Paying off debt can feel like a long war with your creditors – you may have a good few months and then some setbacks.
But what if this battle was a game of tennis? Listening to the Wimbledon commentators gives clues about how the top players approach training and big matches …
Here are five ideas that can also be applied to clearing debt.
1) Improve your skills
“She’s been working hard on her backhand all year and it shows!”
Professionals don’t say “Oh, I’m no good at serving”, they identify areas that could be improved and work on them. They may never be able to serve at 130 mph, but getting a bit better will help them win more matches.
So what are your weak points in handling money and how could you improve them?
For many people it’s budgeting. There are some useful apps that make it easier to stick to your plans. If you have been trying to budget and failing, try one of them.
Or are contactless cards just making it too easy to spend? Try switching to cash for a month – you may find you are much more reluctant to hand over “real money” for a casual purchase you don’t really need. And if Apple/Android Pay are your downfall, remove your cards from them.
2) Get stronger and faster
“His new coach has been adding extra cardio exercises into the workout routine”
Getting fitter helps every area of a tennis player’s game: you can hit the ball harder and get into the right place to return good shots by your opponent.
The equivalent with debt is increasing the money you can pay off your debts each month, either by getting more income or spending less. Try this “Money Detox” program to kick-start your financial improvements – most of the ideas there are pretty painless!
3) Finish the match quickly
“She’s going to want to avoid this going to a third set if possible.”
If a player gets an early break in a set, they could relax a bit knowing they will win the set just by holding their serve. It’s not a good idea in sport as one mistake can be very costly – and it’s not a good idea in debt either!
Here are three relaxed approaches to money it’s best to avoid because they all prolong the time your debt lasts:
- making the minimum payment on a credit card
How long do you think it will take to clear the card if you do this? Lot’s of people guess four or five years when actually it’s over ten, fifteen or twenty years. In 2018, the regulator has brought in rules to help people stuck in persistent credit card debt, but they won’t kick in until you have been struggling for a long while, so it’s better not to get to that point.
- thinking your home or car insurance renewal quote looks OK
Insurance companies make a fortune from people that don’t look for a cheaper quote. Even if it only saves you £30, how many other ways do you know to earn £30 tax-free for half an hours work in the evening?
- buying a new TV on a Buy Now Pay Later deal
That’s better than putting it on a credit card and paying interest, but if you don’t clear it by the end, it will cost a lot of interest, things can go badly wrong with BNPL bargains! If you don’t need that TV right now, why not put off buying one until more of your debt has gone?
4) Don’t expect to win every game
“He’s going to have to pick himself up after losing that tie-break and get back into the match.”
Good players don’t win every set, but they carry on trying. Anderson was two sets down against Federer in the quarter-finals this year, but he won the match. And he won his epic semi-final against Isner, 26-24 in the last set!
If you expect everything to go according to your budget, it may work for a few months, but if it’s going to take a long while to clear your debts, the chances are that something will go wrong. The washing machine may break down, your landlord may give you notice so you have moving costs etc. This is one reason to try to clear your debts as fast as possible whilst things are going well!
The most useful thing to keep you going is a small emergency fund to help you ride out the unexpected.
Having a small rainy day pot of money is like starting every tennis game with 15 points on the board already – it won’t always be enough but it’s a massive help.
5) In doubles, talk to your partner
“And this pair is making covering the whole court look easy.”
A good doubles partnership discusses situations in advance and plans between points where the next serve will be going. Then the game can look easy, with no “Yours or Mine? ” misunderstandings about who goes for a ball down the middle.
Agreeing on your long-term goals strategy is almost essential so you can jointly get a budget you both think is workable.
If your partner keeps going out and buying things that aren’t in the plan then it’s going to be hard to make any progress with debts – one Debt Camel reader described it as trying to run a bath when someone keeps taking the plug out.
And on the tactical level, if no-one’s picked up any food for dinner your much more likely to end up spending more on a takeaway.
If you just aren’t going to ever win…
Andy Murray knew that he wasn’t fit enough to play well in 2018, so he withdrew.
Playing the debt game often isn’t much fun at all – but if it seems unwinnable, then look at your other options.
There is a simple summary of them here, so read that and think about getting some debt advice. Here is a list of good places for debt advice, there isn’t a “best for everyone” option, it depends on your situation and where you live.