Ask Chuck: 3 Surprising Steps to Getting Out of Debt

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Dear Chuck,

Credit cards are killing me, and it feels like getting a handle on money is some kind of 12-step program. Where do I begin?

Feeling Overwhelmed.

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Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Well, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that it's not the credit cards that are killing you. The bad news is that it's the lack of savings!

It may surprise you to learn that the first thing you need to do to break the cycle of credit card debt isn't to cut them up or make a payment plan (more on that later) but to begin saving money. The problem so many people face is that when life happens (the car needs new brakes or the water heater goes out), they don't have the resources to keep everything moving forward, use a credit card to pay for the expenses, and end up overwhelmed by the debt.

The Bible is very direct in instructing us to keep some things in reserve.

Proverbs 21:20 says, "The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets."

So to avoid a 12-step program, I am giving you just 3 simple steps. They will require discipline, but will reward you with renewed peace and freedom!

Step One: SAVE! 

Commit to put away your credit cards and save $1,000 as fast as possible. You may be surprised that those two things will put you in the minority!

In 2015, a survey found that about 6 in 10 people had saved less than $1,000 but a year later, the number had risen to almost 7 in 10. What is really tragic is that a third of Americans had nothing saved at all. Credit card debt is the natural result of problems brought about by the lack of savings!

I've written before about "Budget Hacks" that can make a difference in freeing up some cash, and here is a new one to consider. Want to find wiggle room in your budget for savings? Cut the cable.

Leichtman Research Group reported that 83 percent of Americans are still paying for cable television, an average of $123 per month. Turn off the TV and put that money in the bank!

In Proverbs 30, the wise King Solomon points to the "wise" and "small" ant for inspiration, saying in verse 25, "Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer."

If bugs can save, you can too!

For the fastest way to pay off debt, use the Debt Snowball Method. Crown has a great calculator that does the work for you.

The principle behind the Debt Snowball Method is to organize your debts from smallest to largest. Starting with the smallest debt, pay it off as quickly as possible. Then take what you were making in payments on that debt and put it all towards the next smallest debt, and so on, and so on. This method saves you both time and interest, so start using it today!

If you have more complicated or overwhelming debt, get in touch with Christian Credit Counselors. They are our trusted partners and can help you put together a plan to get out of debt, starting with a free debt analysis.

Step Two: BUDGET! 

As you are saving, build a functional budget. Crown has some wonderful free tools and guidelines that can assist you in getting a handle on where your money goes each month. The quickest way to reduce the stress of over-spending is to only spend money on purpose; meaning you know where every dollar will be spent before the month begins and you have built in financial margin.

Step Three: START GIVING! 

One of the benefits of giving to the Lord and His work on earth is that we are reminded as we write those checks that our resources come from God our Father who loves us and that we will be held accountable for how we use our resources.

In counseling couples throughout the years, I've seen that a failure to tithe comes sometimes from the attitude that "it's MY money" or "I can't afford to tithe."

We should remember the words of King Solomon in 1 Chronicles 29:14 where he humbly presents the tithes and gifts of his people to build a temple, saying: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand."

As we learn that the purpose of our resources is not just to satisfy our own desires but also to honor the Lord, it becomes easier to save because we don't hold onto our possessions so tightly.

Psalm 24:1 observes, "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."

So there are your 3 steps! Save, Budget and Give. It will take some effort, but you will rid yourself of that feeling of being overwhelmed month after month. Let me also recommend you get involved in learning more of what God says about managing money by enrolling in our online MoneyLife Personal Finance Study.

If you're looking for a little encouragement in the year ahead, sign up for the God is Faithful devotional. You'll receive practical principles and daily encouragement from God's Word in your inbox to consider what God has to say about our daily life.

To #Ask Chuck @AskCrown your own question, click here.

Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late, Larry Burkett. He is an author, host of My MoneyLife- a daily radio feature and a frequent speaker on the topic of Biblical financial principles. Follow him on Twitter @chuckbentley and visit Crown.org for more help.