Surviving in a Sea of Debt

by Tim on November 21, 2011

I read a fascinating article the other day from the Discovery Channel’s How Stuff Works website.  The article shared strategies for surviving adrift in the ocean.  While I don’t ever plan on being stranded in the ocean (who does, right?) it was still a captivating read.  I’ve never been a fan of the open waters and hearing about people becoming a part of the food chain has kept me away from deep-sea adventures.

The article gave three good survival tips for staying in one piece (literally) if you’re ever stranded out in sea.  I couldn’t help but modify the tips for an article about debt, because it’s just as scary (well, maybe a little less scary than a shark attack, but it’s still painful.)

Gather every drop of water that you can.

Medical experts agree that a person can live without food from four to eight weeks as long as they have water.  Two months is a long time to go without food, and to think that plain old water could sustain you for such a long time is incredible.

If you’re in debt, every dollar that you can earn with an extra side job, or dollar you save with coupons or tax rebates can help you reach your goal that much faster.  If you were stranded out at sea, you would fashion a rain trap to catch as much rain as possible and keep it from being wasted.  When you’re stuck in a sea of debt, handling your dollars like you would rainwater is crucial.  Make it easier for you to pay down debt by automating bills, selling unused things around the house and getting creative with earning extra cash.

Don’t leave home without your life raft.

Most life rafts come with good survival tools like flashlights, flares, signaling mirrors, fishing kits and paddles.  I can think of one life raft that you need when it comes to paying down debt: your emergency fund.  If you’re not serious about an emergency fund, you need to be.  For starters, a $1,000 fund is fantastic.  It helps you to cover those unexpected car breakdowns, emergency doctor visits or inconvenient water heater problems.  You’ll feel so much more prepared to tackle your debt when you have an emergency fund in place.  If you already have it, great!  Hopefully you’ll never need it (just like a life raft) but if you do, you’ll be glad you built it up!

Don’t lose your heat.

One of the fastest killers on the open sea (besides a shark attack) is dying from hypothermia.  Most waters are really cold, so your body will lose its heat quickly if you don’t get dry or take other measures.  If you’re in the water, you’ll want to pull your legs close to your body to avoid losing your heat.

When you’re paying down your debt, it can be easy to lose motivation and get discouraged.  Stay motivated by asking your family to encourage each other to be frugal.  Make saving money a game and a family event.  Create a physical chart to track your savings goal for the month and put it in the open for everyone to see.  Sometimes these little nudges can help us not to lose steam when paying down debt.

Are you desperately trying to swim out of a sea of debt?  What survival tip would you add to these?

Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.

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