A Debt Story Repeated.
I recently re-connected with an old friend from 20 years ago. She was bad with money then and she’s bad with money now.
Her life has been difficult from an early age and she has not had good role models in her life to steer her in the right direction.
When I met her 20 years ago she was a young single mum just getting back to work and doing it all without any family help.
In those days she didn’t have the financial commitments that can really screw your finances up.
She had no mortgage, no car and her utilities were on pre-paid meters.
She didn’t have real debt and thank goodness she didn’t go down the route of door step creditors.
Unfortunately her poor decision making led to instances such as time off work because she didn’t have transportable food for her son to take to nursery.
4 days she was off work that time – aargh!
She was waiting for her child benefit payment so she could re-stock her cupboards.
It’s A Complicated Life
Fast forward 20 years and her finances are much more complicated.
She has a mortgage, credit cards, utility bills, car payment.
All the things that are normal when you are in your late 30’s and been working for 20 years.
Problem is her finances are in a complete mess.
When I say mess I mean non-payment of her water bill has been outsourced to a debt collector.
I mean a mortgage which tracks the Libor rate as it’s not from a mainstream lender.
I mean a credit card with an interest rate of 40%+.
I mean not even knowing what bills are in arrears, whether bills are still on direct debit or they have bounced.
That kind of mess.
Looking At How To Become Debt Free In 5 Years
So I am stepping up and trying to help her get her finances back on track.
If we work hard and her focus is on how to become debt free in 5 years, I reckon she can do it.
It will take some hard work as she does need help in getting out of debt.
My plan is to get her focused on paying off her debt and creating a future debt free lifestyle that is sustainable long term.
We started this conversation because she wants to move to a bigger house and she had a mortgage broker round her house the other day talking about getting a new larger mortgage.
The broker thought she should be OK to get another mortgage!
Really Mr Broker? Really?
Let’s just think about this for a minute. She has:
- A County Court Judgement (CCJ)
- Missed at least one mortgage payment
- Missed credit card payments
- Debt collectors chasing her for utility bill and mobile phone bill non-payment.
And you think she can or should get another, larger mortgage? Jeez.
How To Pay Off Debt Fast And Still Have A Life
What To Do When You Can’t Afford The Snowball Method
How To Choose The Best Method To Become Debt Free
The Outline Debt Management Plan
So far we have only got her paperwork in order i.e. it’s now in order in separate plastic files for each bill/institution.
Her homework last time we met was to create a list of all her income and outgoings and print her bank statements for past 3 months.
She also agreed to contact 2 creditors to re-engage in a dialogue with them.
Next time we meet we can compare her income to her outgoings and draft a budget.
And hopefully a debt management plan to help her become debt free, in time.
I know people get themselves into financial pickles but I was shocked and disappointed my friend was in this place.
She works in credit control and knows about debt chasing yet had managed to bury her head in the sand as regards to her own finances.
There is obviously much more to this story than just poor financial management.
I can’t help her with some of her other difficulties but hopefully I can help her get her finances in better shape.
As long as she commits to the work this will involve.
I’ve had my eyes opened to just how messy things can get when from the outside you would think she was doing ok.
Own flat, nice car, good job, 2 kids.
Helping my friend start the process of tackling her financial mess got me thinking about what she needed to do to become debt free.
Ideally long term I’d like to see her re-mortgage with a mainstream lender.
This will take some time and she’s going to need to put in some hard graft before that happens but it is possible.
So what can you do if you need help getting out of debt? What steps must you take in order to achieve that coveted debt free status?
Follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hacks and financial tips!
How To Become Debt Free On A Low Income
1. Stop Your Borrowing
This may be obvious but sometimes we can fool ourselves.
We rob Peter to pay Paul.
You will never learn how to get rid of debt if you are increasingly using your overdraft each month.
Paying off a personal loan whilst increasing your credit card balance is not reducing your debt.
You are just shifting it.
You have to commit to no more borrowing as part of your new, soon to be debt free lifestyle.
2. Clearly Defined Goals
Having a goal of learning how to become debt free on a low income and getting rid of debt is not enough.
You need to define it so you know exactly what steps you need to take.
And it needs to be realistic!
If you have only £3000 spare each year to throw at your debt then there is no point having a financial goal to pay off £5000 each year.
