KEEPING ON TRACK
If you're determined to stick to your plan, it helps to keep careful track of where your money goes. Get into the habit of writing down the cash you spend and where you spend it. Then, once a month, using those notes, your bank statement, and your credit card bills, analyze where your money went.You may find you've underestimated some essential costs and overestimated others. But since a spending plan is an evolving document, not a set of rules, you can always adjust it if necessary. For example, heating your home and buying gas for your car may jump in price at certain times, or you may have unusual medical expenses in some years. You may also be spending much more than you thought on something you consider expendable. Following a plan doesn't guarantee you'll stay out of debt. But it does mean you're less likely to be taken by financial surprise if you follow the guidelines you've set for yourself.
FACING A TIDAL WAVE
As part of choosing a credit counselor, ask how he or she will work with you, and how your collaboration may affect your credit report. Ask, too, whether there is a charge for the assistance. Payment arrangements vary from center to center.
If part of your debt problem is the result of not paying on time, you may want to consider automatic bill payment arrangements that help you avoid hefty late fees. For example, many utility, telephone, and cable companies make it easy to sign up, and they debit your linked bank account each month. Some credit card issuers also offer automatic payment plans, which give you the choice of paying as little as the minimum balance or as much as the full bill.Of course, there has to be money in your account, or enough overdraft protection, for the debit to go through. But you can time automatic payments to coincide with the direct deposit of your paycheck — also usually a good idea.