First off I don’t want this to come across as a bragging post, because that’s certainly not what this is! To be honest I didn’t even think this could be possible, especially not during a pandemic when I wasn’t working and couldn’t rely on my monthly wage or tips! So, instead I want this to be a ‘I was in debt and now I'm not, this is how I did it’ kind of post, either way I hope you’ll get something out of this.
My Debt Story
OK so I guess this is the best place to start, how exactly did I land myself in so much debt? Well reader, it was because I went to Australia for 22 months and didn’t manage my money very well! Whilst I don’t know the exact figure – it was definitely large enough to get me in a hole that I didn’t see myself getting out of anytime soon. Thankfully, it was only to my Mum and not to a bank, otherwise this could very well be a different kind of story!
Basically she (and my Dad!) held onto the money I had earned before going away and gave it to me whenever I needed it, i.e. when booking flights/trains/buses/hostels etc. But me being me, I always spent way more than was ever in my bank account and therefore needed ‘bailing out’ more often than not!
My Mum kept a record of how much I’d spent in a spreadsheet, so when I came back home and started working I could begin the long process of paying her back. Considering I came home in 2014 and only finished paying her back in 2020 it should give you some idea of just how long it took me!
Whenever I had an income I would always ensure that a portion of it went to her, if I could afford it. My jobs when I returned were all low income based and given out either weekly or monthly depending on where I was working. When I was working in Reading at a riding school and at a private yard near Brighton, neither of these were conducive to being able to pay back any debt as I was only getting paid about £150 a week! I had to get my groceries out of this money too so not much was left over at the end to pay back my debt.
My best paying job was working on another private yard near Newark – I was paid monthly here and it was the one job where I could begin at least chipping away at the debt. Sadly I wasn’t here for long but the wages were definitely some of the best for the kind of job I was doing!
Paying Back The Debt
After working with horses for a while, I ended up where I am now, working at Pizza Express in Harrogate, in August 2016. Whilst I’m on a zero hours contract and have been up and down in hours during my 5 years here, I could afford to straight away to pay £200 a month back to my Mum.
Thankfully with my wages, I could afford to pay both my rent AND £200 monthly debt re-payment, as well as everything else that comes with adulting like the dentist, my phone bill (GiffGaff for the win here!), an Odeon cinema card, prescriptions, as well as still having some money to do fun things like going out to eat, to Leeds for events and meeting friends, trips to Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow and holidays to Paris and Rome.
I believe that you should always pay back as much as possible whilst still enjoying life. Of course when the pandemic hit, all of that stopped. I was lucky enough to be given a rent holiday but was also told that I had to continue to pay back the debt whilst stopping my frivolous spending!
This was hard at first, but for a good few months I was very good and thanks to my furlough wage, which was based on my hours from 2019 where I had worked ALOT, I was still earning a decent amount every month.
Originally, pre-pandemic, I was on course to finish paying off my debt in October 2020. This kept me going because, with each pay check I could see my debt getting smaller and smaller – with my birthday being in November it meant I’d finally be free to enjoy it!
But of course, I’m sure you can see where this is going!, during the pandemic this was revised to January 2021! MEH! This saddened me because previously I’d worked so hard to almost get rid of it. But an extra few months wouldn’t hurt I suppose….
The Last Payment
So, I guess now you’re wondering, but Sarah, you said you paid off your debt in 2020 so what’s all this talk of still being in debt in January 2021? Well dear reader, I’m sure you’re aware that life got back to ‘normal’ in July 2020 and that a little government scheme called ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ was launched?
Well, working in hospitality meant that I was working All. The. Damn. Time! Early mornings, long days and late nights during July and August. Which of course helped to boost my wages, which in turn boosted my bank account and the amount I was able to re-pay to my Mum!
During this time the government was still paying a portion of my (and everyone else’s!) wages. During lockdown this had been upto 80%, which of course helped massively with basic living costs as well as my debt repayment.
So with everything – increased hours, a furlough wage and extra tips – I was still paying my Mum at minimum £100 a month. Sometimes it was more and sometimes I would give her an extra £50 or £100 – I thought if it’s sitting in my bank account I’ll spend it, so best it goes to my Mum instead!
Of course with me being back at work, I was also back paying my rent. With my increased hours this was all manageable and I didn’t miss the extra money too much!
