Financial freedom sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

We live in a world of mortgages, car payments, student loans and credit card balances so it’s not surprising that we have surrendered to the fact that debt is just part of our lives.

But does it have to be?

It is possible to be debt free and to spend your money on things that matter to you. Things that help you and your family feel good and create memories that will last a lifetime. Imagine a time when you are mortgage-free and you could take trips around the world whenever you wanted.

COMMIT

Just like losing weight, breaking free from debt is not something that will not happen overnight. It will require resolve so the first step you need to take is to commit to achieving financial freedom.

Dig deep and find the main reason why you want to get out of debt. Maybe it’s so you can live without worrying about being able to pay your bills. Could it be so the debt collectors will stop calling? Whatever it is, write it down and place it somewhere visible—on the fridge, in your purse, even hang it on a wall. This will serve as your inspiration and motivate you to stick to your plan.

CREATE A BUDGET

The next step is probably the most painful. You need to take a hard look at your finances and create a budget.

This is often tough because many of us are in complete denial or even totally clueless as to the real state of our finances. This is what lands us in financial difficulty in the first place.

Gather all of your bills. Now, write down exactly what your expenses are each month plus what you usually spend on variables like groceries and entertainment—expenses that you won’t necessarily have a bill for. I highly recommend tracking your spending for at least a month to get a good idea of how much you spend and on what. This way you can be realistic when you go to write your expenses.

Let me warn you, this step can be shocking and a complete eye-opener. It certainly was for me. But, it’s critical to know where exactly your money is going before you can determine how to budget.

SAVE FOR EMERGENCIES

An emergency fund of at least $1000 is essential to avoid going further into debt. Think about it… If you spend all of your money on bills and paying off your loans, what will you do if something goes wrong and you have no money saved? Inevitably, you’ll have to borrow the money or use a credit card and doing either of those things will dig you deeper into debt.

So, while it may seem counter-productive, saving an emergency fund is necessary to achieve financial freedom. It does not have to be so difficult to save that money. You can sell items you own at a garage sale or online, get a part-time job or just use your budget to cut expenses and save that money instead.

NO MORE DEBT

When you’re already knee-deep in loans and bills, avoid taking on more debt. You took the first baby step by saving your emergency fund but now it’s time to get more serious about this.

If there are big items you want but can’t afford, put them on the back burner. Avoid credit cards at all costs and use cash only. Cold hard cash gives you a tangible reminder of how much you have spent. You don’t get that visual cue with credit cards. Not to mention, there’s also the high-interest rates banks apply if you don’t pay your balance off in time.

BE PATIENT

Most of us want things to happen right now. We live in a fast-paced world and have grown accustomed to instant gratification. If we have to wait, we grow irritable.

You will not achieve financial freedom overnight. It may take months or even years before you see any real progress depending on how much debt you’re in. Give it time and stick to the plan. Eventually, you will see the amount you owe grow smaller and more manageable.