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5 Tips for Freelancers to Reduce Their Debt

Don’t let debt hold you back! Here are 5 tips – small and big - to reduce your debt.

Debt is something many freelancers have to deal with. Student loans. Credit card debt. Car loans. All of this will interfere with your ability to create the life you want. It can even impact the type of work you’re able to do.

If you’re like most freelancers, you probably want to do something about your debt. Here are five tips you can use to reduce your debt and improve your financial life.

1. Live on Less Than You Earn

The basic formula for paying off any type of debt is simple – spend less than you earn and use the surplus to pay off your debt. This is called the gap. The larger you can make this gap, the faster you’ll be able to make progress on your debt

The simplest way to increase the gap between what you spend and what you earn is to reduce your expenses. And the best way to do this is to focus on your big three expenses – housing, transportation, and food. 

You can keep your housing costs low by living with roommates or living in modest housing. Keep your transportation costs low by driving a cheap car, biking, or using public transit to get around. And reduce your food expenses by cooking more food at home and going out to eat less. 

If you’re young, one strategy you can use is to live like a student. If you think about it, most of us were perfectly happy when we were students living on nothing. But once we start earning money, our lifestyle tends to increase with our income. You don’t need to live like a student forever, but if you can control your lifestyle inflation temporarily, you can keep the gap between your income and expenses high and make more progress on your debt

2. Pick Up a Side Hustle

Spending less will help you pay off your debt faster, but if you want to make even more progress, you need to earn more money too. Luckily, we live in one of the best times in history to pick up a side hustle (and Lili has the tools to help you maximize your freelance earnings by optimizing your tax return.) Thanks to our phones and computers, anyone has the ability to earn extra income, even with a busy schedule. Some platforms like Steady or Upwork are designed to help you find that extra income.

The beauty of earning money from a side hustle is that every dollar you earn on the side is theoretically a dollar that you don’t need. That means you can use all of the money you earn from your side hustle towards your debt. Even a few hundred dollars per month of extra income can make a big difference in your debt repayment progress. 

3. Refinance Your Debt to a Lower Rate

One thing that makes paying off debt more difficult than it seems is having to pay interest. Whenever you pay your debt, you’re always going to have to pay a little bit more to reduce your balance. I took out $87,000 of student loans when I went to law school. But I ended up paying $102,000 when it was all said and done. 

Your interest rate matters when it comes to paying off your debt, so your best bet is to reduce your interest rate by refinancing your debt. The lower your interest rate, the more your money can go towards reducing your debt balance.

There are limitations to refinancing your debt, however. You typically need to earn a good income and have a good credit score. That being said, if you’re aggressively paying off your debt and qualify to refinance, then you should consider doing it so you can get out of debt faster.

4. Calculate How Much Your Debt Costs Per Day

Much of paying off debt comes down to motivation. Very few people accidentally pay off all of their debt. Instead, it requires taking concerted action. If you’re serious about paying off your debt, you should do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to do so.

A strategy I used to motivate myself was to calculate how much interest my debt cost me per day. To do this, take your interest rate and multiply it by your remaining balance. That’ll tell you how much interest you’ll pay each year. You then divide that number by 365 and you’ll get a good approximation of how much your debt costs you per day. 

The number you see may surprise you. When I first calculated how much my debt cost per day, I was surprised to find that it cost me about $17 per day in interest. Each time I made a payment, I saw that number drop a little bit. It was a small motivator that helped push me as I paid off my student loans

5. Don’t Wait – It’ll Only Get Harder

You might be reading this and think to yourself that you’ll work on paying off your debt later. Maybe you need more time to get your life settled. Or in the future, you’ll make more money, so then you’ll be able to put more money into your debt. There are an infinite number of reasons why you might think later will be a better time to pay off your debt

This may be a mistake though. Things won’t necessarily get easier. As we get older, we end up with more responsibilities. Our expenses go up as we start families and buy houses. My wife and I recently had a kid and are buying a house. Even though we make more money than we did before, things aren’t getting easier. We have more things we have to pay for and more people we have to take care of. 

When you’re young and have no one to take care of but yourself, you’re in a great position to live lean, earn more money, and make real progress on your debt. Don’t fall for the mistake of thinking that it’ll be easier later. It just might not be. So make any progress you can now.

Written by

Kevin Ha is an attorney, writer, gig economy expert, side hustler, and the blogger behind Financial Panther.