Unlike me, my husband has never had good credit. When we first started dating nearly 8 years ago he actually had a score somewhere in the 400’s. He’s not proud of that but he worked hard paying off old medical collection bills, and was finally able to open an unsecured credit card of his own. Since then, he’s stayed steadily within the low to mid 600’s range.
In January of this year however, we sat down together and decided that enough was enough. We have some very big and ambitious goals, but to complete them we desperately needed to get control of our financial life. We needed a complete re-haul, and that’s exactly what we did. I’m happy to say that in just 5 months, my husband and I worked together to bring his credit score up from 669, all the way to 705. Here’s how we did it:
- Acknowledge the Problem(s)
If you’re anything like we were, you might be in a little bit of denial. My husband’s salary seemed like it should have been enough for our family of three to live comfortably but we were consistently having issues paying the bills. For example, it was not an uncommon occurrence to have a water shut-off notice left for us on our front door. Finally, we sat down together and figured out that we were spending a lot more on stuff that we didn’t need, and we didn’t even realize it. Just by sitting down, facing our fears, and admitting to ourselves that there might be a problem that we could fix ourselves, we actually helped relieve all of that crippling anxiety that had built up for so long.
- Draft a plan
- Write out a plan
I’m a very visual person. I’m also a little old-school. If I have an idea, I put it on paper. I then put the paper on the wall in a high traffic area, where I’m sure to see it smack in my face every day. In this case, we put it in our kitchen. Initially, we wrote up a 3 month plan deciding exactly where every dime was going to go and when. After month 2, we wrote up a 12-month plan. Your plan may end up looking different than ours, and that’s okay. The point is that you have one.
- Keep (at least) 2 Checking Accounts and 1 Savings Account
At some point along the way, I figured out that it’s a good idea to have more than one checking account. Keep one account for bill payments and one account for your own spending. You should also keep a savings account (preferably a high-yield one). Truthfully there is no limit to how many accounts you can have. One bank or credit union might limit you to 10, but then you can open more at another institution as well. Regardless, in my opinion you need those three accounts minimum.
- Create a budget
Budget, budget, budget! This is something you absolutely have to do. Even hourly workers like my husband can do this. Figure out the minimum amount you might take home each week. If your pay period is bi-weekly, do the math and divide everything by two. It’s easiest to plan weekly instead of bi-weekly or monthly. Always work off of minimums. It’s always better to underestimate than it is to overestimate.
- Cancel (almost) all subscriptions
Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Prime Video? Pick one and cancel all the rest. You really don’t need them. The same goes for any other apps, games, and subscription boxes you might have. Every single subscription that you get rid of is more money in your pocket…or more money to pay off credit card debt.
- Pay your bills first
Bills are required. Give them priority and everything will feel painless. No more anxiety either!
- Only shop once a week….with a list & a gift card
It took awhile for my husband to get on board with this one, but now that he has he loves it. It’s easy to spend too much if you go to the grocery store without a list. It’s even easier to spend even more if you go to the grocery store more than once a week. As it turns out, Grandma’s once-a-week grocery trip habit is the money saving answer we’ve been looking for. Always shop with a list and don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list—you don’t need it. If you want to take it up a notch, buy a grocery store gift card and use that to do your shopping. It won’t be possible to overspend if you don’t use a debit or credit card.
- All extra money goes towards debt payoff
After all that, you might find you have some extra moolah lying around. You can do one of two things with it. You can either save it, or use it to pay off your debt. If your goal is to increase your credit score, you should choose the latter. Your total debt usage is the largest factor in determining your FICO score. So, paying your debt down will increase your score the fastest. You’ll also pay less in annual interest too—more money in your pocket.
- Implement the plan & stick with it
Step 3? It’s simple and sweet but often the hardest: STICK TO THE PLAN.
I’ll be honest with you. You’ll never be able to stick to the plan 100% of the time. But try your best and when you do find yourself off-course, refer to the plan to navigate yourself back on-track. If you can do that, you’ll reach your goal. I promise.