The Plan : How I Got Debt Free, Worked Less and Got Happier. (You Can Too).
Ten years ago, I was at point A, working shifts in a factory, seven days a week and sometimes 55 hour weeks, rotating between early shifts, nights and late shifts. I could feel myself getting older by the day and was dealing with pointless and petty issues at work, with many immature, bitter people and could see no way out of it. I had several thousand pounds of debt, over various credit cards and even though I was taking home reasonable money, I had no disposable income and very little quality of life. I had insomnia bad, and was starting to lose the plot. (I also had serious mental health problems in the past, probably partly down to debt related stuff).
|Trapped at work with a timebomb on your back. Not fun.|
Today, at point B, I am sitting in my sunny garden, writing this, considering which day would be best to hand my notice in for my 25 hour a week job, so that I can give up work altogether and start life as a full time student, debt free (not including my student loans).
|How it feels to be debt free.|
I wanted to write something about how I got from point A to point B with as less waffle as possible, and then if it proves popular, will go into the various steps in greater detail. I’m not boasting, or lording it up. I want to help by sharing my experience.
I’m hoping to inspire others to get out into life and do what they want to do. It’s the biggest cliché of all, but you only have one life, and is is short. Why spend it stressed, and doing something someone else wants you to do?
Step 1 : Decide what you want and mentally commit to it.
The thing that holds people back in the main is a lack of self-belief. ‘I can’t earn less’, ‘I can’t be a student’, ‘X person won’t accept it’. In my case I initially wanted the end goal to be working as less hours as possible, or to do a job that didn’t involve feeling like I could die at any moment. You don’t have to start off big. Small goals lead to bigger ones.
I’m not saying to be happy you must work less. You may love your job, if so you are lucky. The principle would no doubt apply elsewhere in life though.
Step 2 : Share your vision with someone that will support you.
When you have a ‘pipe dream’, you see it as just that. A dream. When you commit to doing it, and tell someone that will encourage you, it becomes more than just a dream, and is the spark for creating….
Step 3: Come up with a plan.
This is probably the most crucial step. The key is small, manageable goals and being strict with yourself. Step one for me was paying off my debt. I broke that down into smaller goals of paying off each individual card, and then broke that down even further to having strategies to pay as much off each month as possible.
If a goal will take 10 years then so be it. If you decide that it sounds like too long, and you will leave it another year and go on holiday instead of paying off a credit card, the plan will then take 11 years, and so on. 10 years is a long time, but it’s when I started my plan, and today, it seems like yesterday. As I said, I had insomnia, and still get random bouts of that today. If you are a shift worker, and you are worried about not sleeping, you need to put a plan in action, or you may well die early.
Step 4: Put the plan into action.
Here I am going to get specific to me, so you would need to adjust this to your own circumstances. A brief rundown of what I had to do was this…
Pay off £9000 in credit card debt, so that I could open my options regarding what wage I needed to earn to survive.
To pay the debt off, I needed to make savings in life. I am married so I had to get the wife on board with this. The fact that I was moody all the time, and she had to tiptoe around while I was asleep in the day time helps.
If you assume your partner will not support your dream, think again and give talking about it seriously a try. In my case, what really swung it was saying that if I achieved my goal, we could then be able to keep more Dogs, as someone would be at home more. Another option could be that you could share parenting more, or go on trips more, or go walking or cycling together, or whatever it is that you both like to do. Just managing workloads isn’t healthy life management.
So, with Mrs B on board, we looked at our finances, this is where it gets tough, but also surprisingly do-able. If like me you need to save money to achieve your goal, you must get ruthless. My advice would be to see it as a game or challenge. You could have a monthly competition as to who can put more towards paying off debts or savings for example. Here is a list of things I did to save money. (These were done at an early stage of the plan to maximise savings). You may wince at some of my options, but how ruthless you are depending on how desperate you are to live YOUR life.
