As you lay your head down on your pillow and close your eyes each night, what thoughts come to mind? You may think about something funny that happened today, your plans for tomorrow or your hopes and dreams for the future.
But, for many Canadians, the burden of debt consumes their thoughts and prevents them from getting a good nights rest.
One of those people was Marjorie, a mother of four from Alberta. She had spent nearly two decades working on her family farm when her husband passed away unexpectedly. Before long, she was struggling to pay bills.
Unfortunately, Marjorie says, there was no life insurance to help her in the aftermath of her husband’s death – “It was my own stupidity not to have it. We don’t plan on dying, so we didn’t get it.”
The bills kept piling up and Marjorie was getting by with the help of credit cards that she couldn’t pay off. Before she reached out to Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada for help, she was over $60,000 in debt.
“Many people think that debt is caused by overspending. They have a vision of an irresponsible person who blew all their savings on a new car. But often, its just people who are struggling to pay for the necessities of life.” says credit counselor Samycha Millerfrancis.
After starting a debt management program, Marjorie started to pay off her debts bit by bit. It took her four years, but in the spring of 2013 she had eliminated the debt that had kept her up at night. She says that her experience has changed her outlook and made her more responsible when it comes to her finances.
If you are struggling with debt, there are a few things that you should start doing before the problem gets even bigger
Calculate Your Debt
It’s amazing how many people don’t know just how far in debt they are. They are often afraid to know the truth and avoid it at all costs. Well, that way of thinking will actually cost you a lot more in the end.
So, gather up all your bills and credit card statements and write them down. Figure out how much you owe and how much you are paying towards your debts. Only then can you start to fix the problem.
The first step to getting rid of your debts is to spend less.
Every dollar you save is a dollar that can go towards paying off the money you owe.
Get a roommate. Shop at the discount grocery stores. Watch a movie at home instead of going out. There are an endless number of ways to save money but they all require one thing: a will to save.
Suffering in silence will only cause you more pain. If you are struggling with debt, reach out for help. Talking to a friend, family member or credit counselor can help you figure out what your options are.
Debt doesn’t go away on its own, but there are ways you can rid it from your life. Debt management programs are just one way that you can start paying off your debts but they require you to take the first step of acknowledging your situation and wanting to fix it.
Marjorie is in a much better financial situation today than she was five years ago. Her debt problems are behind her and she is confident she’ll avoid the same mistakes in the future. She has learned to make a budget and to separate her wants from her needs.
And, when all else fails, she says she just follows one simple piece of advice to stay on track:
“If you don’t have money to buy something, then don’t buy it.”
Jeffrey Schwartz is the executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada and president of the Credit Association of Greater Toronto. Consolidated Credit is a national non-profit credit counseling organization that teaches consumers about personal finance.