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How to get out of debt – by someone who’s done it

There’s no denying money can be a slippery and emotive subject and debt is one of the topics that’s most difficult to speak up about. But there is an answer.

More people than ever are currently benefiting from free debt advice, according to our figures.

Debt advice projects delivered by our partners, including Citizen’s Advice and Money Advice Trust have seen more than 91,300 people access their services over April-June 2015 alone.

But how do you feel if it’s you going through debt? And is it ever possible to break the cycle? 

We asked Hayley, who runs the website Disease Called Debt, for her thoughts. Hayley cleared her debts of £41,489 in just 22 months. Here’s how.

Disease Called Debt – my story  

For over 15 years, my husband and I battled with debt. We each had debt when we met and for a long time we didn’t worry too much about it and continued living life day-to-day, often funding purchases and holidays with our credit cards.

It was only when we bought our first house together that we realised just how crippling our debts had become, as we were restricted by the amount we could borrow. We stopped spending on credit and tried to be more careful with money. The problem was that by then, the damage was done and we owed in excess of £41K between us on credit cards and loans.

Our huge minimum repayments meant that we had to try and survive without spending on luxuries. Things got so bad that we realised we needed outside help and entered into a debt management plan.

We accepted that our life would always be overshadowed by debt – making the new lower payments into our debt management plan would mean that we’d be in debt for years and years.

We were so ashamed of our debt problems that we avoided telling people. Trying to live life normally and pretend that everything was ok was very difficult.

Our debt turning point

Our turning point came when our daughter was born and we realised that our debt situation could compromise her quality of life as well as our own.

One day that I’m forever grateful for, I decided to try to find other people like us who had massive debts but had successfully paid them off. I searched the internet and was inspired by the debt success stories I found. My husband and I started to believe that maybe we could be debt free too!

I set up my blog as a way to voice my frustrations somewhere about our debt and to document our journey to debt freedom. Through this, I found support from people I didn’t even know.

They spurred me on to learn about ways that we could save and make extra money to pay off our debt.  

They picked me up when I was down and celebrated with me when my husband and I hit a debt reduction milestone.

So… what happened next?

In just 22 months, we cleared our debts of £41,489. We managed to do this whilst raising our baby daughter and despite earning much less than in previous years.

We were successful because we learned how to budget, live frugally and we found all sorts of ways to make extra money here and there to overpay our debts.

We decided to snowball our debts, paying the smallest debt off first and then using the money we freed up to pay towards the next smallest debt. Our last debts were those in the debt management plan as they were the highest.

Debt freedom is the best feeling in the world! Life is peaceful. Not having to worry about creditors calling or sending letters anymore and knowing that our money is our own is a fantastic feeling.

What should you do if you’re in debt?

My advice to anyone in this situation would be to first of all face up to the amount of debt you’re in and make a plan to pay it off, even if that means getting professional help. You will need to make financial sacrifices and try to make more money to overpay your debts. Budgeting and living frugally can actually be enjoyable – I love getting a good deal or repurposing my things even now!   

It’s really important to find someone who can support you emotionally during this time.

When you’re ready to give in and buy something that you don’t need, that person can encourage you to carry on with reaching your goal of debt freedom.

If you have a setback (which you probably will), just don’t give up trying to get out of debt. If you don’t give up, then you can’t fail.

MoneyHelper says…

Debt can be a difficult subject to talk about and it’s great to hear Hayley’s story of how she managed it herself.

If you want to speak to someone confidentially and for free, there are places you can go, and often the best first step is speaking up.

This guest post is from Disease Called Debt and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of MoneyHelper. You can find out more about Disease Called Debt and what they do on their website.

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  • Nick Humphries / 29 March 2018

    This is very good article but every bodies circumstances are so different. I lost my wife and family through debt even though she never did anything to increase the household income. Following the divorce I still have £20k debt, lost my house and my job. At 58 I should be able to get my £150k pension but the pension companies refuse to hand it over. Sometimes financial companies are just determined to make you bankrupt so they can rob you of any asset you have.

  • w / 28 May 2017

    mmmmmmmmmm yes but you did not say what you did too pay it off did you, only talked about the trouble and that is it.

  • Alfonso / 6 May 2017

    I'm stuck in a bad situation...I honestly don't have any control of my life...Dept's I have to pay and certain things I have to try and obtain while struggling to get a job....I try to stay positive but its complicated....I'm not really sure what it is I'm asking...but if help truly exist out there...I could really use it...

  • Fiona / 18 December 2016

    I have a £2000 overdraft which I increased three weeks after being in hospital following an overdose. I suffer from a diagnosed mental health disorder I don't recall increasing it so high, as it's gone from £1080 to £2000 I've been refused a loan based on my credit. I'm worried sick. I can't repay it for a few months yet.

    ADMIN: You can all our advice line on 0800 138 7777 and they will try to direct you to somewhere to talk further

  • christine / 27 October 2016

    Hi.i left my husband of 26 years 2 years ago.we had alot of debt.we agreed between us we.d spilt the payments so I still paid my share.bearing in mind I was handing cash straight to him.After a year of doing this I found out he had not been paying our debt.he as left the family home which I.v not lived in for 2 years and he racked up.more debt as he.d hadn't been paying mortgage.I believe its getting repossessed but there's a huge shortfall.and my name is still on the deeds middle of seeking help from citizens advice but what a mess.

