A few years back, I was talking to my grandfather about his childhood. He dropped this gem on me: “When I was young, you didn’t buy something unless you had the money to pay for it.” How often does that happen now?

We are all enticed by — and some addicted to — buying what we want when we want it. It’s the American way. But it might not be the best way for you and your family when it comes to financial planning.

According to NerdWallet, the average American household is carrying more than $15,000 dollars in credit card debt. The average household has student loan debt at more than $48,000, and a mortgage north of $168,000. That is staggering.

The interest payments alone on those bills are enough to keep you indebted to your creditors for years to come.

Here are some ways to get those numbers down:

1. Only Buy What You Can Afford

Like my grandfather recommended, if you don’t have the money for that new outfit or new big screen TV, you probably shouldn’t buy it. It’s not rocket science. If the funds aren’t there, they aren’t there. Even though you might expect a big tax return or a bonus at work, it might be better to wait until that money is in hand before spending it.

2. Look at Your Spending

Even if you do have the money to afford that new outfit or television, you need to ask yourself, “Is this is the best use of my money?” If you are carrying thousands in credit card and student loan debt along with a hefty mortgage, dropping several hundred bucks on those bills might look a lot better than a 60-inch flatscreen.

3. Evaluate Your Spending

Stop and look at your credit card spending. There are all kinds of apps out there that can show you where you are using your credit card. Once you have this information, it might be easier to formulate a plan to wean yourself from your credit card.

4. Build Up a Savings Account

There are many “Oh crap!” moments in life. A car breaks down. The refrigerator stops working. A child needs costly emergency medical care. Things happen. If you are relying on your credit cards for these situations, you need to rethink your strategy. Putting a few bucks aside each month will quickly add up and give you a cushion to protect you from the inevitable moments when you need cash quickly.

5. Pay More

This is the critical moment in your financial present. How much money are you paying on your credit card, student loan, or mortgage each month? If you’re only making the minimum payments on your credit cards, you might want to recalibrate your family budget to increase the amount you’re paying. The minimum is probably only paying the interest and that’s not going to cut it.  As for student loans and mortgage debts, see if there’s a way to pay extra $50-$100 a month. That will help eat into the principal and reduce the interest.

6. Pick Up an Extra Job

If you need more money to pay off debt, you have several options: find a job that pays more, pick up an extra job, or spend less. We’ve discussed the last option and the first two will eat into your time, but will also give you the benefit of more money into your household.

7. Look in Your Wallet

You might want to investigate the options that come with your credit card. Look for a card that gives you the option to earn rewards that let you pay part of your bill. Also, what is your interest rate? If you pay on time you might qualify for a lower interest rate that can save you big money. It might also be a good idea to look at a credit card with zero interest that you can transfer a balance to. That would give you time to begin paying that balance down without accruing interest.  

8. Refinance

You can refinance your mortgage or student loan and potentially take advantage of lower interest rates. That could knock thousands off of what you owe, enabling you to get out of debt much faster.

9. Stay Disciplined

No matter what kind of debt you have — credit card, student loan, mortgage — the best thing to do is set a monthly budget that enables you to pay down your debt while leaving you enough money for your other expenses. Also, consider using some of your “found” money: tax return, bonus, or gift money to make extra payments on debt to really impact the balance.

How do you manage your debt? Let us know in the comments!