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Month: October 2016

How to not be skint anymore

How to not be skint anymore

If you’re fed up of getting to the end of every month with no money less (or worse, getting to the end of your money with several days of the month left), it’s time to do something about it.

No savings?

Recent research found 4 in 10 working age adults in the UK have less than £100 in savings to cover an emergency. But the thing is, 25% of adults with an income of less than £13,500 have £1,000 in savings, and 40% of adults earning less than £13,500 do manage to save something every month. So actually, it’s the people with who earn more that have less in savings. Although it’s a common problem, most of us can do something about it. If we want to.

Does this sound like you?

He’s a few examples of things I’ve heard from people who regularly find themselves skint, in spite of having disposable income (i.e. Money left after all their essential bills have been paid).

“Everything’s so expensive, you get to the end of the month and there’s nothing left”, a work colleague once said to me, as her professionally manicured hands rattled across the keyboard.

“I’m just always skint and I’m fed up of it”, a comment from a friend, before going on to tell me about a great deal she got on Ipad 2. She already had an I pad.

“I’m completely brassic mate” (This one I had to look up, ‘brassic’ is apparently cockney rhyming slang for having no money). The guy in question was another colleague, holding onto a paper lunch bag from eat, which isn’t known for bargain lunch options.

Come January, there will be a chorus of voices, stronger than the church choir on the Christmas edition of songs of praise, singing their money woes. As though it was a surprise to have Christmas in December.

Newsflash: If you spend all your money, you won’t have any left!

Can’t help treating yourself?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy having my nails manicured now and then, would get loads of use out of an Ipad, and struggle to resist a delicious ham and jarlsberg baguette from eat. But even more, I love the peace of mind having emergency savings and building up my spare cash to visit amazing places.

If you want to break out of the cycle of being skint you need to do something about it.

If I kept jumping off a wall and breaking my leg, would you give me sympathy each time I broke my leg? Or would you think I was insane?

To spend money in the same way month in, month out, and to be surprised when there’s none left is the perfect of example of how Albert Einstein described insanity.

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You CAN change your situation

I’m not going to show sympathy because that doesn’t help you. It might make you feel momentarily better, but it doesn’t stop you being skint.

Instead, I’m going to show you faith. Because I know, that if you WANT to, you have the power to change your life, to control your spending, to take responsibility. You can move from a place where you’re disposing of all your disposable income, to one where you feel in control. And that is an incredible place to be.

To be successful and summon the strength to make a change, you need to know what you want from life.

What is your motivation?

When you’re lying on your death bed, looking back over your life, what memories will you cherish?

This can be a powerful question to help you work out what’s important to you. I’m betting it’s not manicures, I pads and baguettes.

When you know what you want, it’s easier to see what’s not important. And when you know what’s not important, it starts to become easier to stop spending money on those things. I won’t say it’s easy, because a lot of what you are paying for is likely to be convenience or has an immediate feel good factor. But gradually, you can peel away the layers, giving yourself both the time and money to pursue what is important.

There’s another benefit to reducing some of your spending that you might not expect of appreciate until you do it. By reducing treats like eating out, going to the cinema or having a massage, each time you do indulge in those treats in future will feel ultra luxurious and you can enjoy that luxury for everything it is, safe in the knowledge that you won’t end the month skint.

Here’s another thing. If you find that you don’t enjoy having more control and less stress that comes with spare money, you can always revert back to your previous spending habits and enjoy being skint again.

What do you think- do people have the power to not be skint any more?

If you’re ready to take the next step, check out my post ‘Where does all my money go?’

50 Christmas Savings

50 Christmas Savings

50 Christmas savings that can help you stay within budget across the festive season.

The closer we get to Christmas, the more easy it is to get carried away with an extra tin of chocolates or bag full of stocking fillers. It’s just one day and it’s not worth getting into debt for.

Check out these 50 Christmas savings tips to help you keep your spending down.

Shopping strategy

The way you shop can really help you make Christmas savings:

1. Shop locally. If you’re able to, shopping locally can lower costs on travel and eating lunch in a giant shopping centre.