It may be defined but it’s not realistic.
Your goal needs to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound). Create your goal so that you know:
- what you need to do
- how you are going to do it
- when you are going to do it
- and how you will know you have achieved it
Live Cheaply – How You Can Win At Living On Next To Nothing
3. Emergency Fund
Real life always gets in the way of a good goal.
You think you have every eventuality covered and then life throws you a curve ball.
Having an emergency fund is key to keeping your goals on track. Ideally you would want around £1000 in your emergency fund.
That should be enough to fix your car, cover an extra bill.
All without your plans falling by the wayside.
It may seem counter intuitive to have your savings in an emergency fund when you are in debt but how else are you going to fix your car or pay that unexpected bill?
Your emergency fund allows you to stop worrying about money, knowing you can cover an emergency.
And yes this is an emergency fund.
It is not a dip into fund when you’re feeling the pinch.
It’s a do not touch fund unless it really is an emergency.
Your new debt free lifestyle depends on you having enough money to cover emergencies.
Why You Should Have Two Emergency Cash Accounts
23 Reasons You Are Stuck Being Broke And How To Fix It
4. Know Your Why
To be successful in any long term financial plan you need to understand why you are doing it.
It may seem a bit obvious, like doh!
Of course you want to know how to get rid of debt! Doesn’t everyone?
But actually why?
Why do you want to?
Why do you want to become debt free?
Other people have debt and survive.
The Joneses have plenty of debt and ride around in nice cars and have nice holidays.
So you need to dig deep and understand why you want to do this.
When the going gets tough it is your why that will keep you going.
The Best Money Habits To Transform Your Wealth And Happiness
Money Lessons You Need To Know But Didn’t Get Taught
12 Things You Should Never Pay For
5. Never Give Up
Sticking to a long term plan to get out of debt is hard!
Knowing your why helps but day to day, week to week it’s still hard to pay down your debt.
It’s hard to watch other people seemingly have more money and enjoy themselves.
Thing is, you’ve probably already done that. And this is why you have debt.
Fast forward to becoming debt free and you’ll have more money and be able to make better choices on what to spend it on.
You won’t get into debt again after all your hard work.
You will want to keep your debt free lifestyle and the peace of mind it brings you.
In the mean time, don’t give up.
You may also like:
How To Stop Living Paycheck To Paycheck The Frugal Way
How To Stop Spending Money You Really Don’t Have
6. There’s Always An Alternative
We see so much around us through the media, social media and people watching that you can be forgiven for thinking there are many things that are essential and that you are entitled to.
Your essentials are a roof over your head and food in your belly.
- A mobile phone is not essential.
- Having a TV is not essential nor is the TV package most people have.
- Kids don’t have to go to 3 different clubs a week.
- You don’t have to go on holiday each year.
Understanding that there are alternatives to most things helps you to focus on your debt.
Kids can make their own entertainment, have play dates. Free to view TV can be good enough.
I know you won’t be able to watch Game of Thrones but what did you do before GoT became a thing?
99 Super Productive Things To Do (Without Spending Money)
How To Radically (And Successfully) Cut Your Expenses
7. Visual Reassurance
When you have debt that’s going to take time to pay off, having a way of actually seeing it go down can be really motivating.
Looking at numbers on your credit card statement or a spreadsheet doesn’t always make it feel real.
Try creating a debt pay off chart, maybe in the shape of a thermometer and color it in each week/month to show your progress.
Initially it will be a little bare but it will soon get colorful.
8. Celebrate Your Wins
Do not think that you cannot have any celebratory events whilst you are pursuing debt free status.
It’s really important to celebrate small wins as they happen.
Paid off your 1st debt in full? Celebrate it.
Paid off your 1st £1000? Celebrate it.
What I don’t mean by celebrating is to splash the cash.
Your celebration may be having a cuppa with your other half and congratulating each other.
It could be spending a fiver on a bottle of wine, all within your budget of course.
Celebrating your achievements keeps you motivated and on track with your goals.
9. Get Cash For Your Stuff
I think it’s probably rare that a true minimalist seeks out debt help. Many people’s debt comes from buying stuff.
Too much stuff.
If that is you then why not sell some of your stuff to make a little extra money? That money can be thrown at your debt to pay it off faster.
