'I cleared £15,000 debt by transforming my finances - here's how I did it'

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Emma has shared the tools she used to clear her debt
Emma has shared the tools she used to clear her debt

Taking back control of her finances helped freelance photographer Emma clear £15,000 worth of debt in three years.

The 43-year-old had struggled with money throughout all her adult life - but says talking to someone helped her finally tackle her issues head on.

Emma, who lives in Brighton, said she never understood how to manage her finances after moving out of her family home at the age of 16.

Propelled into “a life of surviving” from a young age, she recalls there being two periods in her life where her debt had spiralled.

“I was always on the breadline and there was never the opportunity to pave the way for a future,” she told The Mirror.

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'I cleared £15,000 debt by transforming my finances - here's how I did it'Emma cleared £15,000 worth of debt

“I’ve never really had anyone teach me about money, or had any financial wellbeing education. I started to have this really unhealthy relationship with money.

“In my early 20s, I built up a lot of catalogue debt and a little bit on credit cards. I had CCJs [county court judgements] for missed payments.

“My dad died when I was in my late 20s, so I inherited some money that I paid off these first debts with. I was quite good for a bit, but it was a slippery slope.

“I took out more credit cards because I wanted to build up my credit file. This was in my mid-30s.

“I buried my head in the sand and let things build up. I had a couple of credit cards, a loan and a very big overdraft.”

'I cleared £15,000 debt by transforming my finances - here's how I did it'Emma said talking was the trigger to sorting her debts

At this point, Emma owed £15,000 and was continuing to live beyond her means, where money “burnt a hole” in her pocket.

She remembers feeling her debt was “too big to sort out” while the minimum payments on her credit cards were only covering the interest.

It wasn’t until a chance encounter through work, that Emma started to realise the impact her money issues were having on her mental health.

In 2019, she was approached by a money coach who wanted to commission her to take some photographs.

The pair ended up talking and when Emma opened up about her debt, they decided to do a skills swap.

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This meant she was paid in-part for her photography and then the rest of the time, she received free advice to help her sort her finances.

But while this method worked for Emma, you don’t need to pay for debt advice as there are free services out there. See the bottom of this article for more information.

The most important thing is to talk to someone as soon as possible - this is what Emma says ultimately helped her - so you can start to tackle your problems sooner rather than later.

“I don’t think I realised how much it was affecting my mental health,” said Emma.

“I honestly think that is the biggest hurdle, sitting down and facing up to it. She sat me down and we worked out dates and a budget - although Covid did throw a bit of a curveball to that.

“We just figured out a plan of action and it felt really good. I wasn’t going to be paying any more than I was already paying.”

Emma finally became debt-free last month - and now she has shared the tips she used to help rebuild her finances.

To slash her credit card bill, Emma moved all her debts to 0% balance transfer cards.

This is where you shift your existing credit card debt onto a new card that comes with a 0% period for a set amount of time - so you’re not paying interest.

Before making this switch, Emma was paying around £80 a month in interest.

To reduce her overdraft, Emma set up a separate pot on her Monzo account where she made money from selling old clothes.

Once she had saved up £700, she paid off a chunk of her overdraft and asked her bank to reduce her limit.

She then made a payment to shave off £50 from her overdraft each month until it was clear.

Finally, another thing that helped Emma get back in control was downloading a free money budgeting app.

Snoop connects to your bank accounts to show you how much you’re spending each month.

It then categories these spends so you have a much better idea of where your money is going.

The app will also remind you when certain subscriptions are due for renewal, so you can remember when to search for a cheaper deal.

“I installed Snoop and it has been really helpful in making me feel like I have more decisions and control over my money,” she said.

“My broadband bill had gone up to £40 and I lowered it to £18 by switching elsewhere. I was paying £30 a month on my mobile contract to get unlimited data and Snoop found a better deal.

“When I looked at my phone bill, I realised I was only using 10GB a month. I reduced my bill to £10 a month. When I changed my broadband, I got a voucher for £100 and I ended up using that to buy an iPad for my work.”

Emma also praised the help she received from her money coach for helping her look into the deeper aspect of her relationship with her bank account.

“Like, how does it make you feel when you buy something, what are the feelings? Zoning into that has been really impactful with the impulsivity,” she explained.

“I am waiting for a diagnosis, as I am pretty sure I have ADHD. I now realise the impulsive spending is a common trait for people with ADHD.

“Money always burnt a hole in my pocket and no matter how careful I would be, I could never quite grasp it.

“Having a spending account outside of your bills account was really useful for me. I cut my current account card up that my salary goes into and I created a budget from there.

“I transferred into a Monzo account just spending money for the month. I would make myself live off that and I wasn’t tempted to spend off my other accounts."

How to get FREE debt advice

Don't suffer in silence if you're in debt and really don't know where to turn - seek free and professional advice.

You can get advice without paying a penny by speaking to one of the following organisations:

  • Citizens Advice (0800 144 8848)
  • StepChange (0800 138 1111)
  • National Debtline (0808 808 4000)

"Face up to your debt and get a clear picture of where you’re at," said Emma.

Levi Winchester

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