2. Shop early in the day. If you arrive at 9am, you’ll avoid the masses, which means it will be easier to get your shopping done quickly and should result in fewer impulse purchases made in the metaphorical (and often literal) heat of the moment.

3. Ignore facebook! Need I say more?

4. Consider whether any items on your gift list, such as books and dvds, can be bought second hand

5. Look out for well looked after toys, especially if you’re buying for young children, to buy second hand

6. Take a shopping bag (or bags) with you. Those 5ps add up!

7. Steer clear of the random useful/useless aisles in Aldi (a year round suggestion), where it’s too easy to see things that are ‘too cheap to leave behind’

8. Do not browse (on line or in store) once you have what you need

9. Ask for gift receipts- if you don’t get a gift quite right, it’s money wasted if the recipient can’t exchange it.

10. Take care in January sales. Ideally ignore them unless…

11. You can shop for Christmas gifts in the sale. Nope, not for the following Christmas. If someone has asked for something specific that’s likely to be in the sale the day after Christmas, why not wait to buy it?

12. Use a cash back credit card. Keep the cash you would have spent in a savings account (some interest is better than none) and pay it off in full in January.

Food

We buy and eat a lot more food over Christmas, so it makes sense that this is a good place to look for Christmas savings.

13. Buy chocolates and other treats closer to the time- they might be cheaper now, but there’s a high chance you’ll need to replace them!

14. Downshift your cranberry sauce. Rather than pay for a named brand for £1.49, pay 75p for a supermarket brand

15. If no one really likes Christmas pudding, don’t buy for the sake of it

16. Sage and onion stuffing is another downshift, a named brand will cost around 60p or you can pay just 15p for a supermarket’s own brand. (Look after the pennies, and the pounds look after themselves)

17. Write a food list of treats. Make it a separate part of your food shopping list so you can see how many luxuries you’re planning on and consider whether anything can be knocked off the list

18. Make your own biscuits. Check out this recipe on Money Saving Expert. Add your own cinnamon or ginger to make them more festive. I made these this year with a 4 year old, they’re super easy, cheap and delicious!

19. Pick 3 nice pieces of cheese you like rather than a random selection that looks exotic or a pre-selected choice, that you don’t enjoy or could end up throwing away (did you know, you can freeze many cheeses?)

20. Choose plain crackers for cheese. A pack of good old cream crackers or cracked black pepper is all that is needed, and means they’re less likely to go to waste than a large tub.

Going out

Like Christmas isn’t expensive enough, a diary full of Christmas engagements can make Christmas savings more difficult.

21. Stay in for drinks rather than going out- it’s cosier and cheaper

22. Politely decline Christmas work do’s

23. Wear something you already own to Christmas celebrations

Presents

The biggest part of our budgets is usually the gifts. Whilst everyone enjoys treating their loved ones, their are lots of ways to choose perfect gifts that don’t cost the earth.

24. If you have Children that are too young to know what’s going on, skip the expensive gift (or put money in their savings account)

25 Cut down gift giving- talk now to friends and/ or family to see who is receptive

26. Make a list. Check it twice (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

27. Avoid glossy Christmas catalogues- they’ll only give you ideas of things to spend more money on!

28. Pad out small one’s stocking with things you’d buy anyway- pj’s, bubble bath, crayons.

29. Cut down on stocking fillers/ gifts that you buy just to balance out so you’ve spent equal amount on people

30. Give the gift of time- I O U vouchers for your friends and family.

31. A gift of a box filled with balloons for young children is a big exciting looking gift with low cost

32. Put gifts on your own list that can save you money in the new year, e.g. vouchers for massage, board games, computer games.

33. Don’t opt for personalised stuff. It not only costs more, it’s more difficult to recycle if the recipient grows out of it or wants to donate it in a few years down the line.

Christmas Day fun

Ultimate Christmas savings- games and entertainment that are basically free (ok, so you might need some paper and a pen…)

34. Play charades

35. Play who am I

36. Create a family Christmas quiz

37. Create a Christmas gift treasure hunt

38. Swap board games with a friend for the day to play something new without shelling out

Cards, Decorations and the other trimmings

Christmas, like Weddings, can become more expensive due to a load of extra trimmings. Can you cut some of these out of your day, to find some extra Christmas savings?

