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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Of 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?