Post-Christmas debt left me worrying about paying bills but here's how I cleared £20,000

ONCE Christmas was over, the sense of dread set in. Laura Biggs had no idea how she was going to pay her bills. 

The 31-year-old personal trainer and partner Andrew, 35, who works in construction, had £45,450 of debt back in January 2020. 

The money was spread across multiple loans, credit cards and store accounts. 

“I remember the overwhelming feeling of dread, wondering how we were going to pay January’s bills,” says Laura. 

The couple, who lived in East Anglia,  had overspent after another Christmas of making the same mistake, trying to fund presents and festive activities on one single pay cheque. 

They could no longer ignore the letters coming through the door, emails and phone calls from companies they owed. 

“We knew something needed to change. When we sat down and figured out the total amount we owed we were shocked into action.”

Two years later they are £20k lighter and on target to clear all they owe by 2023. 

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Their secret? Laura puts it down to decluttering their life. 

Lockdown gave them the opportunity to question impulse spending, whether they missed going to restaurants and going shopping, and how much. 

They realised they needed to take stock of what they owned already before they bought more of the same things. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic we were stuck in the house, overwhelmed with stuff and stressed in a space we were supposed to call home.

“We got our monthly spend down by £1,200 a month. I couldn’t tell you what we were spending on before. 

A lot of food, coffee shops, takeaways, eating out. When it comes to food, I would get the card out and tap away. Little leaks can sink a big ship. 

“We gradually decluttered, one room at a time, starting with chucking out everything that was broken.”

Anything they no longer wanted or used they sold on Facebook Marketplace. 

“I wish we’d kept track of how much we got rid of, it was thousands of things. The amount of stuff we had that didn’t work, sitting there gathering dust.

“It was motivating finding money by getting rid of stuff, but more than that we created a nice space and we didn’t want to spend loads of money cluttering it up again.”

In fact she says she now spends less time cleaning and organising the house, which has improved her mental health, reducing her urges to spend. 

Laura also realised that their home was bigger than she thought. They have just had a baby, meaning they’ve grown to a family of five. 

“Had I found out I was pregnant before I started clearing debt, the first thing I would’ve thought is right, we need a four-bedroom house, we need more space. 

“It would’ve been ‘we need to find the money, somehow’. My thought process has now totally changed to ‘how we can use what we already have?’. We’re saving money by not adding a bedroom.”

Decluttering their debts at the start of the repayment process was also key to feeling more on top of them, and making a plan for, and progress on repayment.

What Laura found stressful was not only the total of the debt owed, but the sheer amount of people they owed money to. 

“We knew trying to agree on minimum payment to almost 20 companies was just going to be ridiculous. 

“We started by narrowing it down using a debt management plan (DMP) to just one payment a month. We left two loans out of this, our biggest, because the interest was so high.” 

Laura was repaying £300 a month, while Andrew paid £170. Having a DMP gave them some breathing space and helped them focus on paying off the most expensive debt as quickly as possible. 

Once they did that they had more money to pay off other debts. 

This is the avalanche method for debt repayment, focusing on the most burdensome debts first. 

Once these were paid, the couple took on the snowball method, listing out who they still owed, and focusing on repaying the smallest, taking motivation from counting down as each one fell away, 14, down to 13, down to 12, cutting up cards, ticking off one less thing to worry about.

As a personal trainer, Laura sees staying on top of your finances as like getting fit. 

“You need to take small steps and appreciate how far you’ve come. Keep track, I write everything down in notes on my phone.”

She also found it much easier to negotiate with companies she owed money to than she thought she would. 

“We found the companies were quite happy to freeze interest for a few months and give us a payment holiday. 

“They were helpful when we were trying to negotiate a reasonable minimum payment each month. Remember when you call that you are still offering to pay them.”  

Also central to staying on track has been to create a “sinking fund” for guilt-free spending. “We thought about things that are important to us and kept them in our budget. 

“It’s like a diet, if you take all the chocolate away, you won’t stick to it.”

Crucially, a lot of the sinking fund is in cash. “I find it difficult to be impulsive online now. I have to go to the bank or post office to put the cash in. 

“Jumping a few hurdles before you buy does make you think a lot more about whether you actually need it.”

Laura also uses a Monzo bank account to take on the 1p savings challenge. She’s saving up for next Christmas. 

You put aside 1p on the first day of the year into a separate pot, upping it by a penny each day, to £3.65 on the last day of the year, amounting to nearly £670 after 12 months.

Ultimately, she believes successfully paying down debt is about psychology and knowing yourself, looking forward, not back.

“Accept that previous habits and lifestyle choices have put you in this position, but the fact is you’re doing something about that. 

“Before we started getting our finances in order, we longed for payday, usually because we’d ran out of money to last the month. Now, we long for payday so we can attack our debts and reach our goals.”

If you are struggling with debt in the new year do not keep it to yourself. There is a lot of free, non-judgemental advice out there that can help you plan a way out. 

Sue Anderson, of the charity StepChange says, “We can help you evaluate your finances and figure out the best way forward. 

“We can give you the advice and provide the debt solutions you need to ensure you’re on the path to financial recovery.”

You can find help anonymously, online at, or over the phone on 0800 138 111. The charity National Debtline offers free advice at or over the phone on 0808 808 4000.

The website is a helpful way to search for any benefits or financial support available that you may be able to claim, at no cost. 

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