11/12/2015 18:56 EST | Updated 11/12/2016 00:12 EST

In debt? 8 top tips for getting out, and staying out

All week CBC News has looked at consumer debt and financial health. According to Statistics Canada, more than 70 per cent of Canadians have debt. Here's what you can do to dig yourself out for good.


All the experts we spoke to say that if you are heading down a slippery financial slope, track your spending by looking at your fixed and variable costs.

"Look for opportunities to not necessarily cut out, but to cut back," says Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada.  

Personal finance expert Preet Banerjee agrees. He suggests printing the last three months of bank and credit card statements and looking at your spending habits. Then, try to cut back on those "soft costs."

You can also track spending by saving your receipts for a month.

When setting a budget, give yourself a monthly spending allowance and stick to it. And don't spend more than you make.


Schwartz says his agency is seeing a lot of clients come in with burgeoning data plans. Track your usage and then get aggressive about cutting back if you're not maximizing your plan.

"If you are not watching the 700 channels that you have available to you, why are you paying for it," he asks.

Home phone lines should also be reconsidered.

"If you are not using the landline anymore at your house, why do you have it?"


Whether it's the size of your home or a car, it's time to rethink your needs. In Toronto, getting rid of your car could save you thousands of dollars in insurance, gas, maintenance and parking fees.  

"If you come from a family with two cars that is another opportunity to reduce by one and save thousands of dollars a year that you can use to pay down your debt," Schwartz says.

For seniors, it may be time to reconsider downsizing from the family home, which can have a lot of operating and carrying costs, he notes.


Personal finance expert Bruce Sellery says carrying a balance on your credit card is a waste of money.

"You want to be someone who never has a balance on your credit card," Sellery says.

With interest rates ranging from 14 to 30 per cent, he says, "your best investment choice is the guaranteed return of taking your card to zero."


If you can't cut back then you may need to make more.

Sellery explains: "If you have trouble making ends meet, one of two things need to change - you have to earn more money or you have to spend less."

Consider taking on extra hours at work, or a temporary part-time job until you get back on sure financial footing.


Daryl Marritt, 30, shares a house in Brampton with his wife, Sarah, and ten other family members. Sharing a home has really helped the newlyweds save: they only pay $300 per month in rent.

"We share everything," he says. "All the bills, all the housing expenses. It works out great for us."

Marritt and his wife even planned their wedding on a budget, including a backpacking trip for a honeymoon that included flights procured with points.


Don't be afraid of technology. There are plenty of easy-to-use budgeting tools available.  

Marritt paid off $48,000 in debt with the help of Mint. The beauty of this app is it breaks down all spending and it encouraged him to make his goal.

Apps "do the work for you," Schwartz says. "You just have to submit your expenses, submit your revenue, and a lot of this is done for you right away."


Another way to save money is to be selective at the grocery store.

Catherine Burden is on a tight budget, and prefers to buy fresh food over pre-packaged or processed goods.

"You don't have to make everything from scratch," Burden told CBC News earlier this week. "But I completely avoid the middle aisles at the grocery store."

Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada Debt Solutions, also advises to buy generic brands, which can usually be found out of direct sightlines on higher or lower shelves.

Also, she says, "bring a list and stick to it. Go over what is in your fridge and cupboards before hitting the store."

And, perhaps most importantly, "don't shop when you're hungry or you will buy junk," she says.