- · Cancel Sky TV, and any other subscription TV service : Saving per month £40.
- · Cancelled gym membership : Saving per month £30
- · Downgraded my car to a small economical Car : Saving in fuel and car tax per month £70.
- · Switched to online shopping with a strict small budget (and ditch the brand names) : Saving per month £120.
- · Give up eating meat : Saving per month £40 per person (this one was hard. I eat meat again now).
- · Turn off the heating on all but the coldest days : Saving per month £30
- · Stop drinking alcohol : Saving per month £20 (didn’t drink much anyway).
- · NO TAKEAWAYS : Conservative estimate saving per month, £80
I know some people here will be saying that I was asking for a miserable life. No drink? No heating? This is true to an extent, but it all boils down to how bad you want the end result. You don’t have to be as extreme as me, and you should keep safe, but that is the key. ‘Safe’ doesn’t mean a climate controlled house full of electrical gadgets and numbing your problems with booze and a crappy diet.
|Be happier, healthier and save money. No Brainer.|
A cosy night in with an extra jumper, and an open fire I would argue is better than any Dominoes and X factor night. No open fire? Top tip : dig a fire pit in the garden, sit around it and talk.
So anyway, that’s not every saving listed but my initial stab at it saved at least £430 a month. All of which went on my credit cards using the ‘snowball method’ (look it up, it works).
|In essence, The Snowball Method.|
A top tip here is to make what you enjoy free. So, if you like the gym, go running instead. Get weights (don’t buy them, make them out of bottles of sand), get into a free pastime such as blogging, or join a boardgame club (and play other people’s games). Hobbies can easily become expensive obsessions, so just make sure yours are free and healthy. The health benefits are a great bonus. (I also lost two stone without trying due to the meat and alcohol ban).
Other ways of making extra are well documented. Ebay, car boot sales, doing surveys, babysitting. Every penny counts.
Jumping forward a bit, once the cards were getting paid off, I decided to start looking for other work that paid less, but I could now afford to consider with the ever-dwindling minimum repayments. I took a full-time job in care, then as my debts decreased, so did my hours.
I ended up working 25 hours a week, doing support work which I enjoy. It is a tough job at times, but rewarding, and when you do a sleep in, you essentially get paid to sleep, unless something goes wrong.
It sounds impossible, but from my factory job to this one, It meant an eventual drop in salary of around £12000. I don’t notice it though for two reasons. The fact that I can sit here on a Thursday morning and write this rather than being at work, or being asleep more than compensates for it. Another factor is that I don’t pay tax anymore, unless I do overtime, so a substantial proportion of that higher salary was taxed so I never saw it anyway.
(Just as an aside, I recommend using any of the online income tax calculators through your journey. They can be highly motivating, and help you budget, with what you will have in your hand at the beginning of each month there in black and white).
My plan has now come to fruition. I became debt free over a year ago (That is such a great feeling), and the experience made me realise that I could get away with working part time, surprisingly easily if you keep your saving plan up. So, I enrolled on a yearlong access course which will enable me to get into uni and become a full time student. I have applied, been accepted and am eligible for the full maintenance loan, which means I must work a shift every now and again to get some extra spending money.
I have never worked less, enjoyed life more or have been freer to do what I want. It hasn’t been easy by any means, and has been downright tough at times, but initially my willpower was rubbish. The more you go on, the more you save, the more you will be encouraged to do even more. It really is a snowball effect.
I hope that this will inspire at least one person to start plugging away at getting what they want out of life. It’s like opening your eyes to a new world. You don’t have to work full time in a job you hate, you don’t have to tolerate idiots, you don’t have to be tired all the time, you don’t have to miss your kids growing up. You can do more of what you enjoy, you can improve yourself, you can be happy.
Thanks for reading this, I sincerely hope it helps. Please fire away with any questions, or let me know which part of this I could write in more depth about. If you know of someone who might benefit, please share it with them.