Back in August 2013 we were in a right pickle financially. Not only were we spending more than we had coming in but we had also accrued over £40,000 worth of debt!
At our wits end we had one window of opportunity to turn things around and we took it. Over the next couple of years we got our heads down, took back control of our finances and started to get back on track.
As of today we have cleared well over 75% of our debt and we are rapidly heading towards the day when we can say that we are debt free.
We’re not the only ones in that position though. With the average household debt at £11,800 and rising, this following Money Clip Minute from NatWest asks why this is happening, even though there has been an increase in employment levels.
So with that in mind, I am going you give you my top pieces of advice to taking back control of your finances and dealing with debt so that you can start heading towards that debt free day as well.
Get a grasp of your financial situation
If you are in debt, knowing where you stand financially is so important. Not only will you be able to work out how much you can afford to pay back (and in what time period), you will also be able to spot problems before they arise.
Using bank statements, make a list of everything you are paying out for each month and what money you have coming in. Try and find any receipts where you’ve paid in cash. You will also need to factor in other things like money you put aside for prescriptions, haircuts and even the odd birthday and Christmas presents.
You should then draw up a list of debts; whether it’s a loan ,credit card, pay day loan or overdraft, write down the total you owe, and the amount of your normal monthly repayment.
Once you know what you spend money on, you also need to make a list of any income; whether it’s pay, benefits, pension or regular payments from family.
You will now have a full budget breakdown and you minus your outgoings from your income to see how much you have leftover to pay more on debt, or how much you are in shortfall each month.
Don’t overstretch yourselves
You will now be in a position to know whether you are able to increase payments to any of your lenders (if you have money left over) or if you need to renegotiate your debt repayments (if you don’t have enough leftover).
However, before you start promising repayment plans left right and center, make sure you don’t over commit yourself. The last thing you want to do is promise to pay a set monthly amount to a creditor only to start missing payments because you are over-stretching yourself.
I would suggest to only pay back what you know you will be able to definitely afford over the next six months. If you find yourself with money to spare, by all means give a creditor a call and offer to pay some extra towards your debt.
Reduce your outgoings
Now you know what money you having coming in and going out each month (whether you have surplus money or you have a deficit), you should start to see where you can reduce your spending.
There are so many things in your budget that you can cut down or potentially reduce altogether. Here are just a few ideas…
Depending on if you have signed up for a contract, there are some things that you can just get rid of:
- Magazine subscription
- Gym membership
- Mobile phone contract
Then there are lots of other household bills that you can also reduce:
- Council tax – are you living alone? You may be able to get a discount. There are also benefits available for certain people
- Water – you may be able to get a water drainage discount (speak to your water provider) and they also help with water debts
- Gas and Electric – you could save £260 each year if you switch energy providers
- Food shop – write a list, brand down, don’t shop on an empty stomach, cook from scratch….the list can go on for ages with how you can cut back
For occasional spending where it won’t be a set amount each month, there are various ways you can cut back too.
- Clothes – shop on eBay or in charity shops
- Gifts – again, consider shopping second hand, or why not try a family secret santa and buy just one gift?
- Haircuts – colleges have aspiring students who are making their way in the world. Ask at your local college to see what service they offer at a snip of the price.
- Prescriptions – you may get cheaper medicine if you buy it off the shelf, or if you get a lot of medication, you could sign up to the little-known NHS Minor Ailments Service.
Increase your income
When you’re at the stage where you’ve cut back all you can, the next stage is to look at ways to up your income.
Whether it’s selling on eBay, offering services to friends and family such as baby-sitting, DIY or dog walking, there are so many ways to increase the money you have coming in.
Here are some ways you can increase your income:
- Declutter your house and sell unwanted items on eBay
- Set up a Facebook page and offer local services such as babysitting and dog walking
- Enter surveys that pay you to take part
- Start a blog and monetise it
- Rent out a spare room or your driveway
- Become a mystery shopper
- Use any admin skills you have and be a virtual assistant
As you can see there are loads of ways in which you can start to up your income. And you never know; you might find a whole new career like I did on the way.
Relieve some of the burden
As much as you might want to sort your debt problems out yourself, believe me when I say that it really is good to share your burden. For many years we kept our debt problems behind closed doors and never spoke about it to anyone. It was only until we started to open up to people that things really started to improve.
Whether it’s a close friend, a member of your extended family, or a debt charity such as National Debtline or StepChange; if you feel overwhelmed then pluck up the courage to seek help and advice.
I promise you that as soon as you do things will start to feel better and you’ll have the motivation to keep on pushing to clear your debt.
Written in collaboration with NatWest