It seems absolutely unbelievable sitting here today that we were able to pay off £21k of consumer debt in just 8 months but it’s true and what’s more, we’re not high earners- we’re dog walkers!! It took grit and determination and many, many sacrifices but it was so worth it. I’m going to share with you how we were able to pay off this huge amount of debt and how you can do the same.
HOW WE ENDED UP WITH SO MUCH DEBT
Thomas and I didn’t always have debt. In fact, when we first met we were very careful with our money. I was a recruitment consultant and Thomas worked in construction. We were able to save up £19k for a house deposit in just over a year. We’re lucky that when we put our minds to something we put our heart and soul into it until we reach our goal.
The problems started when we moved into our first home together. After paying over the deposit we had saved we didn’t have a penny left over. On the very first day we moved in we found out that we had no heating or hot water and that the boiler was leaking carbon monoxide. We had no choice but to put a brand new boiler on credit. That was the start of it. It was so shockingly easy to get credit that we furnished the whole house on credit. I’m not talking Ikea stuff here either. Oh no. We went for Laura Ashley! And we popped it all onto a store card. We were quite good after that and reigned in our spending but then the kiddies came along!
We were blown away by how much it cost to look after two babies – double buggy, car seats, clothes, nappies, food, loss of income, baby groups etc etc etc. On top of this, Tom’s work was very up and down. He worked in construction and he’d have a good run of work and then nothing for weeks. It was during these times that bills were paid by credit, food shopping went on credit and, at one point, if I could have figured out how to pay the mortgage with the credit card I would have. It was an extremely stressful way to live and it took its toll. We couldn’t sleep and we were arguing. We knew that if we kept going like this we would eventually lose our home. But we honestly didn’t know what to do about it all and it was so much easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. Life went on like this and in the background, the debt was growing and growing. It came to a head in March 2018. I tried to pay for £5 worth of petrol, praying my card would be accepted but it wasn’t. I had to leave my phone with them so that they knew I’d come back and then return with £5. I can’t even put into words the shame and humiliation I felt. Not to mention the guilt. I felt like I was failing my children. We couldn’t go on like we were and knew we had to face the issue and deal with it. We totalled it all up and it came to £21k. We were devastated and had no clue how to pay it off.
HOW DID WE PAY IT OFF?
I began searching for ways to pay off debt on the internet and came across Dave Ramsey, a personal money management expert based in America who has helped millions of people become debt free (read more about his ‘Baby Steps’ method here). We decided to follow his ‘7 Baby Steps’ in order to get ourselves out of debt. We started on Baby step 1 – build up a £1k emergency fund. We did this by selling lots of items from around the house that we no longer used and we also used some of the kids’ savings. This was the worst part of the journey for us. I felt like I was betraying them by taking their money but it made sense to do it as it meant that we were taking steps to becoming stable financially, which would only benefit them in the long run. Next came Baby Step 2- paying off the debt. This was the best step for us – we became TOTALLY obsessed with it. By this stage we were running our own dog walking company and our salary was more regular. It was amazing to watch our debt figure reducing. Keep reading to see what we did to pay off our debt…….
GO THROUGH YOUR BANK STATEMENTS:
I started by going through our bank statements for the last three months and looking at everything we had spent. It was an eye-opener! There were old direct debits that hadn’t been cancelled, an old magazine subscription that I presume was still being delivered to our old address, and HUGE amounts being spent on coffees from Starbucks, sandwiches from Boots, toys for the kids, takeaways etc etc. I was utterly shocked. I mean, I know it was us spending this money but, as strange as it sounds, you don’t actually realise the extent of it until you actually see it in black and white. No wonder I had no money that day to cover my petrol!
REDUCE YOUR BILLS:
I cancelled all of the old direct debits and subscriptions and then highlighted all of the bills that I wanted to try to reduce. These included things like car insurance, pet insurance, food bill and gas and electric. I negotiated better deals for all of these, saving money each month.
CUT ALL NON-ESSENTIALS:
This is going to be tough but remember it’s not forever- just until you are debt-free. Cut out every non-essential item from your budget. For example, I cut Amazon Prime, the kids clubs (make sure to replace with a free, fun activity such as baking, crafting etc), expensive coffees out (Starbucks I’m looking at you!), takeaways, eating out, Netflix and Now TV. Some of you will feel like it’s the end of the world and others won’t mind as much. I was actually OK with it. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the debt that I was happy to save every single penny I could and I was constantly looking to see what else I could cut.
This is a biggie and it saved us £100s of pounds each month. I made a weekly meal plan, wrote out a shopping list for everything we needed for the week and then went shopping with my list. I didn’t buy anything that wasn’t on the list. I also swapped all branded items for non-branded and I swapped Tesco for Aldi. You will save a fortune by doing this! Click here to see how to save money on your weekly shopping bill.
SELL UNUSED ITEMS:
I sold EVERYTHING we no longer used, including the kids’ clothes and toys. The kids were very good about it all, bringing things to me to ask if I wanted to sell them. I sold our old shoes, ornaments, coats, clothes, an old pet bed. This list was endless and you’d be amazed at what people buy. I used Facebook to sell the majority of items as there are no listing fees and whatever you sell the item for is yours to keep.
MAKE EXTRA MONEY:
If you can, try to bring more money into the house. This is the MAIN reason we were able to pay of our debt so quickly. As I mentioned before, Thomas and I run our own dog walking company. We started to take on a lot more work. We worked for 7 days straight for 6 months. The poor kiddies never wanted to see another park again! I also took on a lot more cat clients. I would go and feed them in the evenings once we had finished the walks and sorted the kids out. I did a lot of matched betting too and this is a brilliant way to make extra money. You can view our matched betting blog post here.
THE SNOWBALL METHOD:
We used the ‘snowball’ method when paying off our debt. This just means that you pay off your smallest debt first and then move onto the next one once the smallest is paid. I found this very motivating as we were quickly able to pay off the first three small debts and tackle the next one in line. Once you’ve paid off a card, you use the money that is freed up from that payment to chuck at the next debt. For example, all of our credit cards were on minimum repayments. When we had paid the smallest debt off we used the money that was freed up from the first debt to put towards the next debt. So instead of paying the minimum on the next debt we paid the minimum amount PLUS what was freed up from the first debt being gone.
Once momentum takes hold you start to see results pretty quickly and that makes you even more motivated. It took us eight months. Eight months and our nightmare was finally over. I cannot even begin tell you how I felt the day we became debt free. It was the best feeling in the world.
We have now just completed ‘Baby Step 3’ – saving for our ‘fully funded emergency fund’. After more sacrifices and hard work we have been able to save 6 months’ worth of living expenses. We are now working on overpaying the mortgage and increasing our contributions to our S&S ISA.