out the store limit with each purchase.
As much as we strive to help Toronto escape cycles of debt one client at a time, we place an even higher value on counseling that introduces strategies for staying out of debt going forward. Time machines don’t exist that can rewind the timeline and undo strings of irresponsible spending. However, take these steps one at a time. As you master them, you may suddenly find enough money in your life to eliminate the need to borrow your way deeper into debt after we’ve helped you climb your way out.