Four years is a long time and a huge amount can change over that time. It was this week, four years ago that my wife got paid and our lives changed, again.
Four years is a long time. A lot can change and a lot has changed.
We used to be skint – proper skint!
This is an extract from Surviving on the Breadline from four years ago. It is one of the hardest things I ever brought myself to write or admit:
It’s the 17 September , still a week away from pay day and all you have left is £6.20 to your name. In the cupboard there is only enough food to feed your family for three days and on top of this your one year old only has four nappies left.
Thinking about all this made me realised that it was four years ago this week that my wife got paid.
While we always wished for payday to come along (normally only a few days after we’d been paid as all the bills left us skint), this pay day was one of hope.
Looking back, getting paid that day was not about paying the bills then rushing to the shop to get a load of food.
We were more reserved.
We wanted to savour every penny and not let it go. For the first time – in probably forever – that money was the most precious thing in our lives.
For being at the point of not having anything, we were now in a massive advantage.
We could pay the bills then that would be it. We’d need to be cautious and really look after the pennies.
I wonder what where we would be today if we didn’t get our act into gear?
What would have happened if we carried on as we were come that payday? What if we celebrated getting to pay day with a take out, spending willy-nilly?
I guess we’d hit the same rut the following month.
Would we still be doing that now, continuing to rob Peter to pay Paul?
Or would we have gone totally gone bust, losing everything (and maybe even us, as a family).
I dread to think.
Luckily, we don’t have to have those “what if” thoughts; we did make a change.
We didn’t want to carry on as we were. We had to start living properly with money.
Things had to get better!
Sorting out finances
We’d made so many calls to people we owed money to after that payday and got some basic plans in place to start repaying our debt.
We knew to the penny how much was come in and to the penny what was going out (including our new and revised debt repayments).
This still didn’t leave us with much spare cash. We did have enough to get food, but our plan was to get debt free.
The only way of getting debt free was to pay the money back. We wanted to do this in a fast way – we wanted to be debt free by 2017. It would be a stretch considering we didn’t earn a lot and had over £40k of debt.
We did have one thing though – sheer brute determination and a bee in my bonnet.
While the debt repayments were only set up at £1 each in most cases, this was to allow us breathing room. There was no way we’d be able to pay £50 to each and every one of the debts as we just didn’t have the money.
The plan was to make a token payment to show we were willing to fix our mess, then increase the amount of money as our circumstances changed.
We also planned that if we could get our spending and bills down to the lowest amount possible then we could use our new found “spare” money and put it into savings.
Our thought that starting to save a little bit here would mean we’d have something to fall back on. We were so worried another debt we’d forgotten about would rear it’s head or even one of the girl’s shoes would break. We didn’t have a penny spare for anything, so even £20 for a pair of school shoes felt like savings to us.
On top of that, these savings could be used to make offers to our creditors. Once we’d have a lump sum, we could make an offer to clear the amount we owed. This would give us the spare £1 and we could up that with a different debt (also known as snowballing).
If you are in debt, please make sure to contact an organisation for free debt advice. While this worked for us, we had been told the best prospect for us was to go bankrupt. Not wanting to do that we tried our hand at clearing the debt this way. This will certainly not work for everyone and we worked very hard to find ways to save on our bills as well as increase our income. Not everyone is able to do this, so please do get some free impartial advice.
Our new budget meal planning
When it came to making sure we were fed, our budget was low to begin with.
No more of the (expensive) food we really loved and we were more than happy with basic food ranges, but we needed to do more than that.
To keep the target of clearing our debt, we needed to make sure we were as thrifty as possible to live under our (already low) food budget each week. This would mean we’d have some money spare to put into our “debt savings”.
So, when it came to start planning our shop, there were many things we do and say today that we didn’t touch back them.
If you’re really struggling then…
Don’t cook from scratch
Sure, cooking from scratch can save you money versus buying a ready meal – everyone knows that.
But what if you don’t even have a budget for that.
Actually, if you really want to save money, then cooking from scratch is a no-no.
Value super noodles, powdered soups and jars of basic/value/own brand pasta sauce even work out cheaper than making your own tomato based sauce. Yes, those ready made sauces have more salt and sugar, but they suit a very tight budget. And when you have so little money to buy food, then any food is perfect and gets you through.
Don’t bulk buy
Fat chance of that happening!
Buy 60 loo rolls off Amazon – yes they are a total steal – but only if you’ve got the cash saved (or spare) to do it.
When the budget for loo roll is less than £2 a week, and you legitimately only have £2 a week, then you get what you can.
Don’t head to a market
Yes, you can get some bargains, but not when you’ve only got a few quid.
Frozen is the way to go. A big bag of frozen mixed veg goes a longer way than a few fresh carrots.
Even tinned is delicious when you want to have something sweet. It can make a perfect filling for a warming crumble (and is super cheap – just butter, oats and flour).
Also, heading to a market is only a good call if you live somewhere that has a market. Cities will, a lot of bigger towns, but how many people don’t have access to a market in the first place?
Don’t shop in B&M/Farm Foods/Home Bargains (delete as appropriate)
These shops look fantastic, don’t they?
Super-duper discounts and so much cheaper than main stream supermarkets.
But how on earth do you get there?
We didn’t have a car. We got rid of it to save a hundred quid plus a month. You do what you must to pay essential bills! A car was just seen as a luxury for us, even if it meant not being able to get about properly.
So, it would be a walk because the busses where we live are extortionate (and always late!). You know it actually works out cheaper for my family (2 adults and 2 kids) to get a taxi to the shop and back as it’s cheaper than blooming busses?!
As a bus was around £8 return that is precious money that could buy days worth of food.
So I walked. And a long walk it was with shoes full of holes, in autumn, when it’s wet.
While I’d have loved to get a bus over to my nearest superstore bargain shop, they were so far away any savings made would have been written off in time and travel expenses.
Life does change
Four years ago, life was so much different.
We’d sit with the radiators off and wouldn’t think twice about reusing a tea bag (not for visitors, don’t worry sis!)
Today we are still not a fan of putting the radiators on, but don’t reuse teabags (unless we’re about to run out).
There are a lot of things that we still do and will always do. We still don’t have any of the bargain shops in our town, so try to find bargains in other ways. Co-op have some mean yellow stickered food, a slow cooker is awesome for really cheap cuts of meat and cheap Maggi noodles will forever be a favourite staple in our cupboards.
If you are sitting there, right now, worried about your debt and worried about how you’ll eat, I can truly feel for you.
We’ve been there – I know it sucks. But I also know that it won’t be like that forever. Things can change and they WILL change.
For debt – get some help, please it really will help. Citizens Advice, PayPlan, StepChange, National DebtLine: please give one of them a call. The first call is the hardest, but once you start getting your money sorted out you will feel the dark cloud lifting.
For food – don’t feel like you’ve got to conform with what the “money saving” tips are. Sod bulk buys, tell BOGOFs to stuff it. Find thrifty recipes, look online for inspiration and adapt recipes from the BBC leaving out hoity-toity ingredients and swapping expensive stuff for cheaper options.
If you need any further support for us and people who’ve been in the same boat then please come and join the private Skint Dad Community Group on Facebook. The community is open minded, sensitive and non-judgemental. Even if you just want to loiter and read the comments, it may help see that there is light.
Chin up x
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