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Yes, there are stories out there of people who have paid off far more in as much time. Yes, sometimes I feel like I could have, should have paid it off sooner. But as I mention in this post, going “gazelle-intense” isn’t necessarily the best (or healthiest) way to pay off debt. We need to live our lives, and we need to be happy. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves up in the process.
Still, paying £12k in 2 years is an amazing achievement. What I think is also important to realise is that this debt was paid off while we only had one reliable income source. Doing it on a single, or low income is tough, but it can be done. As I talk about here, and as Great Deals Made Easy can vouch, too.
In honour of debt awareness week, I hope my story is one which can inspire others with to pay off their debt.
The Start of my Debt-Free Story
Back in 2018, I’d just finished a 3 month contract working for an amazing company. I’d not worked in employment since 2012. (Choosing instead to find different ways to make money while bringing up my babies at home.) The idea was that I’d pay down some of my (continuous) debt with the money I earned from my new full-time job. But that thought soon went out the window when I began earning my own money again.
I’d gone for so long scrimping and saving on one salary (me leaving full time employment after maternity leave is another story), that I took the time to enjoy that money. We had holidays, we bought takeaways (lots!) and new clothes. If you’re a keen spender, you know how easy it is to fritter it away when it’s there to be spent. Especially if you’re not used to having it.
When my contract finished, I had nothing to show for my 3 months of full-time work. And I still had debt that needed paying. Nothing that we couldn’t handle. Things like credit card balances, car finance, sofa loans and phone plans. You know how it goes. You can afford the monthly repayments, so you don’t think anything of it.
Reviewing the Financial Situation
But I felt frustrated and angry at myself. So I sat down, looked at all of our spending and was shocked to see how much we’d overspent on nothing. I also added up all of the outstanding debt (only having a general idea of what it was), and was shocked to discover I had over £20,000 worth of debt in my name.
After being in persistent debt since the age of 18 (credit cards, car loans, consolidation, and so on), I decided I’d had enough. Then, the blog Miss Penny Money was born as a way to document my journey out of debt. (I’ve since rebranded to Financially Independent Me, as now it’s about self-worth and finding my own financial independence, having been without a good income for so long).
I started this blog incognito, because I feared judgement of all who knew me. I have no idea why, because debt is a normality for so many people. But you don’t realise how limiting being in debt is, even if you (think) you have it under control.
How I Paid off Debt
Once I’d reviewed the situation, I began to research different ways to pay off debt. I didn’t want to go down the route of debt management plans or IVAs, because I’d looked into that stuff in the past and didn’t want it to affect my credit rating.
Plus, to me, it was something I needed to do myself. I’d got myself into this mess, and I wanted to get myself out of it. Had it been unmanageable, I would have considered a debt-management plan. I’d had friends in the past who had gone down this route, or taken out an IVA, and it had helped them enormously.
Taking Action is Empowering
Regardless of whichever way you decide to tackle your debt, just starting is the most empowering this you can do. Because as long as you’re shackled by debt, it’s like a big cloud shadowing you and your life, preventing you from moving on and doing the things you want to do. Like move house, or save for expensive holidays. Or just to buy nice things. When all of your money is tied up in affordable monthly repayments, there’s not a lot left for living, and it can make you feel resentful.
I Cut Back Even More
Frugality is something that’s built in to me. I think this stems back from my childhood when there were times that we didn’t have a lot of money. Even when we did have money, my Granny would still feed everyone as though she was still cooking with rations. She’d brought up a family of four children on a very small budget. Frugality and thrift were second nature to her, and these things affect how we view the world.
Taking a leaf out of her book, I love to save money where I can. I like to make sure we’re not overpaying on utilities, broadband, TV, insurance, etc. So I’d cut back as much as I could, and put together a strict budget. The money I saved in cutting back was put to one side for bill payments.
I Sold as Much as I Could
DVDs, books, ornaments, trinkets, furniture, kids clothes, kids toys. We had loads of stuff in the loft and did a car boot sale. (You have no idea how much crap you have in your house until you do a declutter to sell stuff).
I used different selling sites such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Zapper, Music Magpie. If you’ve got something to sell, you can guarantee there will be somewhere to sell it. The best part is, it all adds. While bits here and there don’t seem like much, when you add it all up it’s surprising how much you can make. (And really addictive/motivating to keep going!)
I Completed Surveys
There are so many different survey companies out there, that it can be difficult to know which ones to use. I generally used QMee, which you can cash out ASAP and don’t have to wait for it to add up to a certain point. It also doesn’t crash out on you as often as other survey sites do (which is so annoying when you’ve wasted 20 minutes on one survey and earned nothing for it). Prolific Academic is another survey site which other money makers swear by, but I’ve never had any eligible surveys from it.
I Started Mystery Shopping
This fast became one of my favourite ways to make extra money. I think because it was a way to get me out of the house and feel like I had a purpose. Being a stay at home mum can be a killer for your confidence, so that really helped with that.
I have lots of tips on mystery shopping, such as this one How to Become a Mystery Shopper.
I Got a Part-Time Job
One of the biggest problems I had while the children were small was finding work that would fit around our lifestyle. My husband worked rolling-shifts, which meant I couldn’t commit to every weekend or the same evenings every week, because sometimes he’d be at work. We had no childcare support from family and it was too expensive to pay for childcare. (One of the main reasons for leaving employment in 2012.)
But I was really lucky to find a job in our local pub, where the managers were totally happy to work my shifts around my husband’s days off. This really helped in paying off big chunks of that debt.
I Had a Tight Budget
One of the most important things you can do when it comes to money is to have a budget. It sounds limiting (especially when I use the word “tight”), but it’s like anything when it comes to organisation. Forward planning creates success.
So everything was budgeted for. Bills, food, fuel, clothes. I even set up sinking funds for things like car maintenance and holidays. This was essential in making sure we didn’t have to resort to credit cards to pay for things like MOTs, or even just someone’s birthday.
I also used cash in those early days, withdrawing what we needed each week. It’s weird, but when you can physically see your cash, you spend less and it seems to go further. So using cash made the money last longer, and we were less tempted to spend what we didn’t have.
I used the Debt Snowball Method
If you’re not familiar with it, the debt snowball method is when you focus your efforts on paying off your smallest debt first. Then when that’s paid, you use the extra money you’ve been paying on the previous debt AND the regular payment, and pay the next one. And so on. As you go, your down payments increase, and your debts get paid pretty fast.
There is also the Avalanche method, which works for some people by paying off the debts with the highest interest rate first. For more information on the Debt Snowball vs Debt Avalanche, see this post.
Paying off debt takes organisation, dedication, and commitment. There is still around £8k to pay off, but there’s no longer any pressure on me to manage it all. My husband took out a loan to pay off the remaining credit cards which were now attracting interest, and it was taking too long to pay them off. Now we have one monthly payment. I would never have advocated this three years ago, because you have to beat the spending/debt cycle before you can consolidate your debts.
You need to understand why you’re in debt, and put the steps in place to stop it. If you’re looking to get out of debt, take a look at this post for some more information.
If you are really struggling with debt, please seek help from a debt charity such as Stepchange.org, or Nationaldebtline.org. They’re there to help, and just taking that first step will empower you to take the next one, and take control of your own money situation.