10 ways to pay down credit card debt

Filing for bankruptcy isn't the answer for a young family

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I am a substitute teacher, and my husband and I both work. We have three small children -- the youngest is 11 weeks old. We have so much credit card debt that I think we need to go bankrupt. I can't see any other way to pay off this $35,000 in debt we've racked up.

I don't think my husband is very helpful. He thinks I should work more hours, but I'm so tired. The baby keeps me up half the night, and I can barely drag myself through the day anyway.

My friend at work wasn't very helpful, either. When I told her I was thinking about going bankrupt, she asked me how much I spend on my mobile Internet plan. It's about $180 a month, but what business is that of hers? I don't know how I'd get along without my phone having Internet access on it.

How can I find a good attorney to help me file for bankruptcy?  -- Jennifer

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Jennifer,
The early years of child rearing are wonderful, but they are probably the most financially stressful years of your life. If you can just make it through the next five years, things should start to get easier.

I agree with you about working more right now. You can only do so much, and if you push yourself too hard when you're not getting a decent night's sleep, you're likely to get sick.

Your friend at work may not have been very tactful, but she does have a point. The $180 a month that you spend on your mobile Internet plan could go a long way toward making your credit card payments. There is no point to even talking about bankruptcy until you have examined your current spending habits and discovered where you can find money to pay off your debts.

While we're talking about cell phone bills, here are my favorite top 10 ways to save money:

  1. Cut the cable bill. If you can't cut it out completely, find a cheaper plan.
  2. Cook from scratch. Most food made from mixes and frozen packets is not very good. Raise your standards and save 50 percent or more on your grocery bill.
  3. Use the library. With the cable turned off, you'll have time to check out books, and even DVDs.
  4. Compare insurance rates once a year.
  5. Raise your insurance deductibles.
  6. Go through your credit card statements and look for repetitive charges you can live without. You may even find subscriptions and memberships you don't use anymore.
  7. If you have two cars, sell the one you're making payments on (or the one you're making the biggest payments on). Call your insurance company immediately to get your rates lowered.
  8. Cancel cell phone service until you're out of debt. Exception: if you are a real estate agent or other professional and must be accessible at all times. The rest of us can do without, just like we all used to.
  9. Stay away from shopping temptation. If we don't see it, we won't buy it. Avoid the mall, and throw sales fliers and catalogs away unread.
  10. And my No. 1 way to save money: Eat out less -- way less. Make eating out a special treat, not a daily event. When you do eat out, you'll be able to go someplace really nice. People think fast food is cheap, but paying $5 for a sandwich that would cost you 50 cents to make, and doing that every day, costs you over $100 a month.

Bankruptcy lawyers are not hard to find, but you don't need one. Two young, working adults can pay off $35,000 in debt. In fact, I wouldn't recommend that anyone in their working years file for bankruptcy when they owe less than $100,000 in consumer debt. The consequences of bankruptcy are too harsh and the process is too devastating to be taken lightly. And if the underlying problems are not solved, you'll be right back where you started in no time.

It may be hard to believe when you've just had another sleepless night with a little one, but we empty nesters envy you! I hope you can take control of your finances so you can relax -- and enjoy these years with your kids.

Take care of your credit!

See related: 8 steps to reducing credit card debt, 4 wrong ways to escape credit card debt

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Updated: 11-22-2017