39. Don’t buy greetings cards, or trim down your Christmas card list

40. Go without an advent calendar (or share 1 between 2)

41. Try an eat well for less Christmas challenge in the lead up to Christmas

42. Wrapping paper gets ripped off, don’t go for expensive paper, with all the bells and whistles.

43. Avoid Christmas novelty wear that only comes out this time of year

44. If you are sending cards, wrap up warm and hand deliver as many as you can, rather than driving or posting (within walking distance)

45. Don’t buy new decorations, use what you already have

46. Make a small investment each year in decorations you want for the long term

47 If you’re buying a real tree, buy it as close to Christmas as possible

48. Opt for cheap crackers- the prizes may be better, but they’re still not wanted. The best option- fill your own so you don’t end up with plastic rubbish

49. Re-use gift bags

50. Buy silver or gold gift bags that can be reused for birthdays too

 

What do you think of this list of tips? Are they too extreme for you, or not extreme enough? Feel free to share more Christmas savings ideas below, I’m sure there are simply hundreds!

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Being generous: Inspiration from other money savers

Being generous: Inspiration from other money savers

Being healthy, being generous, consuming less and experiencing more, and achieving financial independence. Those are my goals. That is what tortoise happy means to me.

Financial independence takes a huge amount of planning and will power. On the one hand, it could be easy to focus on money and lose sight of what is important.

On the other, by constantly assessing what you value, financial strength can make you become more generous and mean you’re better able to help.

Here are some great articles that show how being generous doesn’t have to affect your financial goals. They inspired me, hopefully they’ll inspire you too:

The Giving Fund

Check this post out over at Montana Money Adventure, I think it has to be my favourite. We have a monthly budget for giving to charity but Ms Montana’s ‘Giving Fund’ is so much more flexible, responsive and personal.

112 Random Acts of Kindness

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be generous. This is a list of random acts of kindness from froogalism, and most of these won’t cost you a penny. Now, I’m not sure I can agree that all of these count- No 16 (holding a door open) is just good manners as far as I’m concerned, but I love No 24 and the most powerful No 56 (you’ll need to check them out to see what they are!)

People before money

This is such an incredible example from Our Next Life of how they deliberately delayed financial independence by 6 months to help a family member in such an inspiring way. They made a financial decision that wouldn’t normally make sense, because they could. Wouldn’t you love to be able to do that too?

Should you give whilst paying off debt?

A question that I’m sure a lot of people wrestle with. Help people now, or achieve debt freedom sooner so that you have more available to give? I really love how this question is answered by Hope and Cents.

Change the culture, make a difference through giving

There are lots of articles about how to teach children the value of money (as there should be) but I love this article from Loving Little$ about teaching children compassion for others and generosity.

 

How and when to be generous are down to personal choice. I guess if you’re reading this, generosity and giving is important to you. I know I couldn’t celebrate my eventual Financial Independence if I hadn’t been generous to those who need it along the way.

I’m sure there are loads of articles out there- old and new- that inspire generosity. If you know about one, let me know in the comments below.

Is investing too risky for you?

Is investing too risky for you?

One of the simplest ways to save money is to open a savings account. You set up an automatic payment to send money to your savings account every month, or just do a transfer when you have the extra cash. It might only pay a low rate of interest, but hey, it’s better than no interest and you know exactly what you’re getting. Plus, it’s not just about the interest. It’s the peace of mind. Having money there if there’s an emergency.

You definitely don’t want to put your hard earned cash at risk, where reckless businesses hoover it up and make stupid decisions with your money, do you? No, it’s better where you can see it, nice and safe in a savings account.

I felt certain that I would never “gamble” on the stock market. I’d read plenty of people pooh-poohing my approach, and that was fine. If they want to lose money, go ahead and lose it. I worked too hard to risk my cash.

I don’t know exactly why I’m writing this. If anyone had deliberately tried to change my mind about investing in the stock market, I would have put up barriers instantly. It was an off the cuff comment, not aimed at me, not aimed at anyone in fact, that sowed the seed of a new way of thinking.

