My relationship with money is currently on the rocks. I want it so bad. But once I have it, I take it for granted and it’s gone again. So I’m working on my issues and hopefully will get the relationship all straightened out. Because the truth is, I need it to get through life’s trying times: to pay rent, to make my car payments, to treat me to that juicy cheeseburger on the way home from work. And I know it needs me just as bad, because without me it really has no purpose, you know? So, I’ve finally started valuing and appreciating my money. And ever since, I’ve been a lot happier and my money hasn’t completely run out on me. If you’re walking the same rocky path, follow my five tips to become—and hopefully stay—debt-free:

1) Make and tackle a list.

If you’ve gotten a little out of control and don’t even know where to start, the simple solution is to make a list. I know it’s hard to face your debt head on, but you need to write down every payment and person you owe. According to Clark, there are two effective approaches. The first is to list your debts from smallest to largest. The second is to list your debts in order from the highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate, which is called laddering. Laddering can help you save more money over time, but both approaches are effective and accomplish the end goal of paying off your debt.

2) Stop buying what you can’t afford.

The only reason you’re in this mess in the first place is because you bought things you couldn’t afford and you borrowed money you didn’t have. So, stop! I get that sometimes it’s necessary, such as when you have to take out loans for school, but many times it’s totally avoidable. Like, do you really need that pizza-shaped pillow or that Star Wars Snuggie? Probably not. When my brother was in that weird limbo period after college and before getting a job, he borrowed a lot of money from my dad. It took him a couple years too long to pay it off, and he found himself wishing he was more conscientious of his purchases and the value of a dollar. Because while he wasn’t spending his own money at the time of the purchases, the money did eventually come from his pocket. So, stop buying things that you can’t afford and that you really don’t need.

3) Create a budget.

If I had to guess what the key to living a happy life is, this would be a top contender. Planning ahead and making a budget is a smart, effective plan to eliminate stress and live not only happily, but intelligently. Take your monthly income and reserve money for different areas: rent, insurance, groceries, phone bill, etc. And then take whatever money you have left over and only allow yourself to spend half of it. It may be tempting to spend all of the leftover money at the mall or on Amazon, but when an emergency comes up, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t spend it all on inflatable unicorns and Game of Thrones attire. This brings me to my next point…

4) Start an emergency fund.

Take the rest of the money you have leftover each month and split it between savings and an emergency fund. Because, while we can’t predict said emergency, something will come up that requires a significant amount of money. Just recently, my brother got really sick. He saw three different doctors and even went to the hospital, but nobody could figure out what was wrong with him. A month later, one of the many antibiotics he was given finally worked, and he was starting to feel like himself again. The only bad part about that was he now was healthy enough to freak out about how much money he just blew through. And again, he found himself indebted to our dad. It’s safe to say that my brother learned his lesson. He now accounts for the many emergencies that can pop up out of the blue—and you should too.

5) Cut out the small (but impactful) stuff.

You know what actually puts the biggest dent in our wallets? The small stuff. And I know the saying goes, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, but when it comes to money, you should absolutely sweat the small stuff: eating out three times a week; window shopping and online shopping; checking out that sale that actually tricks you into spending more money. It all adds up. And while it’s definitely okay to splurge sometimes and treat yourself, you should focus on sticking to just buying the things that you need. Not only will this help you save money, but it will also prevent you from borrowing money from friends or family and adding them to the list of people you are indebted to.

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