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I love my overflowing inbox filled with questions from my dear readers. What I don’t love is not being able to respond personally to each and every one!

So today, rather than trying to decide which ones to answer, how about I just reach in and let’s see what comes out.

multi-ethinic arms outstretched to ask questions.

Upside Down in a Durango

Dear Mary: I have a Dodge Durango gas guzzler and I owe way too much money on it. If I sell the vehicle outright, I could probably squeak by ending up just $5,000 in the hole. If I trade it in, I would be about $9,000 in the hole.  

I could put the shortfall on a credit card, but I know that is a bad idea for so many reasons. What should I do to pay the difference?

We have an old pick-up truck and an older Subaru that will be okay for now, but how do I get out of the loan and the Durango? And how can I sell it to someone when I don’t have a clear title? Any help will be appreciated. Linda

Dear Linda: There’s no perfect solution here, but here’s a plan that might work: 

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Just recently American’s consumer debt—that’s everything except mortgages—hit $3.789 trillion.

So what’s a trillion? It’s a million million; a thousand billion or 1,000,000,000,000. A billion is a thousand million. Or 1,000,000,000.

young woman with a shocked expression examining a document with a magnifying glass

A billion seconds ago it was 1986 and Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev opened talks at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. A billion minutes ago it was the year 117 A.D. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

But a billion dollars ago in consumer debt was something like just two weeks ago!

Learning how to manage your debt starts with understanding what’s in the fine print.

The principle of fine print. Never trust the flashy print, the cool logos or the enticing promises. There’s always a catch in the fine print. Remember this: What the big print giveth, the fine print taketh away!

Changing the rules. When you signed by your signature you gave the company the right to change the terms at any time. They can raise rates, shorten grace periods and basically change the rules and terms to their advantage whenever they feel like it. But they must tell you in writing.

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A question I receive nearly every day goes something like this: I’m ready to take back control of my finances. But how do I get started? It’s like I’m stuck.

Don’t think you are alone if you find yourself wanting to do all the steps at once. But that could be a big mistake. If you were building a house, you wouldn’t try to pour the foundation, raise the walls and put on the roof all at the same time. It’s the same with building a plan to manage your money. You need to take things one step at a time …

 

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First, you need to lay the foundation. I call this initial step “tracking.” You cannot manage what you cannot measure. 

Tracking means knowing exactly where every penny goes. If you bring home $793.42 this week, next week you should be able to account for every single cent. Where did that money go?

I suggest that you track on a daily basis. The only way to do that is to write it down. Every morning start with a fresh sheet of paper or note on your smartphone. Somehow, come up with a method that works for you. Throughout the day write as you spend any amount of money, write it down. You need to record just two things: How much did you spend and what did you spend it on? How much, what for. Got it?

Do this for at least 30 days (longer may be necessary if you are really in a financial fog). One sheet of paper or note per day. Then just stash them away into a safe place and start fresh the next day. Ideally, both you and your spouse, partner or person with whom you share your finances should be tracking. 

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