“You wouldn’t want your pension invested in cash deposits, so why would you want all your savings in cash. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

My eyes narrowed and I’m pretty sure I cocked my head to the side (I tend to do this when I’m thinking about something). I absolutely wouldn’t want my pension languishing in a pitiful savings account; would you? Would you be happy to see meagre returns, whilst your colleagues took the rough with the smooth, but were more than likely going to come out with a pension pot significantly bigger than yours?

It took another 7 months after that to make my first investment. I read and read and read and in the end, I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing but I just went for it. Maybe it’s a foolish approach, but I feel like I’ve been more of a fool to miss out on years of growth.

See, here’s the thing. Banks and greedy and businesses are greedy.

Banks want to pay you as little interest as possible to make money from you.

Businesses want to make profits to get bigger and more successful, and the people in those businesses want to earn more money. An output of this is that the value of your shares goes up. So you make money from them.

Banks want you to save as much with them as possible so they can do more lending and make more money from you. They may pay a smidge more to get your custom, but their primary concern is their margin.

Businesses want you to invest in them so they have more funds available to grow faster. They pay dividends to attract new investors and keep existing investors, which keeps the value of shares high, so you benefit in 2 ways (increasing value and dividend payments).

Businesses can lose money. They can make wrong decisions or they might deceive people in an attempt to get competitive advantage, which ultimately comes back to bite them. I’m not denying that. But no business wants to lose money. Everyone within a business is paid to make that business a success, and therefore to make that business profitable.

In a bank, everyone is paid to extract as much value out of customers as possible. They might do this by investing a lot in customer service to leave you with a rosy glow so that you come back for more of their services, or by offering a no frills approach with minimal overheads.

Our government wants your funds to be protected if a bank goes under, and that’s a brilliant benefit of cash savings in the UK.

Governments around the world want their economies to be strong. Strong businesses mean more people employed and paying taxes and more profits to cream taxes from too. So they change their policies to try to create an environment where businesses can thrive.

Not all businesses will do well and some will fail. But on the whole, everyone is rooting for businesses to succeed. Unless you think capitalism is suddenly about to fall out of favour, it doesn’t make sense to dismiss investing on the fear of losing money*. It doesn’t make sense to keep all your cash in an account where paying you a good return isn’t in the banks’ interests.

You don’t have to put your money directly with individual companies. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest this. Instead their are hundreds, maybe thousands, of funds out there that spread your investment across a lot of companies. So if a company goes under, you don’t suddenly lose a big chunk of your investment.

Maybe your mind can’t be changed by someone deliberately trying to persuade you of the benefits of investing. Or maybe you’re not as foolish as I was….

*I guess I should caveat this with the ever frightening warning that the value of your investments can go down as well as up. Yes, they can go down a lot. But they can also go up a lot too. Over the last 18 months, I’ve seen my investments fluctuate. And, I’m obviously not a financial advisor, these are simply my opinions.

Have you always avoided investing, have you started to change your mind, or has it always seemed like the obvious thing to do to you? What advice would you give people who are worried about losing money by investing?

Entertaining a lower cost of Christmas

Entertaining a lower cost of Christmas

If you’ve got ideas about a lower cost Christmas that’s full of magic, then carry on reading. Don’t get me wrong, I fall for the advertising more often than I’d like, but Christmas magic can’t be bottled and sold; it’s created with love by you!

Here are some fun things to do this Christmas to create that magic and sparkle that the stores are trying to tell us that we can buy from them.

Christmas treasure hunt

I love a Christmas (or birthday) treasure hunt, and it’s definitely not just for the kids. Set up a Christmas treasure hunt with clues to the location of presents. You can make the clues nice and easy for little ones or a bit more cryptic and challenging.

Christmas quiz

How about a family Christmas quiz (it’s mostly a normal quiz, with a Christmas themed round) to enjoy after dinner?

You need a quiz master to create the quiz (since you’re reading this, its most likely to be you, unless you delegate!). Think about the people who’ll be taking part and come up with topics that they’ll be interested in. For example, if no one enjoys sport, then don’t include a sports round.

It can be as short or as long as you want it to be. You can stick to a list of questions, or mix it up with picture or music rounds. It all depends on how much time you have to put your quiz together.