  • patsy / 5 October 2016

    im recovering from cancer and mental health problems im a hoarder and i buy non stop i cant stop ive got so many unpaid catalogue billds id love to clear and i have one credit card .i pay for a while then i get into trouble and just stop ive also got a loan to a well known finance company the interest is deadly i think at times imnot aware the damage im doing due to my mental health ,can anyone help me i dont want to die of cancer and leave my children with debt


    Hi Patsy. Really sorry to hear about the troubles you are having. I recommend getting in touch with a debt adviser and you can find one near you with our debt advise locator tool here

  • Lindner / 27 June 2016

    Who has experience with Adexec Loans & Financial Solutions?

  • Margaret wairimu waweru / 27 April 2016

    thanks so much ..thorough this am encouraged.. am passing through the same.and if others are making it why not me?

  • andrew / 1 March 2016

    Hi I'm in debt for about 11k and iv got people wanting money of me left right and center does anyone no were I can get some good help from or see someone I'm getting very stressed thanks
    ADMIN: Hi Andrew, Sorry to hear about your debt stress. Our Debt Advice Locator tool helps give you advice local to you. Just put in your postcode and see where you can find trained debt advisors to help -

  • Jennifer / 26 February 2016

    At nineteen years of age I had credit cards coming out of my ears (well no one taught me about budgeting and learning to cope with bills, etc) as I'd left home when I was eighteen. Anyway, the crunch came when after months of juggling debt, queueing up at a cash desk my credit cards were declined. Not only that, the credit companies were called and my cards were confiscated. Embarrassing!! Anyway, no one would lend me any more money. I didn't even have any cash to buy any food. So this is what I did.
    1. Called the credit card companies and asked them to stop the interest on my cards. This does mean you'll default and get a black mark against your name for six years but you're not in a hurry to ask for any more credit now are you.
    2. Ate the contents of my cupboard/fridge/freezer. After all the nice food was gone, I ate rice for a month as I didn't have any money for food. It's amazing how inventive you get with herbs, tomato ketchup, salt and bit of pepper.
    3. Stopped paying - Apart from stopping your mortgage, do you really need the Sky subscription and the gym membership, etc. Most companies give you a three months holiday from paying your DD, so ask.
    4. Sold something - Ebay wasn't around when I was in debt so selling something had to be done via a card in the local shop window. I sold my bicycle and some recent Christmas gifts.
    5. Got another job. For three months, I did my 9-5pm job in an office, cleaned other local offices from 6-7pm and pulled pints in a pub at the weekend. I even did some babysitting once or twice.
    6. Stopped buying - do your kids really need new trainers. Look on Ebay for secondhand and explain to them that you want to clear your debt. You'll be teaching them a valuable life lesson too.
    7. Stopped worrying - pick up the phone and deal with whoever is sending you the letters. Don't stick your head in the sand and think it will all go away.
    8. Worked out which credit cards or loans I paid the biggest percentage rates on (APR). These should be the ones you pay off first.
    9. Kept a spreadsheet of all your debts.You may be able to sleep better at night when it's not all going around in your head.
    10. I stopped kidding myself that I'd managed to save an amount in a different account for a rainy day. You'll be paid a minimal amount in interest compared to the debts you have. Take the money out and pay off a card.
    11. Mended my clothes.
    12. Kept getting up and going to work.

    Well, after a month of living on rice, I could eat again with the following pay packet. The interest had stopped on all my cards. It took a year of working at it to clear them all off completely.

    At 26, my black mark was six years old, I'd been debt free for the same amount of years and free to apply for a mortgage.

    I moved into my first home that year.

    It can be done.

    Good luck! xx

  • boaz ondiegi / 2 February 2016

    debt control is good and need one who's an expert

  • Carlton Hutchinson / 12 January 2016

    I am currently in debt in excess of 14k and I am unemployed at the moment and need advice on the best way to control my finances. Please help.

    ADMIN: Hi Carlton, I'm sorry to hear you're struggling at the moment. Our debt advice locator tool helps you find free and confidential advice local to you -

  • X / 4 January 2016

    If you have an income there will be an unending supply of people to give you advice about how to spend "your" money, and a limitless number of people who will lend you money (take advantage of you) when you probably don't need debt and they know they can get their money back (i.e. you pass the credit check). Fortunately there are kind people who can help you improve your circumstances; don't let them down. Be honest and trustworthy.

  • Joshua / 19 December 2015

    I a very practical lesson and approach. The lesson here is budget and frugally, if you don't have the money then you don't need it. Within 3 months I spent £2700 on credit cards without knowing what I bought. I told my wife, I will never use it again and I manage to come out of that ''cage of evil'' Please credit card is a big financial trap if you have more than one and more than £200.00 on it. All that you need is a smaller amount within your budget to give you a better credit.

  • David Collins / 12 November 2015

    I personally have debts that I created, will my wife's income be used to judge my payment plan to repay the debts.

  • john entwistle / 21 September 2015

    intersting stuff, really glad i came across it

  • ronnie / 24 August 2015

    I was in a debt program for yrs but was never told get a loan to pay off about 30 thousand got it down myself to 20 now got to wait a yr to get a remorgage to add loan to it but best thing I ever done