Debt Reduction Strategies for Singles

by Gary Foreman

Debt Reduction Strategies for Singles photo

Debt reduction strategies for singles are not that different than those for couples or families. Here are the two tools that you need.

Dear Gary,
What are good debt reduction strategies for single people?
Jennifer

Jennifer sure packs a lot of question is one short sentence! And if my email is any indication, she’s not alone. Especially after the financial hit so many of took during COVID, more and more people are concerned about how to reduce their debt.

There are really two different tools you can use to reduce your debt.

The first involves managing the debt you already have. The second is to find ways to reduce your expenses and pay off the existing debt.

Begin by making a list of all your debts

Let’s take first things first. How many of you know how much you owe, to who it’s owed and what the interest rate is on that debt? This is a necessary building block in managing your debt. Begin by making a list of your debts.

You can use a sheet of paper or an online calculator. We like this debt payoff calculator Bankrate.com. For each debt you owe, you’ll need to know some information. What’s the source of the debt? Mortgage, car loans, home equity loans, student loans, Mastercard, store credit card? List them all.

You will also need the total amount of principal still owed on each loan. Credit card statements will tell you the amount. For home, auto and some other loans you might need to call the lender to get the balance due if you do not have online access to the account.

The final piece of data you will need is the interest rate that you’re paying on the loan. If it’s a floating rate, list the current percent. Make note of loans with some type of prepayment penalty.

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Identify your most expensive debt

If you haven’t done this before, you’re going to find out that not all loans are created equal. Some are more expensive than others. Our goal here is to identify the most expensive debt you have. That’s the loan that we’ll either transfer to a cheaper account or pay off first.

There are plenty of opportunities to ‘transfer’ balances from one credit card to another. It’s a good idea. Money that you save in interest payments can be used to reduce your principal.

One word of caution. Some card issuers are offering low rates that jump to much higher rates after six or twelve months. If you transfer to one of these cards, make sure you’re ready to move again when the rate increases. You can compare balance transfer cards here.

Pay off your highest interest rate debt first

The other management tool you’ll use is to pay off the highest interest rate debt first.

Suppose that you had enough money each month to pay all the account minimums and an extra $100. Your best move would be to apply that $100 to the account with the highest interest rate. That way the average interest rate on your whole debt will go down a little each month and save you money.

How do you get rid of the debt?

Now for the second part of the answer. How do you get rid of the debt? There’s really only one way. That’s to pay off a little each month until it’s gone. To do that you need to spend less than you make.

If you don’t have a budget, you need one. You’re dreaming if you think that you can control your spending without an organized method of tracking your expenses. And it’s not that hard. There are so many budgeting software options available now. We recommend this simple, affordable Home Budget Spreadsheet from SimplePlanning.com.

Reducing housing costs

Once you have a budget in place, take a look at see where you spend the most. Chances are it’s for housing.

If you want to spend less, you need to understand where that money goes. You can’t just refuse to pay your mortgage. But maybe you could refinance it at a lower interest rate. Or take a look at your utility bills. If you could shave 10% off a $200 electric bill that would be $20 each month. Nothing phenomenal, but it would help to pay that 16% credit card bill.

Obviously, it’s difficult for many to save on housing. For single parents especially, less expensive housing can often mean less safe housing. That’s not a good trade-off. There are some creative answers available.

Some single parents are taking in roommates. Nothing says that two single moms can’t share one home. Not only is there rent to be saved, there’s also the possibility to reduce childcare expenses.

Trimming food costs

Food is another expensive area. And much of it can be controlled.

It’s easy to rely on fast or prepared foods when you’re cooking for only one or two. In fact, it’s hard to cook a frugal meal in small portions. Your cheapest meal is one that’s prepared largely from scratch. And there are plenty of online resources and recipes just for people trying to meal plan and cook for one.

You’ll also want to learn how to properly freeze foods to prevent freezer burn. A freezer can be a single person’s best friend when it comes to keeping food costs in check. Each time you cook, stash a few portions in the freezer for future money-saving meals.

Cutting auto costs

Automobiles are the next major expense in anyone’s budget.

Compare auto insurance rates periodically to see if you can save and know how to keep gas costs as low as possible.

Many single women are uncomfortable with car maintenance and repairs, but many maintenance tasks are actually very easy to do. And you can easily find tutorials online. You can save quite a bit by learning to change the oil in your car and doing other basic auto maintenance tasks.

Ultimately, there’s no magic in getting out of debt

Short of an inheritance, it’s just a matter of spending less than you make and managing the resources at your disposal. It’s like any long term goal. You need to make the decision to achieve the goal and be willing to take dozens of small individual steps on a regular basis.

If you ask anyone who’s already debt free, you’ll find that the journey is challenging. But the freedom earned when the last debt is paid is well worth the effort.

Reviewed June 2021

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. You can read Gary's full bio here. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews.

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