You can sell stuff online, at a garage sale or via Facebook. Every penny helps!
Check out Emma’s post on how to make cash from your clutter
For more inspiration on how to declutter have a read of these posts:
Declutter Your Home – 2019 Easy Peasy Declutter Challenge
How To Declutter Your Home FAST When You Ain’t Got Time For That!
10. Snowball Or Avalanche?
There are two popular methods to paying off your debt. Both work but for slightly different reasons.
They are similar in that you pay the minimum payments on all your debt except one which you focus on until it’s cleared.
Debt Snowball Method
This method was made popular by Dave Ramsey.
You focus your payments on the smallest balance first, regardless of the interest rate.
The idea behind it is that actually paying off in full one or more of your debts will keep you motivated and keep you on track to become debt free.
Once you have paid off one debt you thrown all your extra cash at the next smallest.
You only pay the minimum payments on all other debts regardless of size and interest rate.
Charlotte explains the debt snowball much better than I can
What To Do When You Can’t Afford The Snowball Method
With this method you pay your debts in the priority of highest interest rate first.
This makes mathematical sense as you should pay less interest overall.
However, overall it would seem there is little difference in which method you choose.
Both methods will get your debt paid off and there isn’t much difference in the cost and timing. See this great explanation
The most important thing is you plan how to get out of debt.
Use the snowball method, the avalanche method or another and stick to that plan throughout.
In the UK and no doubt the US and Canada, there are government debt help schemes available to support you if you need help getting out of debt.
Debt Camel is a good starting place for information on government debt help schemes in the UK and other fee free organisations that will provide you with debt help. For free.
You may also like:
How To Choose The Best Method To Become Debt Free
11. Revisit Your Student Loans
In America you can end up with huge loans. These obviously can take years to pay off.
However there are various ways to re-finance them, get the interest rate reduced or even get loan forgiveness if you are in the right vocation.
In the UK your student loan is more like a graduate tax. The more you earn the more your repay.
Unless you earn a very decent wage and this is going to rapidly increase in the next few years it doesn’t make sense to pay off your student loan early.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that 83% of graduates with English loans will not pay off this debt within the 30 year period.
If you are in that 83% it therefore doesn’t make financial sense to throw more money at a debt you won’t finish repaying.
12. Utilize 0% Credit Cards
If your credit worthiness is not shot to pieces then using a 0% credit card can really make a difference to paying down your debt.
Transfer your high interest balance credit card to a 0% and you can have up to 24 or more months to pay that debt off interest free.
But you absolutely must not spend on that card. You are aiming to become debt free so no credit card spending.
13. Get Rid Of Mobile Phone High Price Plan
Mobile phone plans vary enormously in cost. In the UK you can get sim only deals from as little as £8 a month.
Keep your old phone, don’t upgrade and switch to a sim only deal.
There are so many places these days with free WiFi that you don’t need a huge amount of data included in your plan.
Just make sure you don’t use public WiFi when accessing your bank apps and the like.
14. Car Insurance
I am always surprised at the number of people who auto renew their car insurance.
The difference in insurance quotes can be hundreds of pounds.
Always shop around each year and get yourself the best deal.
Once you have your debt plan under control and working, make sure you pay for your car insurance annually.
Almost all insurers these days charge you interest if you pay monthly.
15. Become A Coupon King/Queen
Coupons can be great to reduce the cost of your grocery and household shopping.
In America it’s big business and there are still good savings to be made here in the UK.
Coupon clipping, searching out good deals and learning to stack them does take time.
But if you are in debt then you are likely to have more time than money.
16. Sweat The Small Stuff
My Grandma always said “Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves”.
Your Granny probably did too.
Every penny counts so track all your spending and concentrate on saving every penny.
I recently had a money focus month to get back to sweating the small stuff. It’s very easy to stop doing this
Check the price per kg. Sometimes a big box of cereal can work out more expensive than 2 small boxes.
Choose a smaller supermarket or a cheaper one to shop in.
I switched to Lidl for this reason. There is enough choice but not too much and the prices are cheaper. Aldi is similar.
Related post: 13 killer ways to save money on groceries
17. Stop Using Credit Cards
Credit cards can make your spending money seem invisible.
