Welcome to another post in my wonderful series of debt stories from personal finance writers who have paid off debt or whom are on a debt journey. Todays story is from Jane of Shoestring Cottage website. The long list of other inspirational stories can be found at the end of this post.
I personally have been in debt for most of my adult life, but finally realised, aged 40, that it needed to be repaid. It was not my money, it belonged to the credit card company or bank and needed to be gone. I repaid £16k in two years and was debt free by the age of 42.
Let my story, or debt stories like this inspire you to make some financial changes and pay off the debt. Release the stress of debt and become debt free like I did.
Over to Jane from Shoestring Cottage to share her story. A story not of escalating high levels of debt, more of a ongoing reliance on overdrafts, credit cards and loans. A story of it just becoming the norm to live life with those regular monthly debt repayments, but then how freeing it feels without them when the debt is repaid.
How did you get into debt?
There aren’t many of us who haven’t experienced some level of debt in our lives. For me, it wasn’t that I was an out-of-control spender trying to live a lavish lifestyle I couldn’t afford. In fact, I have always been naturally frugal.
With me, it was more subtle and crept up on me over a number of years. Money was always tight, as it is for many families trying to pay a mortgage and feed and clothe three children. However, I always had an over confident and rather casual attitude to low level debt.
So what if I lived in my overdraft? I had a £2,000 agreement with my bank, so it must be OK. Holidays were always paid for by credit card, as were Christmas presents. Cars were purchased with a high interest loan from the car sales company. I bought clothes from various catalogues because I could pay them off monthly. Buy now pay later deals made purchasing a new TV or sofa feel much more affordable. I could worry about paying them back in a year’s time, and that was ages away.
This all worked out OK, because my then husband had a reasonable and stable income, and I did a series of part time jobs around the kids to help pay for extras. We did notice that a big chunk of our income went to pay off debts at the beginning of the month and had occasional conversations about paying things off so that we started with a clean slate. However, we never quite got there!
Oddly, I never considered myself ‘in debt’. I just thought it was normal.
What was your crisis point?
The tipping point for me came when I split from my husband. I was fortunate in that he was happy to pay child maintenance, but he also had to rent himself a new home so my income was dramatically reduced. I worked part time initially and got a top up from Working Tax Credits. It was the first time in my life that I had claimed benefits, and I was so grateful for them.
But suddenly being solely responsible for making my money last and making sure I paid my rent and bills was scary! It was time to be a fully-fledged, independent adult!
I had a shaky start, though. Although I began to watch my budget carefully, there never seemed to be enough money and I was often anxious. I made big mistakes early on, thinking that the girls and I ‘needed’ a holiday abroad, which I paid for on the credit card. Christmas presented another issue. I hadn’t put any money away for food and presents, so I had to use the credit card again.
It wasn’t that I massively over indulged my children. Far from it! But I did feel a pressure to make them happy as they adjusted to their parents’ separation and living away from their dad.
What help did you get?
Those first few years post-divorce were a struggle. However, I realised fairly quickly that I had to change my attitude if I was to get out of debt and live within my means.
I was already writing my blog about frugal living, Shoestring Cottage, so I knew that it was possible to live well as well as being frugal. In addition, I was well aware how to budget. However, even if you micro-manage your money, sometimes you simply need more of it!
I needed to bring in some more income, tighten my belt and learn to do without if I couldn’t afford something. A full-time job came up at work – a promotion – and I went for it. When I got the call to say I had been the successful candidate, I danced around the kitchen in jubilation!
It still wasn’t a high paying career, and I would lose my benefits. Nevertheless, it did mean I would be better off. I was fortunate that my children were old enough to get themselves to and from school, let themselves in and keep an eye on each other until I arrive home, so I had no child care to pay.
In addition, at this point I cut my credit cards up and began to pay off the accumulated debts. Once they were gone, no debt repayments meant that I had effectively given myself a pay rise. I learned to anticipate expenses and to make sure I saved for them. As well as this, I made sure I always had a cushion – an emergency fund – that was never touched unless it was a genuine emergency.
It helped a lot that I met my partner Justin, AKA Mr Shoestring, a short while after my divorce. He is even more frugal than I am!
Tips for getting out of debt?
The best tip for getting out of debt is to let go of the ‘I’m worth it’ attitude so many of us seem to have. It’s too easy to treat yourself and worry about paying for it later.
I realised that doing without and living more frugally in order to live debt free feels much better than the constant dull gnawing anxiety that comes with debt. There are so many ways to live well without spending money you don’t have. Me, Justin and my daughters had days out and experiences rather than expensive foreign holidays. A day at the beach with a picnic in the UK can be as glorious as anything abroad.
Gourmet meals in rather than lots of takeaways and meals out, spending time with family and friends, opening a bottle of chilled supermarket wine on a sunny evening in the garden, curling up with hot chocolate and popcorn with a film on Netflix and taking a walk through the woods followed by the Sunday roast make memories that don’t involve worry and regret over the indulgence.
A rummage in a charity shop or a morning at a boot sale are great ways to indulge your need for a bit of retail therapy without maxing the credit cards. In fact, once you realise the bargains to be had second hand, you will soon resent having to pay full price for anything.
Being debt free and being able to live on a small income enabled me to take voluntary redundancy a few years ago. I am not financially wealthy, but I do consider myself rich in all the ways that matter to me. If you want to find out more about how I embrace frugal living, please come read my blog, Shoestring Cottage, or join the chat on my Facebook group, My Second Hand & Frugal Life.
Thank you to Jane
Thank you to Jane for sharing her story with honesty. It is such a familiar story that probably a lot of you reading are experiencing. It makes complete sense to get yourself out of that debt and live debt free, what would you do with that extra money each month that no long goes into paying for your past life. Instead you can be saving for your future life.
If you would like to read many other finance writers debt stories here they all are
Leon Mclean from Make Save Invest Money.
Fran from Pennies to Pounds