Create your own Eat well for less Christmas advent challenge

In case you’ve not seen it, Eat well for less is a TV programme where a family’s food shop is replaced by cheaper versions of what they would usually buy and put in unmarked containers. Not everything is replaced, so it really tests their tastebuds. Quite often, families can’t tell the difference between the cheaper version and the more expensive version that they normally buy, and sometimes they believe their normal brand has been replaced when it hasn’t. If you’re wary of trying cheaper alternatives to your favourite brands (or your children are) this could be a good way to sneak them in and a different way to countdown to Christmas.

From 1st December to 24th December swap something in your meal for a cheaper version. Challenge your other half/ kids to say which thing in their meal wasn’t their usual version. It could be a cheaper frozen version of a fresh veg you usually have, supermarket’s own stir fry sauces or (impressively) a sauce you make from scratch. It could soup, pudding, bread, squash, fruit juice. There are loads of things you could swap.

Sound like too much hard work for a whole 24 days? Cheating is definitely allowed! Not every day has to have a swap… Just like on the bbc show, you might find your family saying they don’t like something that you’re paying top whack for… in which case, you definitely need to start going for the cheaper option!

Go for a walk

Christmas day is one of the best days of the year to go for a walk. There’s nowhere to rush to, everyone you see will respond merrily when you wish them a Happy Christmas and it’s the perfect way to spend time just enjoying each others’ company. If your plans mean you can’t fit in a walk on Christmas day, definitely make up for it on boxing day. If you’ve got kids, why not visit the local duck pond and take some bread for their Christmas dinner (the ducks, not the kids)?

Think of others

It’s a natural time to think of those less fortunate than yourself. Last year, I was more conscious of and deliberate about what I gave to charity.  Just by stopping to consider how much I wanted to give and what it would mean relative to the much larger amount of money I’d be spending carelessly over the month made me see the excesses in my Christmas more clearly. It made me waste less money on food I didn’t need, on those little ‘top up’ gifts that make their way into your basket, and on luxury wrapping paper.

 

If you put a little thought into it, there are so many ways you can make Christmas magical without spending huge amounts of cash. Making homemade mince pies or gingerbread, making cards by hand, enjoying hot chocolate with mini marshmallows whilst watching a favourite Christmas film. Rather than spending money on a Christmas jumper,  you could even have a family competition to make your own!

For more ideas this Christmas, check out my other Money Saving Christmas tips.

I’d love to know if you have any traditions that make Christmas magical for you that don’t come out of a catalogue, so feel free to share in the comments below.

How to save money AND treat yourself

How to save money AND treat yourself

Do you find you’re often spending money on pick me ups and treats after a busy day or tiring week, but you know you should be saving more? Here’s a way you can save money and treat yourself. Also known as having your cake and eating it too!

Picture this: You got up late and missed your bus, leaving you to get caught in a torrential down pour that leaves you chairing your first meeting with soaking wet trousers clinging to your legs. You work over to make up the time you missed, so you get home late, tired, hungry, fed up and in need of a treat. A lovely meal out would be just the ticket. After all, you deserve it, right?

We’ve all been there. You should absolutely treat yourself. But don’t do it yet. The day is a write off, how much could you possibly enjoy dining out? For now, whip yourself up something quick and put the money you would have spent to one side. If you’ve got a high paying savings account, perfect! If not, put it in any savings account, or failing that, a money jar will do.

That money is for treating yourself. But as I said you’re not going to do it yet. This is for a treat in 4 months’ time (which, if you’re reading this in October, will be in January, just after the expense of Christmas). How exciting! Have a think about where you want to go, and when. Will this be a midweek event or the highlight of a weekend? Is there somewhere new you want to try or are you going to go for an old favourite?

I know what you’re thinking. This helps me save now, but what’s the point if I’m going to spend it anyway?

Allow me to blind you with science… A few years ago, some researchers found that some nations (such as Germany and Israel) tend to have strong savings habits, and some nations (such as USA and UK) tend to have weak savings habits. (Apologies for the vagueness, I have searched in vain on the BBC’s website but can’t for the life of me find the article I read on this).

