When Ruth and Thomas Taylor bought their first home, they couldn’t wait to move in.
But they soon realised the problems that come with property ownership as their boiler broke before they’d even unpacked a box.
With nothing left because of the costs of buying and moving, they had to use a credit card.
Again, they borrowed money to furnish their new home.
Soon costs spiralled and they found that their debts were out of control.
The 42-year-old mum-of-two realised they owed a total of £21,000 – but owed to get on top of it as quickly as possible.
Eight months later, they were debt free and now live a much thriftier lifestyle.
Ruth, who has a son and daughter aged 11 and 12, said: ‘It left me with sleepless nights.
‘We got into debt as soon as we moved into our first home.
‘Our boiler broke on the day we moved in and we had to take out a credit card to finance another one.
‘We furnished the house on credit as we had spent every penny we had on the deposit for the house.
‘Eventually, we had put so much on credit cards that our monthly payments were so high, leaving us struggling to pay our bills.’
Before looking at what they were spending, they didn’t pay much attention to how much things cost.
Ruth added: ‘Our spending habits were terrible, if we saw something we liked, we bought it even though we couldn’t afford anything.
‘My husband and I never even thought about it – we just bought it.
‘We had a car on finance and never even thought that it might be a better idea to try to buy a car with cash. We thought everyone bought their cars on finance.’
But when they added up their debts, they were shocked by the £21,000 sum and how much of their income was going towards interest every month,
They started by increasing their income, working seven days a week and doing additional work online in the evenings.
Then, they reviewed their spending – cutting out anything non-essential.
Ruth said: ‘Thomas and I took on more work, often working seven days a week.
‘We run our own dog-walking business so this was quite easy to do.
‘I also started doing work online in the evenings when the kids were in bed.
‘I signed up to survey sites and completed as many surveys as I could and I started matched betting, which made a huge difference to our monthly income.
‘We went through our bills and cut out all non-essentials and negotiated better prices for the others.
‘My husband started cutting my hair to save on spending money at the hairdressers.
‘We got clothes second-hand for the most part.’
Ruth would budget religiously at the start of each month and made minor changes to reduce costs, like swapping to supermarket own brand products.
As an example, changing the family’s favourite brand of soy milk saves them £408 a year alone.
Ruth said: ‘I write out a budget each month and can see exactly what we will have left at the end of the month.
‘This means that I am able to transfer a decent amount to our saving accounts each month.
‘Buying non-branded items makes a huge difference to our budget.
‘Our grocery bill used to come in at around £650 each month.
‘Now it can be as low as £300. For example, a well-known branded soya milk costs £1.40 per carton.
‘I buy Aldi’s own brand soya milk for 55p. We use approximately 10 cartons per week as a family.
‘Before, I shopped at expensive supermarkets just for convenience.
‘It did not occur to me that I could actually save money on our food bill by shopping elsewhere.
‘I never had a meal plan so would end up in the supermarket at least four times a week.
‘We would also order takeaways when I was too tired to cook.’
To keep control of her family’s other expenditures, Ruth uses ‘sinking funds’ – setting aside money every week for big events in the future, such as holidays and tax bills.
Ruth’s top tips
Ruth said: ‘I discovered sinking funds quite early on in our debt repayment journey but I wanted to pay off our debt before I started my own sinking funds.
‘Sinking funds are simply a manageable way of saving for something coming up in the future.
‘For example, we saved £14 per week last year for Christmas, giving us £800 come December.
‘This saved us from having to find a large amount of money at Christmas, or even worse – borrow money for gifts.
‘I have sinking funds for our tax bill, car and van repairs, car insurance, school uniform, holidays, school trips.
‘We recently had to purchase a new boiler, costing £2,300.
‘I knew the boiler was on its last legs so I started saving small amounts well in advance, which meant I had the money waiting when it did eventually die and didn’t have to put it on credit like before.
‘I just work the sinking funds into our budget and the money comes from our wages.’
Ruth now shares her advice on Instagram and on her website to help others.
She said: ‘Becoming a savvy saver has turned my life around.
‘I have gone from being constantly stressed and anxious to feeling in control of my finances safe in the knowledge that if any sort of emergency happens, I will be able to deal with it.
‘I can cover my bills and save money each month – something I never thought I’d be able to do.’
She admits they have had to make sacrifices but thinks it is worth it.
‘We don’t go out a huge amount. We tend to take the kids to places that are free – e.g. parks, woods etc,’ she said.
‘We haven’t had a holiday abroad for almost eight years though we have saved for one but I love being a money saver.
‘I hate to feel like I’m being ripped off and love to get a bargain.
‘I have made some wonderful friends in the Instagram debt-free community too.
‘I get messages from people daily, thanking me more giving them hope.
‘They can see how bad our debt was and how we managed to dig ourselves out.
‘It is the best feeling in the world knowing that I am giving people hope.’
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