Overcoming debt doesn’t happen overnight. Typically, it doesn’t even occur over the course of weeks or months. Finding a workable long-term solution requires a mix of short-term action and incrementally changing deeply ingrained behaviors. But with a pinch of financial wisdom, it’s entirely possible to tackle debt head-on and move ever closer to overall financial health.

Here are a few areas to consider on your journey to eliminating debt and taking control of your financial destiny.

Streamlining Monthly Expenditures

The first step is understanding your spending habits so you can tweak them for optimal results. There are nearly always ways to come up with more money to put toward paying down debts for those willing to examine their patterns and adjust accordingly. This is especially important for consumers routinely paying the minimum balances on their credit cards. While this technically allows borrowers to avoid late fees, it will not actually make a dent in debt because high interest rates keep accumulating.

Any extra money you can squeeze out of your budget can go toward paying off more than the minimum balance, reducing your debt over time instead of merely holding steady. Examine non-essentials first: entertainment, restaurants, travel and household “wants.” Every few dollars you can save adds up over time—whether you slash a $7 streaming subscription or cut out one restaurant lunch per week. The more drastic changes you’re willing to make, the bigger dent you’ll ultimately make in your debts.

Exploring Debt Relief Options

What if your debt is too large to realistically “nickel and dime” your way to a solution? Consumers with thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in debt may want to consider pursuing a more serious debt relief solution.

For instance, debt settlement uses the power of negotiating with creditors to lower the principal amount owed. Consumers pay into a designated bank account until they have enough money saved to pay off debts—often for less than the original amount owed thanks to negotiations on their behalf from a reputable debt settlement company. Before enrolling in a program, do your research. A simple Google search like “Freedom Debt Relief reviews” will help you get a better feel for potential partners. Looking up company leadership—in this case, CEO Andrew Housser—is another savvy way to assess the values and track records for a given organization.

If you’re considering going the route of debt relief, beware two major red flags: Companies that promise to reduce your debt and partners that ask for payment before they have settled a debt.

Debt relief companies are actually prohibited from collecting advance fees per a 2010 ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. A real partner will perform the agreed-upon services before collecting payment from clients.

Protecting Your Financial Future

The last thing you want to do is pour your metaphorical blood, sweat and tears into eliminating your debt, only find yourself submerged once again. But in this economy, one emergency or unforeseen expense can undo months or years of hard work. This is why the final component of overcoming debt is preparing for future catastrophe. Make sure you’re setting aside some of each paycheck toward an emergency fund, even if it seems tempting to reallocate this money toward paying off your debts.

According to some estimates, over one-fourth (28 percent) of Americans lack any emergency savings. This puts them at risk of plunging into debt if and when the next unanticipated expense crops up. Consumers should aim to save at least three months’ worth of their salary in an emergency fund completely separately from savings.

These nuggets of financial wisdom will help consumers start overcoming their debt and transforming their financial lives.