Anyway, the research found that nations with a better savings habit had a stronger sense of their future self. Nations that didn’t have strong savings habits had a weaker sense of their future self. The conclusion was that having a strong sense of your future self means that you are better at saving for that version of yourself, rather than spending money on your present self.

Sacrificing treats in the present in favour of treats in the future will help you to develop a stronger sense of your future self, and as a consequence the way you spend and save money.

Over the next 4 months, each time you feel like you need a pick me up, put the money to one side. Instead of spending money here and now on something you fancy, make some time for yourself just to relax, whether it’s having a nice hot soak in the bath, taking time to paint your nails, investing in your health by making time to go for a run, picking up a book meditating- whatever floats your boat.

Do something for you, that you enjoy and will help you feel relaxed, knowing you have that treat to look forward to and can still unwind in the present. Make a note of the things you put money in the pot for.

This will prove you are able to save money. It will help you say no to your present self and yes to your future self, moving your focus and hopefully your spending habits.

Once the 4 months have passed, you should take a moment just to think how it feels having sacrificed those treats over the last 4 months and how it feels to have options to do them now. Are you glad that you saved for your future self or do you wish that you’d already had your treats?

If you’re glad you saved, do you want to spend all the money right now, or is there something more important your future self would want? Rather than spending all the money on the treats you’ve saved for, you might find yourself saving 10%, 25%, or even 100% of what you’d put aside. If you do choose NOT to spend some of the money you’ve saved, that’s brilliant because it’s money you wouldn’t have saved before and is a huge step in the right direction.

You have nothing to lose by doing this. Even if you spend all the money you saved for treats (or still sometimes treat yourself in the present), you’ve made a step forward where money saving is concerned.

My future self, and fear of missing out on something better, is a huge driving force behind how I spend my money and my time and is something that developed as a child.

If I’m finding it difficult to make a decision, I flip it on its head. What would I regret more, spending money on a series of meals out or paying my mortgage off early? Framing questions like this is another way to think about your future self.

So that’s how you can save money and treat yourself. Hopefully, it’s the first step to having a stronger sense of your future self.

Do you have any ways that you save money and still treat yourself? How do you motivate yourself to put money aside for your future, rather than spending for today?

Escape from your prison of debt

Escape from your prison of debt

Debt can make you feel like you’re trapped in a financial prison. If your debt doesn’t leave you feeling trapped- perhaps you just have a mortgage and can easily afford day trips and meals out- well, that’s a bit like one of those open prisons. You might not be relentlessly checking your bank to see which payments have gone out, but you don’t have the freedom to spend your money on what you want.

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Like the prisoners of Alcatraz, to escape your prison of debt you need to have the right qualities and relentlessly pursue the right course of action. Perhaps feeling like you’re doing the financial equivalent of calving a hole out of the wall with a spoon will even help create a sense of adventure. So, what did it take to escape Alcatraz?

Determination

There’s no sense merrily dreaming of getting free of debt. You need the grit and determination to face your debts and take action day after day after day.

It took 6 months planning to get out of Alcatraz. Unlike the escape from Alcatraz, many people have escaped their debt prison before you and many more will after you. This is the kind of prison that, if you are determined enough, you CAN get out of.

There will be set backs, but you need to keep plugging away. Imagine the feeling of freedom you will feel at the end and use that to fire your determination.

Planning

You can’t just wake up and merrily walk out of your debt prison one day. You need to plot your escape route.

You need to know how much you owe and how much you’re being charged; what does your cell look like?

You need to know what your income is each month and what your expenses will be. That’s not just monthly expenses, but those annual expenses, like the car MOT. Over the course of a year, how much do you earn and how much does it cost you to live?

How are you going to reduce your outgoings and increase your earnings? Which will you focus on first?

What are your weak spots and how can you stop them derailing you?

Look closely at the detail to see what could trip you up- do you pick up a daily morning coffee on your way to work? Do you click on every Amazon ‘recommended for you’ email that lands in your inbox? If giving up your takeaway coffee will see you reverting back to your old ways (and worse), keep some cash to one side for a weekly or fortnightly treat. As for your inbox, hit unsubscribe on those emails from online retailers, who are putting money spending ideas into your head (or keeping them there).

