As January gets underway, people are turning toward ways to make the new year better than the last. For many people, this means getting finances under control once and for all.  Debt can be debilitating, and it’s a challenge to get out from under it. Once you free up your money from debts, however, you’ll have greater freedom to save, invest and make your money work for you.

Becoming debt-free can be a long-term process, but here are a few tips to get you started down the right path:

1.) Stop using your credit cards. It’s impossible to pay down debt if you keep adding to it.  The interest rate on your credit card means that you’ll always lose money if you carry a balance. If you need help with your self-control, try locking the cards away in a safe or even cutting them apart to prevent spur-of-the-moment splurges.

2.) Make a plan.  Financial recovery requires a game plan.  This makes it easier to set concrete goals and track your progress, which in turn will motivate you to stick with it.  Sit down and write out every debt that you have, making note of how much you owe and how high your interest is for each account. Then make a plan to pay everything off. Your best bet is to focus on your highest-interest debts first as these will return the most money to your pocket. Also target your lowest balances first; once these are paid, you can put that money toward larger debts.

3.) Get everyone on board. There’s nothing harder than saving money when your spouse isn’t on the same page. If you share finances with someone, you need to make your debt reduction plan known to him or her. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a spouse spend money that was set aside for debt payments or use a credit card you were in the process of paying off.  Having someone else involved can also help you stay accountable for your choices.

4.) Pay as much as you can. No one ever paid off their credit cards by making the minimum payment.  Even if you can only afford a few extra dollars in the beginning, pour as much money as you can toward paying off debts.  Once the first debt is paid, put aside every penny you save toward your next debt. The effect will quickly snowball, allowing you to gain momentum and pay off each subsequent debt a little faster.

5.) Grow the money you save. Once you’ve begun paying off your debts, you should find that more money in your pocket every month. Instead of allowing that money to trickle away to frivolous purchases, make it work for you. Any dollar that you don’t spend to pay down other debts should be invested in an account that will help you build your wealth and create financial security in the future.  Becoming debt-free allows you to start seriously saving for retirement or any other long-term goals that have previously been out of reach.