How to clear debt & build savings in midlife

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Debt - 6 things to know about how and why we should pay it off!

Debt is an increasing problem for women over 50, in the UK. The story of Personal Finance Expert, Lynn James, aka MrsMummyPenny recently featured in The Financial Times. She’s repaid £16,000 in credit card debts over the last two years and is now debt-free. We asked her what we should all do to take control of our finances and pay off debt, and why she thinks this is particularly important for women.

JuLy 2019

 
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MMP: Thank you for inviting me on to share my story😊

PP: We can all be a bit ostrich-like sometimes – what are the tell-tale signs that debt has become a problem?

Its that sneaking feeling, that worry in the back of your mind that things have got out of control. I remember feeling that my debts were high, definitely more than £10k. But I had no idea how much more. But I couldn’t/wouldn’t add it up, I lived in denial for around 6 months and carried on spending.

Other tell-tale signs are high interest payments when you look at your credit card bill, even a £50 charge each month is going to stack up over the year/s.

Getting to grips with finance (debt!) can be hard - what 3 things should anyone, regardless of income or the amount of debt, do to get started?

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  • Basics are important and I love a budget. You can do this on excel or using an app or even a piece of paper. Choose what you are comfortable with and write everything down.

  • And I mean everything! From regular monthly bills like mortgage, energy bills, broadband, debt repayments, insurance. Through to things that vary. Food, days out with kids, haircuts, dentists, vets, petrol, takeaways, travel to work, the list goes on and on depending on your circumstance.

  • Write next to each spending category what you spend. You might need to go through your statements to work this out. And compare to your income. Work out the difference between your income and expenses. Or maybe your expenses are more than your income.

The next step is easier if you can do this with someone else. Choose a friend who is kind, non judgemental and good with money, even frugal/restrained and show them your budget. Come up with a plan together. This can include things like cancelling anything non-essential. Do you really need Amazon Prime as well as Netflix? Do you go to the gym enough to warrant monthly membership?

  • Get the best deal for all the essential bills. Switch your energy, change your broadband, cancel SKY Sports (a real bugbear of mine😉), at the end of a mobile phone contract get a SIM only deal and keep your handset.

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Doing all these things should hopefully get you to a place where you have more income than expenses, which you can start ploughing into debt repayment.

And do plough it in. There were months where I had a £1000 gap between my income and expenses (freelance earning mean variable!) that full £1000 would go into my debt repayment.

 
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PP: How can we plan and avoid the pitfalls that may cause existing debt to spiral?

Do a little check every month on how much debt you have. And track it. Was your debt £5k in 2018, but now its £10k in 2019. This should cause alarm bells.

I used to not worry about debt as I knew I had a regular employed job and I would get a bonus every 6 months, that I used to clear debt. Something would always come along. But circumstances change. Divorce, change of jobs, children going to university. All these things affect our finances, so we need to keep that level of debt minimal or paid off in full.

The relief I currently feel at having no credit card debt is incredibly hard to describe to be honest. I feel free, I have flexibility, I have no monthly payments to worry about!

Tackle emotional spending. It’s a common thing particularly with women. When we feel happy, sad, angry, jealous, extreme emotions we might just pop to John Lewis and buy a lipstick (says me who owns around 10 lipsticks at £20 a pop = £200!!!).

PP: How does being in debt affect a women’s security and independence, now, and in the future?

Being in debt has a big impact on independence. Just imagine if your situation changed and you needed a chunk of money maybe £10k to pay for solicitor bills. But you also have £15k of debt. These situations are challenging but are common, so put yourself in the best place and clear the debt.

Something I found useful was getting to grips with the fact that the money wasn’t mine. It belonged to the banks and that money had to be paid back at some point. I was very simply borrowing from my future self with that purchase that got me further into debt.

PP: What are the financial and psychological benefits of being debt free?

Having spare money! The feeling of having a chunk of spare money each month is incredibly freeing. And it gives choice. Most of that spare money now goes into short, medium and long-term savings which again feels amazing. It means I have a holiday fund where holidays are already paid for, I have money in a stocks and shares ISA for the kids when they reach 18 and I have big chunk of money going into my pension (that is not enough).

The psychological benefits are incredible. I feel free, a weight lifted. And I don’t have that constant nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I have a chunk of debt to repay.

PP: Where can women access free debt management advice?

If your debts feel out of control, there is so much help out there. Firstly there are some brilliant online resources to help guide you, my website has a load of debt content so visit Mrs Mummypenny and search for debt. You can also get a free copy of my eBook where I have fully documented the highs and lows of my two-year debt journey.

Debt Camel is another incredible debt website run by my good friend Sara, who is also a Citizens Advice advisor.

 You can also turn to debt charities including Step Change, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and Citizens Advice. I suggest these in order, you might be seen quicker for Step Change and CAP as the citizens advice bureau are so busy and over stretched. You can also turn to your local MP at their clinics. Particularly useful if you need letters sent to companies who are demanding money and charging high interest.

 You can follow Lynn on Twitter and Instagram here.

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