Due to my working a lot, I was, dear reader, able to pay off my last debt re-payment in November 2020! So not too far off of my original timeline actually which felt amazing! After almost 4 years I was debt free and could start using that money for something fun, like buying gin!
Saving A Thousand Pounds During A Pandemic!
OK so we all know how I managed to pay off debt, but surely I couldn’t manage that, save money AND still enjoy life whilst on a furlough wage during a pandemic???
Well, I’m here to tell you that I did exactly that! With not paying rent and only paying for the essentials during lockdown, I was able to funnel a bit of extra money into my savings account. Not quite sure what this money is for, but it’s nice to have an extra bit of money for those rainy days.
When you’re already re-paying debt, not paying rent and not having many, if any, outgoings, it makes it easier to put a little extra aside.
My savings were only about £300-£500 when I started saving seriously during lockdown. I had it in my head that if I could just get it to over £1000, (ideally £1500) then I would be happy. So, I set that as my target and put any extra from my wages after debt re-payments into my savings.
If I needed to move money back into my current account then I would, this did happen on one occasion when my wages weren’t what I expected and were less than my rent was! (When I went back to work in July 2020 I started paying rent again and have continued to do so every month!) This was fine as it was money I had saved anyway so!
I am hoping to get back to doing my little city breaks when the world once again opens up so this is what I’m intending my savings to be used for. As well as paying for the SEO of my website to be assessed and the changes implemented so that more people can read my posts.
I also (from time to time) get sponsored work and I put this money into savings if I don’t need it for anything else. I also do a lot of surveys which earn me a bit of money and this also goes into my savings.
I know I need to save, but being a hardened spender this can be hard! I can blindly spend money when I know I’ve been paid and not check my bank account as often as I should. This is definitely something for me to work on and I am trying to be better…
It’s just a matter of working smarter, not harder when it comes to saving money and resisting the lure of Primark! This is why I love shopping in charity shops because you never know what you’ll find and best of all you’re giving to charity whilst saving your pennies for something you want.
I’m not here to tell you to give up everything you love to be in the best financial situation possible because everyone’s situation is different and therefore everyone’s ability to save will also be different. But what I am here to tell you is that you can absolutely live your life whilst also saving for the future/paying off debt.
It’s jut a case of being honest with yourself and asking if you really need that dress/skirt/t-shirt from Primark/Boohoo/Missguided. For me, eating out is something I love to do so I always ensure I have enough pennies to be able to do this. I also shop second hand a lot more now, especially when it comes to finding clothes to fit my new midsize body. I also refuse to shop fast fashion and figure that if I want that new item, can I find it on Depop or something similar in a charity shop? I do own items from those retailers which I bought direct, but now I’ll think twice before even looking on their websites!
During lockdown 3 I took up running and whilst I didn’t need proper running shoes at the beginning, once I’d completed the Couch to 5K and was still running 3x a week I found that I did! So this was something that I had to save for as they weren’t cheap at £120! Mind you, I found all my running gear in Primark, ASDA and Depop when I thought I’d have to go to a proper sports store! So I guess I could say I saved money there which enabled me to be able to then buy my running shoes.
Well I hope to continue saving money, going on city breaks, eating out and generally enjoying life! What has all this taught me? Well, that I need to not be afraid of looking at my accounts and being truly honest with myself at things I can cut out. I need to begin to not do so much mindless spending. I’ll continue shopping second hand when I can – especially when it comes to fast fashion – and still putting an extra £100 or so into my savings.
I can say that being in debt was the worst time of my life and paying it off was the absolute best! I’m also thankful that it wasn’t to a bank or credit card company. Being in debt to my Mum meant that she understood when I couldn’t pay her back or when my wage only allowed me to pay off smaller amounts.
Getting and keeping a stable job allowed me to pay off debt whilst simultaneously saving money, which helped me massively when we all went into lockdown during the corona virus pandemic. All those hours working in 2019/2020 (before COVID!) gave me the furlough wage I needed to achieve both.
I’ll forever be thankful to past Sarah for working her absolute arse off during that time as it allowed present Sarah to be debt free at the beginning of 2021. This is single handedly, my best achievement!
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and perhaps learned a little something. Like I said before, this is in absolutely no way meant to be a bragging ‘look at me’ post, but rather one which serves and informs.
If I – a former/recovering shopaholic - can do it, so can you! I believe in you!