Apparently, Americans care more about their looks than the amount of debt they have. A recent survey of 1,452 adults by personal finance company Credit Karma and Harris Interactive found that 72% would rather keep their current debt than gain 25 pounds and be debt-free. The results aren't entirely surprising. Most of us don't get the same sort of daily reminder about our debt as we do about our weight when we look in the mirror or try to button our pants.
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Nearly three-quarters of Americans have some kind of debt, according to Credit Karma. So maybe we should tackle our debt the way we approach weight loss. Here are six strategies dietitians frequently recommend for losing weight that could also be used to shed debt.
Set a goal -- and make it realistic. When you decide to lose weight, you usually have a certain number of pounds in mind. But if your goal is unrealistic, you set yourself up for failure. Nutrition and fitness experts usually recommend aiming to lose a couple of pounds a week at most -- not ten or 20. Take the same approach with your debt. Look at how much you owe then set a realistic timeline for paying it off by calculating how much more you can afford to pay toward your debt each month. Knowing you have a deadline to meet -- rather than just making minimum monthly payments without figuring how long it will take to pay down your debt -- will help motivate you to watch your spending and boost your debt payments.
Track your progress. Research shows that keeping track of what you eat can help you lose weight and keep it off. It's just as important to track your debt repayment progress so you can meet your goal. You can use free sites such as Mint or ReadyforZero, a spreadsheet such as Excel, or a simple pencil and paper to record payments and balances on all your debts.
Motivate yourself. Dieters might hang up a pair of jeans they once wore and want to get back into as a daily reminder of why they're trying to lose weight. So pinpoint your own motivation for paying off your debt. Perhaps you want to eliminate monthly credit card payments so you can start saving for a down payment on a house. In that case, hang up a picture of your dream home on your refrigerator to remind yourself why you're having to watch your spending and cut back.
Avoid temptation. Losing weight is a lot tougher when your refrigerator and pantry are packed with tempting high-calorie food and beverages than can sabotage your diet. It's equally as hard to limit your spending and pay down debt when you get daily e-mails from your favorite retailers, catalogs fill your mailbox or you join your friends on trips to the mall. Identify your spending triggers and eliminate them. That might mean unsubscribing to daily deal sites, saying "No" to nights on the town or even finding a new route home so you don't pass your favorite store.
Get a support group. Many people have success losing weight by getting support from others through Web sites, smart phone apps and tried-and-true programs such as Weight Watchers. If you let friends and family know that you're trying to pay off debt, you'll have others to hold you accountable and cheer you on as you reach your goals. If you're overwhelmed by debt, you might consider getting support from a credit-counseling agency. You can find one through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Credit Counseling Agencies.
Reward yourself. Dieters are encouraged to reward themselves occasionally with a small treat to satisfy cravings and avoid binging and with non-food treats when they reach weekly, monthly or long-term weight-loss goals. So if you go a month without making any non-essential purchases to increase your debt payments, for example, treat yourself with something small and inexpensive. Or you can try using Saveup, a free site that awards you credits when you pay down debt (or save money). You can use the credits for chances to win cash and prizes. The more credits you earn, the more chances you get to win.
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