Sometimes life throws you a whole basket of lemons. When that happens, getting back on your feet is the part where you learn to love making lemonade.
Bankruptcy filings across the US have slowed down since the economic upheaval of 2010. However, close to 800,000 bankruptcy cases were filed in 2016. If you’ve recently filed for bankruptcy, it’s only natural to feel disheartened and unsure of how to rebuild. How you deal with the aftermath of an event like this will determine how quickly you can recover from this setback.
Here are some steps to get you heading in the right direction.
- Evaluate where you can cut.
For most Americans, housing costs are at the top of what they spend in any category per year.
Your focus as you get back on your feet should be to live on a budget. And since housing is one of the areas where spending is high, it’s also the place where you can save the most. You are not without options. Consider transitional housing. Stay with family. Or rent a room from a friend.
- Budget everything and stick with it.
Since a Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your record for 10 years, you’ll need to give up reliance on your credit card and learn to pay with cash. This means you can’t pay for things using future money. What you have is what you can spend. The key to navigating this without going hungry is to create a budget based on your monthly income and stick with it.
- Learn to save.
This likely wasn’t your strong suit. But now you have an incentive — however painful it might be. Discipline yourself to save a certain amount each month. Even if it’s only a dollar at first. If possible, automate your savings so that you don’t need to rely on your memory or willpower. Have your bank automatically transfer a certain amount of money to a separate savings account when you get your monthly salary. How much of your salary should you save each month? Start with the goal of creating a $1,000 emergency fund, and then once that is created, aim for 20 percent to go toward savings.
- Pay your bills on time, all the time.
Going forward, you are a new person. A person who pays off all their bills on time — all the time. To fully embrace the lifestyle of this person requires you to think before adding another bill to your life. Do you really need a new phone plan where you’re going to be paying more? Can you make your old laptop last for a little longer? It’s a change of pace from immediate gratification to a more calculating frame of mind. Paying bills on time is the primary way you can rebuild your credit score. So make meeting those payments a priority.
- Learn to love the process.
Recovering from a bankruptcy can feel like a never-ending climb to rebuild your finances. Plus, if you used to go on a spending spree to celebrate little wins, that option is not something your new lifestyle will allow.
But life after bankruptcy need not be all grey and gloom. Learn to celebrate milestones in thrifty ways. Get creative with your gift giving. Make the process of rebuilding your finances into a game. And let the game itself be your source of enjoyment.
It’s only natural to feel down and regretful over past financial blunders. Guilt and shame are common emotions among those recovering from a bankruptcy. But these emotions are far from productive and won’t empower you to make smarter financial decisions in the future. Some reflection is good so that you don’t fall into bad patterns again, but for all other negative emotions… Leave the past in the past. Learn from it, but then commit to educating yourself and moving forward.
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