Careful planning to increase what you earn, reduce what you spend, and overpay on your debt will enable you to escape from your debt prison.

Help from others

The escape from Alcatraz wasn’t a 1 man plot- it took 3 of them working together. You don’t have to do it alone. Make your journey easier with help.

If you’re in a relationship, you should definitely be working together on this. What can each of you do to save money or earn more? Does one of you have better budgeting skills, whereas the other is a wizz at listing stuff on ebay? You’re a team, play to your strengths. If neither of you are very good at something, work it out together.

If you’re in a family, are your kids old enough to come up with any money saving ideas? Do they know any games you can play as a family that just take a bit of imagination? Can you do a ‘taste challenge’ with some of their branded snacks and cheaper versions- a fun way to get them to try cheaper alternatives and cut down costs.

Why not send a group message out to your mates, using something like whatsapp to keep everyone in on the replies, or just via text. Tell them you’re determined to get your credit card/ car loan/ mortgage paid off and you’re looking for their best tips for saving money. You could start by getting the ball rolling by sharing a tip with them first, like “we’ve found we’ve saved cash by doing X, anyone else got any good tips? We’re saving up for X, Y, Z”.

If you’ve got a good friend who you trust and know is good with money, ask them for their advice. Chances are, they won’t just offer it up if you don’t ask because they don’t want to tell you what you should and shouldn’t spend your money on, but if do you ask, they’ll be happy to help. As well as benefiting from their financial nous, if people knowing you’re keeping an eye on the pennies, they’re more likely to suggest cheap or free social activities.

If you’re keeping your debt top secret (and even if you’re not), the debt free wannabe forum on Money Saving Expert, is an awesome place to ask for help. Even if you’ve done all of the above, post up a statement of affairs (basically an income, outgoings, debt and assets list) on the forum, and you’ll get honest replies and feedback of where you can cut down. It may be uncomfortable reading- they don’t sugar coat it- but they’re very much being cruel to be kind.

Creativity

Bank staff, aka the prison wardens of debt, are on patrol to make sure you keep paying your minimum payments. It’s in their interest for you to stay in the prison of debt. Sometimes you have to be creative and willing to try different things in your quest to save and make money.

Where creativity was necessary for the escape from Alcatraz, for you it can be fun too. That’s because you can try some new (money saving) ideas that you could grow to love, such as rocking up at a car boot sale every weekend for a month with a load of your stuff to sell, ditching car journeys in favour of bike rides, having a meat free Monday, or switching to fewer hot drinks to save boiling the kettle as frequently.

Creativity also helps you to mend things that are broken, make your own gifts, and look for alternative solutions. A few months ago, a small oven proof dish unfortunately cracked. Rather than head straight out and buy one, I’ve found a couple of alternatives that I already own. A large over proof dish (as my Gran always says, “What holds a lot will hold a little) and couple of medium sized terracotta tapas dishes.

A series of small steps

The 3 escapees of Alcatraz didn’t blow one large hole in the wall with a stick of dynamite. They spent 6 months gradually widening the ventilation duct openings in their cells.

You’re lucky, because you might have some big steps you can take to blow a hole in your debt, by selling your obscenely expensive car, moving to a cheaper energy deal, ditching a ridiculously expensive phone tariff, stopping your eating out habit, cancelling unused gym membership, etc.

After that, it will be smaller steps taken every day that will gradually widen the hole of your escape. You can take heart from the fact that your small steps will have a cumulative effect, because as your debt reduces, so does the amount of interest you are charged, the more of your payments reduce the balance.

 

In theory, it’s easy. In practice, it can be anything but. On the days when it’s tough, get your walking boots on and get out in the fresh air. It’s the best way to clear your head, get some perspective, release some feel-good endorphins and realise how much freedom you already have. Then, head back home ready to pick up that spoon and carry on carving.

dscf3039Of course, if it all sounds too hard, you can just sit in your cell waiting for your sentence to run it’s course, whilst the sounds of freedom are carried on the breeze from across the bay.

 

Are you on the way out of your debt prison or have you made it? What tips can you share from your journey?