You don’t know how much you’ve spent until the monthly statement lands in your inbox or on your doormat.
I know you can use cashback credit cards or those that have rewards. But guess what?
You are in debt and have not been managing your money that great recently.
Stop using the credit cards full stop. Use only your debit card and cash. Make sure all your spending is highly visible.
Related post: Why You Must Use a Cash Envelope System to Manage Your Money
18. Plan Your Expenses
You need to know what your expenses are each month and plan these.
You need to plan how much you intend to spend on lunches for work (don’t! – take a packed lunch instead).
You need to plan how much money you intend to spend on clothes for the family and stick to this plan.
Knowing what your expenses are and your plans will help you keep to your debt goals.
Related post: 7 Things To Do At The Beginning Of Every Month For Your Money
19. Track Where Your Money Goes
Having a plan for all your money is great. But how do you know whether you have stuck to your plan?
If you planned to spend £300 on groceries, how do you know if you did or didn’t? You need to track all your spending.
Knowing what you are actually spending versus what you planned to spend is key to understanding your money habits.
Your plans may have been too generous or not realistic enough.
Tracking your spending will enable you to make changes to your budget successfully.
If you want to use an App to track your debt and help you pay it off quickly then MoneyBliss’ post Best Debt Apps To Payoff Debt is just the thing for you.
20. Stop Following The Joneses – They’re In Debt Too!
The Joneses are in debt. They are living beyond their means. Don’t try and keep up with the Joneses.
Don’t look at what other people have got and what they are spending their money on.
In the UK we are very bad at having money discussions.
Heck, we don’t always get to know what our colleagues at work earn as you aren’t allowed to discuss salaries in some companies.
Other people may earn more than you, they may have debt, they may be a coupon king.
You don’t know their money life so don’t look on the outside and presume all is well on the inside.
Related post: How To Manage Money As A Couple: 9 (Successful) Strategies
21. Be Happy With What You’ve Already Got
Marketing companies have a lot to answer for.
We are constantly bombarded with the next best thing, which replaces the last best thing that only came out last year.
Be happy with what you have already bought. You obviously liked it so keep it.
Don’t watch adverts if you get new thing envy.
If your TV works, you don’t need a new one.
Your neighbor might have just got a 60” plasma screen TV but you don’t need one!
There might be a new exercise tracker out on the market, you don’t need it.
Be happy with what you have, enjoy them and save your money.
Related post: 7 secret tips of fabulously frugal people to live a GREAT life
22. (BONUS) Best Things In Life Are Free
It may be a little corny but it’s true. A cuddle with a loved one is the best thing in life when you are feeling tired.
Your friends and relationships are priceless and free. Make the most of them.
Enjoy spending time with your friends.
Crunching your way through the leaves in your local wood on an lovely autumn day gives you a sense of peace and tranquility.
Sitting outside with a cuppa and listening to the birds sing whilst you breathe in fresh air is priceless.
Search out the free things that make your heart sing.
How To Become Debt Free
Some of these are quick to do and one off’s. Some are about changing habits and the way you view your finances and life in general.
You may find some really easy and others not so.
When setting your goal to get out of debt you need to recognize that you can control a huge amount of what happens and how it happens.
You may have to make difficult choices in order to become debt free.
But you can do it as long as you take control and see it through to the end.
Wish me luck in getting my friend signed up to all of these!
Follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hacks and financial tips!
Last Updated on 14th July 2020 by Emma
20 thoughts on “A Debt Story And 21 Things You Can Do To Become Debt Free”
Nice post. 20 is the best. “Stop following the Joneses – they’re in debt too!”. I don’t agree with 17 though. I can’t remember the last time I held cash, all I use is my credit card. Attached to an automatic budgeting software that updates me on how my expenses for each category is going. I find cash more invisible, because I lose track of where it has gone.
I use my credit card exclusively too but you and I probably have a good handle on our finances. I know too many people who don’t manage their money well and their credit cards are always part of their downfall. Logically credit cards are great, get cashback, don’t fritter/lose the cash, but in reality those who struggle with their money often lose the sense of what has been spent via a credit card.
I know what you mean about cash! We went on holiday recently and I cannot account for £50! Because I didn’t track it there and then nor get receipts. That’s why I track the cash withdrawn rather than spent.
