I paid off £5,000 debt in 10 months on a wage of £23,000 – it’s not impossible’

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A dad who paid off a £5,000 loan in 10 months on a wage of £23,000 says he wants to help other people become debt-free.

Brian Mitchell, 32, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, had struggled with money for years and at the end of 2019, he realised he needed to make some drastic changes.

After growing up in South Africa, he moved to the UK aged 14 with his family. With a poor exchange rate, the money they had saved didn’t go far and while he says he never went without the essentials, things were tight.

He started working in the service industry as a teenager, living paycheck to paycheck.

He met his partner Georgie at 21 and three years later, their daughter was born.

Then at 28, he joined the police with a salary of £19,000 and with Georgie working part-time, they were struggling to get by.

Looking to make some extra cash, Brian turned to gambling – but soon realised it was a bad idea.

He said: “I was chasing some sort of win to improve my financial situation. Obviously, as with any gambling, this did not work and I found myself in over £5k in credit card debt.”

Although he was then on a salary of £23,000, Brian was still worried about how they were going to pay back the money.

He said: “I decided to take control and learn as much as I could about personal finance and how to manage money.

“I remember the day like it was yesterday. I felt ashamed and trapped by the debt and knew something needed to change.”

In less than a year, Brian was debt-free and he is now trying to help others to tackle their own money problems.

He said: “I paid off the debt within 10 months by working as much overtime as I could, selling unwanted/needed items on eBay and picking up extra work where I could.

“It took me six months of being very intentional and intense, and I paid off all of this debt with my own salary. I scraped everything I could together, started a side hustle, sold what I could and picked up overtime at work.

“I made it my sole focus. Becoming debt free became my only goal (other than my obvious commitments).

“I read over 30 books within a year, watched countless YouTube videos and armed myself with knowledge. I kept motivated as I saw the amount I owed other people drop, I even got excited to pay off large chunks of it – it felt like a literal weight off my shoulders.

“I also started to learn about investing, which I didn’t do until I became debt free, but the thought of growing my money and becoming wealthy helped keep me motivated.”

Since paying off his debt in 2020, Brian has left the police and started a social media business and a wedding/events company with his fiancé Georgie, as well as a blog called Frugal Spender, giving advice to other people.

These are Brian’s top tips to get on top of your finances this year:

Budget, budget, budget!

The Golden Rule of personal finance is to spend less than you earn.

The only way you will know if you are spending less than you earn is by keeping a personal balance sheet, known as a budget. Don’t be put off by the boring name ‘budget’.

By putting your income vs outgoings on paper (or a spreadsheet), you will be forced to face the truth.

Do what you can to lower your outgoings. It might seem easier said than done, but from my experience, you could shave off a fair bit each month by cancelling unused subscriptions and lowering your TV package to what you actually watch.

Once you have lowered your outgoings as much as you can, focus on increasing your income by working overtime or starting a side hustle.

There are multiple strategies and methods to pay off consumer debt, but the one that I personally used and recommend is known as the ‘debt snowball’.

This method requires you to face all of your debt head-on. Find out who you owe money to, and how much you owe them.

List your debts from lowest balance to highest (regardless of interest rate) and start throwing everything you can at the lowest debt, whilst continuing to pay the minimum payments on the rest.

Sell unwanted/unused items to become debt-free quicker. This method is great to keep you motivated because you are likely to get quick wins by paying off debt and closing accounts/cutting up credit cards sooner than other methods.

Some argue that mathematically this isn’t the best approach, but the best approach is what works, and I am proof that it does!

A great tip that I learned about personal finance is to separate your money into different accounts, pots, or spaces (different banks call them different things).

I recommend using a bank that allows these features. Challenger banks such as Starling and Monzo started this, but high street banks are catching up too.

You can set up separate funds for known regular expenses, such as a holiday, yearly car insurance, or a wedding fund.

By keeping this money separate, you are playing a psychological trick on yourself, making it feel like this money isn’t ‘available’ to spend. This was a game-changer for how I now handle my money.

Even though Christmas happens the same time every year, we still panic about money in November.

Work out what you want to spend next Christmas time, divide it by 12 and start putting them into your separate fund named ‘Xmas fund’ in January.

Include all expenses in this pot, including presents, packaging, food and any expected travel! Future you will thank you.

Seems obvious, right? Well… most of us don’t do it. Whatever you think you spend on your shopping, double it, and you are probably close to the truth. Go back through your online banking to see how much you really spent on average over the last three months.

Once you get over the shock, choose a realistic (very important) amount to stick to every month. Divide that amount by how many shops you do each month, and you have a target.

This needs to be done every month in your budget. This can be separated into a space too (that’s what I do), as I find this really helps me not go over budget.