Weak Dollar = Debt Payoff?

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Recently I have seen quite a few searches related to the weak dollar and debt payoff. I hope to give my perspective on this, and maybe a few more searchers will have what they are really looking for.

For those new to economics, a weak dollar is what it sounds like – weak. As a quick example, buying a Euro half a decade ago was cheaper than it is now. Almost half cheaper, in fact. This is partly due to inflation, and partly due to trade and budget deficits. Most people agree that a weak dollar is a bad thing if you are a consumer, and a good thing if you are producer. As an example, my business is getting a lot of attention from international clients, because our products are cheaper here than they are in their home country. On the flip side, if you travel to Europe, expect to pay twice as much for everything.

So, basically, if you had a total debt of $20,000 five years ago, that amount does not change with the dollar (unless it is in overseas currency). Meaning that you would technically be paying less for it now, even though the amount is the same.

However, this is not true, for the most part. If you had traded your money for Euros five years ago, yes, they would now be worth twice as much. But since you kept your money in US dollars, then you have the same amount as you did then. Your debt and savings both weakened at the same time and to the same degree. It is no better to pay off debt now than it was at the time you built it up. In fact, since your debt likely carries an interest penalty, your debt actually weakened LESS than your savings, meaning you now owe more than you did back then, unless you’ve been trying to pay it off.

Since your debt is worth the same it was back then, relative to your savings, then it will be the same thing when it bounces back. $20k ten years ago = $20k right now = $20k ten years from now, when you only consider a strong or weak dollar. It only becomes worth more or less when you invest in international currency. When the dollar is particularly strong, you may consider trading it for a currency that is particularly weak. And then, when the situation reverses, you will have extra money. However, when you factor in a typical inflation rate, this is not a sound investment strategy; you almost always lose in the long run, and it requires a long run to see a gain. Of course, there are always higher risk currencies (if a country is about to crash and you believe they will bounce back), but most of the time you will lose on long term gains.

So, then, what is the right time to pay off debt? Put simply, the right time is NOW. With interest rates rising, that $20k right now will become $30k before you know it. If you’re waiting for the “right time”, then your money is sitting there gaining interest by the minute. In general, paying off debt is almost always smarter to do immediately, rather than waiting for some magic moment. The monetary benefit is eclipsed by the psychological benefit – imagine being free of the weight of that debt! Imagine if you owed nobody but yourself, what you could do with that paycheck every month.

So, start now! Create a strategy, maybe review this blog and some other ones for support, and get started today. List your debts, create a budget, and put as much money as possible towards it to get it paid off soon! In a bad economy, the one thing that makes it worse is debt. Losing your job is terrible no matter what, but imagine losing it and not having to really pay any bills but the necessities… it would be great, right? So, the best way to prepare for the worst is to get out of the red. It’s a difficult road, for sure, but it’s rewarding in so many ways.

Weathering the Tough Times

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We got bad news at work last week. There’s an issue with cash flow, and our pay has to be cut in half for the next month, maybe two at most. While the economy is finally improving and we have work coming in, we’re simply out of money. Perils of a small business, I suppose. But since it’s small, we can adjust and make it out, instead of losing our jobs!

I’m just happy that half pay is not going to kill me! I’m down to my last 2 grand or so in debt repayment, and my monthly expenses are noticeably less than they used to be. While I won’t have any extra money and my debt repayment will be on hold, I’m not freaking out. I have an emergency fund in the bank, my expenses are down, and by using coupon shopping the past month, I am well-stocked on enough groceries to supplement me for a month!

So in light of many people having to adjust to similar situations, or possibly having to adjust in the future, here are the things I’ve done to help me weather what would otherwise be a dark time in my financial life:

1) Build an emergency fund. A month’s income is about right. That is enough to fix a car, pay for small medical bills, keep you afloat for a month in case of job loss, etc. Since I’m at half salary, I could easily live at my current means for two months before I felt an impact. That’s a long time, and enough time to find a small side job or take on small projects.

2) Reduce expenses. It goes without saying, but the best way to reduce debt is by spending less. Now that my budget is way below the money I make, making less is not going to kill me! I won’t be able to put as much extra money towards my remaining debt, but I can survive on half salary, possibly without even dipping into my emergency fund! The money is there if I need it, but now that my expenses are low, I won’t need much of it. Now, this isn’t easy to do. You’ll have to become frugal…

3) Become frugal. There is a “cheap” person, and there is a frugal person. The latter is pretty much the same, just less annoying. Don’t go to a restaurant with people and bring grapes and crackers to eat – that’s being cheap; just pick something that doesn’t cost much, or don’t go at all. Frugality is a mindset in which you don’t spend more than you have to on the things you need, and don’t buy the things you don’t need. Chances are, you don’t need a lot of things. You probably don’t need digital cable or satellite, a netflix subscription, and internet. Most TV is available for free online. Use the library for books, which can provide hours of entertainment per week. Borrow DVDs from a friend instead of buying them all the time. Use coupons when you shop (google The Grocery Game). Check for better prices on phone, insurance, and utilities. Research online ways to get those services even cheaper.

4) Calm down. Stress is evil. If you freak out about losing pay, then you will not sleep, your productivity will be down, and you might even lose your job! Just keep calm, and plan for these situations ahead of time. If you are well-planned, you have nothing to fear. Calculate a worst-case scenario, and find a way to live through it. My worst case scenario was temporarily moving back home, and lately it is moving up to get married earlier. Yes, it would be terrible to have to do things that way, but it is the worst case.

5) Build relationships. We’re in a new era, and people are starting to go back to relationships. In the end, the government won’t be able to help you, your boss won’t be able to help you. The people you can trust to keep you afloat are your family and friends. Build a network of close friends that can support you. Then, the worst case becomes bunking on someone’s couch for a few weeks. I have volunteered at a lot of soup kitchens, and the common thread among the poorest among us is that they didn’t have family or friends to fall back on. When you’re building a career, it’s easy to sacrifice other people along the way. The problem is that careers are fickle. People will stand by you forever.

I hope this helps some people. A year or two ago, this would have nearly done me in. I likely would have had to move back home. I probably wouldn’t have met my fiancee, and things wouldn’t be going this well at all. Get rid of your debt today! You’ll gain peace of mind, financial freedom, and the ability to weather small storms in life, like this one. It’s tough, but if you persevere, there’s nothing that will be able to take you down!