Her life has been difficult from an early age and she has not had good role models in her life to steer her in the right direction. << Thank you so much for highlighting that. I have a post brewing about our lots in life and our perception of "choice"
Good for you for asserting yourself in the midst of all this. I'm curious how you two even ventured into this conversation…
But actually why? Why do you want to? Why do you want to become debt free? << Good one! This actually helped me stay out of debt when I was thinking of buying a house… why? Why? why do you want to get into more debt??
Kids don’t have to go to 3 different clubs a week. << had that bit of a conversation with a co-worker when I first started getting into FIRE… i was like do your kids need to track and… xyz…his answer was yes… he moved onto a better paying job …
Visual reassurance << good one… I realized this when i started setting savings goal… it's such slow going… but seeing a colorful pictorial really helps!
haha… i love the link back to MERJ, I do not mind being a cautionary tale! hehe… I was not a well-informed buyer for all my smarts… *smh*
My favorite free thing to do when it was hot… was sit outside and crunch on ice…turns out i was pretty anemic but it used to bring me such joy!
Thanks for the tips, Tuppenny!
Hi MERJ, you’re less a cautionary tale more just look how big student loans can get! I obviously have a UK perspective so we currently think £50k is huge but in the US I know loans can be so much more even if you aren’t a big spender.
My friend initiated the call for help in that as we were reconnecting we were bringing each other up to date with lives and kids. The fact that her elder child is working full time AND NOT PAYING ANY KEEP kinda jumped out at me. Because of my background I asked a few pertinent questions which snowballed with answers and she then reached out and said – can you help me? I’m not an expert but I am at least fairly organised so figured I can’t make things worse and 2 heads are better than one. She does at least have family around her now who can support her and do which is great to see.
Crunching on ice on a hot daily sounds fab, something you can do wherever you are. On holiday last week and it was HOT, dipping my toes into various lakes and streams was heaven!
It’s great that you are in a position to help her and she is lucky to have you on board. It sounds like you are really good at organising and directing – have you thought about doing more of this when you are FIRE’d?
I’m on the fence with the student loans. I know that in the UK MSE has also been outspoken about not paying these off early because you may never earn enough to have to. But something in me thinks that is really demotivating and graduates should be motivated to get to be amongst the top earners. Maybe that sounds really shallow – I don’t mean it to be. But what’s the point of saddling yourself with all that debt if you are never going to rise above average salaries? Thirty years is a long time to having an additional “tax” – even if ultimately some of it gets written off.
I agree with your simple life philosophy and that the best things are free. I think that’s something that’s easier to appreciate with age. I did have a fair few years of being spendy but I get far more satisfaction now from being simple.
I can see myself doing some form of voluntary work once I have taken time out and moved to the Lake District. I was a trustee up until last year but got frustrated at not having enough time to devote to the charity as it really needed an overhaul with some seriously antiquated ways of working. Started to stress me out so made the hard decision to walk away.
I’ve always been worried about student loans and don’t like the idea of that debt hanging around. However DD2 is hoping to move into the performing arts industry and she is very articulate about unlikely to ever earn £21k never mind £25k in that field. Can’t get a job without at least a degree as it’s the level of training required to move into the professional roles she’s aiming for. So listening to her and her friends has made me re-evaluate somewhat. Their generation just do not see debt in the same way those of over 40 do. Is that a good thing or bad?
It’s always eye-opening to find out that people who seem to be doing ok from the outside are actually struggling massively. It’s good that you’re helping your friend work through this – it seems mainstream advice hasn’t been doing her any favours. My only debt is my student loan – I agree most students should treat it as a tax, but it depends on when they started uni. My loan will only get written off at 65, so the thought of having it hang over me for that long, and knowing I’ll likely have to pay all of it off anyway got me fired up to get rid of it as fast as possible.
Isn’t it frustrating how the government keep changing the student loan rules? I don’t blame you for wanting it gone before 65. I think DD1 is in same position as you so she is aiming to get rid at some point as well. You’ve done really well to only have the as your debt – although living abroad for 8 years will have helped I expect! Are you required to still pay when abroad or are your payments voluntary?
