How to Start Getting Debt-Free, in Pictures Your Kid Could Draw

Personal Finance Pictionary
Your part of the $1 trillion consumers now owe in credit card debt, a new recent high, is no game. personal finance play on the popular game Pictionary is. Ben Popken and a his trusty whiteboard sketch out five actionable tips for digging yourself out of debt.NBC News

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By Ben Popken

Your share of the nearly $1 trillion consumers now owe in credit card debt is no game. But this personal finance play on the popular game Pictionary is. See if you can identify the five get-out-debt tips in the whiteboard drawings before we tell you.

To get the debt-tackling scoop, we talked with a range of personal finance experts, from bankruptcy professors to personal finance experts to non-profit advocates who help the working poor.

Several experts said it's the little changes that make the biggest difference when it comes to avoiding debt or paying it down.

Todd Zywicki, an economics professor at George Mason, advocates "small, marginal increments — bringing your lunch one or two times per week to work, eating dinner at home one night instead of take-out, or avoiding occasional late payments on credit cards."

But debt is relative. Such "common sense" advice is likely small comfort to someone deciding whether to pay their rent or feed their family tonight.

After a popular personal finance maven made a list of the "20 Things the Rich Do Every Day" that went viral, personal finance author Helaine Olen observed that these "lifehacker" lists can have a hidden message: "the shiftless poor deserve their fate."

"Never mind unemployment, and full-time jobs that don't offer a living wage," she wrote. "Just eat an apple a day and floss your damn teeth."

However, Margarita Pascual, a financial advisor with Neighborhood Trust, a nonprofit that gives financial advice to low-income New Yorkers, has seen the difference that even small steps can make.

She says she tries to lead her clients to "little victories to keep them focused on the big picture," such as paying off one debt, no matter how tiny. Or celebrating when their credit score goes up a smidge.

Getting out of debt "takes time," said Pascual. "It's a work in progress."