Yes I’ve still got to pay monthly, and for some reason my monthly contribution is much higher than if I was earning the equivalent salary in the UK! They have different calculations for different countries, the logic of which I have no clue…
Gosh that’s a bit harsh on one level. Given you are intent on paying it off and saving money being in a low cost country it works well for you. Wouldn’t want you to be in Norway or similar trying to pay back the higher loan payments!
Your friend is very fortunate to have you to help her but it’s good that she recognised that she needed help – all too often, people in that situation just do nothing until the bailiffs come calling or the bank to repossess the house.
I’m with @FIREthe9to5 regarding student loans – I think it’s kind of ‘defeatist’ just to say that it will be written off because as she says, that likely to mean you’re never going to aim to get a salary where you will start paying it off. I only had a small student loan when I graduated – the Student Loans Company even back then were incompetent and started deducting from my salary even though I was earning well below the threshold. They didn’t sort it out, I didn’t chase them up and eventually just overpaid to get rid of it as I didn’t want to deal with them any more!
“She works in credit control and knows about debt chasing yet had managed to bury her head in the sand as regards to her own finances.”
Err, that would be me in my late 20s/early 30s, haha!
And finally, I know you say you need to improve the ‘financial relationship’ with DD2 but I’m afraid “hoping to move into the performing arts industry” just sounds to me that you will be her ‘bank of mum and dad’ for quite a while!
Now I never would have thought that was you 10/20 years ago. Just shows you how far you have come. Kudos for overpaying your student loan even if it was initiated by not chasing down the SLC. Not sure how far you would have got even if you had chased them down.
I’ll be honest, what DD2 says and subsequently does can be 2 different things. She can be very quick to dismiss things (not going to pay off her loan) but I think it’s more a defense mechanism so she doesn’t add it to her mental baggage. Time will tell. And yeah, performing arts industry smacks of low pay and intermittent work doesn’t it? FIREing early on a leanFIRE budget will reduce that significantly if only because I won’t have the safety net of my salary. Once I finish work I fully intend to be very open about our finances as part of her education I plan to provide her. Whether she likes it or not!
And my friend have numerous baliff letters in among her paperwork. They just hadn’t got as far as knocking on her door! Am seeing her next week. Fingers crossed she’s done her homework.
Yeah, I have come a long way since those days! I used a combination of the avalanche method (not that I knew there was any other method!) and 0% credit cards – juggled this (and a strict budget) for around 4 years – there were no PF blogs back then to help me with hints on how to save and get out of debt quickly. Still I got there in the end!
Fantastic stuff! And 4 years is a long, hard slog. Especially without recourse to PF blogs that these days I hope provide some support and inspiration to others facing up to their debts. 0% cards really can help as long as you are disciplined enough to use them only to hold your debt and pay it down aggressively. Congrats on being debt free for so long and now part way to FIRE!
Fantastic list of things to think about – I particularly like the clear explanation of the debt snowball technique – it has worked in the past for me and I am in the process of doing this again, due to paying off a new car,, using credit cards to transfer the loan to (hence paying little interest in comparison) . Necessary, but it still irritates me!
My next step on this particular journey will be to action your points about saving and the approximate amount – this will enable me to not have to live quite on the knife edge I realise I sometimes live on. I focus far too much on the overpayment of debt. This has reminded me to balance this with paying myself some savings every month.
great to hear you are making sure you pay as little interest as possible. Keep the money in your pocket. Paying yourself first is really important, for your peace of mind and your stress levels.
Great post. I used to be just like your friend but I didn’t have a tuppenny to bail me out. she’s very lucky!
We are now debt free and are embarking on our “mortgage free in five years” plan. It’s ambitious but..we can do it.
Hi Anna! I love your ambitious mortgage free plan. Getting yourselves debt free will have been the hardest thing to do so I have every faith that you will achieve that goal – go for it! Thanks for stopping by.
We’re really trying to get out of debt and and sort out all our finances.
Hi Diane. I feel for you, getting out of debt is difficult as not only do you have debts to pay, you need to change your spending habits as well. Hopefully you’ve picked up some tips from this post. If you haven’t already then these two posts might also help? https://tuppennysfireplace.com/stop-living-paycheck-to-paycheck/ and https://tuppennysfireplace.com/how-to-love-living-within-your-means/ Thanks for stopping by!