A mum from London has explained how she paid off Sh3.1 million (£21,000) of debt in just eight months.
Ruth Taylor, 42, was left stressed and anxious after working out exactly how much debt she and her husband, Thomas, had racked up.
So the mum-of-two went on a mission to clear it.
"It left me with sleepless nights," Ruth, who runs a dog-walking business, told Jam Press.
"We got into debt as soon as we moved into our first home."
And she wasn't talking about the mortgage.
"Our boiler broke on the day we moved in and we had to take out a credit card to finance another one," Ruth said.
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"We furnished the house on credit as we had spent every penny we had on the deposit for the house.
"Eventually, we had put so much on credit cards that our monthly payments were so high, leaving us struggling to pay our bills.
Ruth, who has a son and daughter aged 11 and 12, became "obsessed" with getting rid of the debt.
They started by increasing their income, working seven days a week and doing additional work online in the evenings.
Then, they reviewed their spending – cutting out anything non-essential.
“Before becoming a savvy saver our spending habits were terrible, if we saw something we liked, we bought it even though we couldn’t afford anything," Ruth said.
“My husband and I never even thought about it – we just bought it.
“We had a car on finance and never even thought that it might be a better idea to try to buy a car with cash. We thought everyone bought their cars on finance."
It was time for a change.
“We went through our bills and cut out all non-essentials and negotiated better prices for the others," Ruth said.
"My husband started cutting my hair to save on spending money at the hairdressers.
“We got clothes second-hand for the most part.”
To boost their earnings they also looked beyond their business.
“I also started doing work online in the evenings when the kids were in bed," Ruth said.
“I signed up to survey sites and completed as many surveys as I could and I started matched betting, which made a huge difference to our monthly income."
And many of the lessons she learnt clearing the debt have stuck with her.
She still swaps non-branded items at the supermarket and the minor change has made a big difference. As an example, changing the family's favourite brand of soy milk saves them £408 a year alone.
Ruth said: “I write out a budget each month and can see exactly what we will have left at the end of the month.
“This means that I am able to transfer a decent amount to our saving accounts each month.
“Buying non-branded items makes a huge difference to our budget.
“Our grocery bill used to come in at around Sh96, 500 (£650) each month.
“Now it can be as low as Sh44, 500 (£300). For example, a well-known branded soya milk costs Sh207 (£1.40) per carton.
“I buy Aldi’s own brand soya milk for Sh81 (55p). We use approximately 10 cartons per week as a family."
To keep control of her family's other expenditures, Ruth uses 'sinking funds' – setting aside money every week for big events in the future, such as holidays and tax bills.
Ruth said: “I discovered sinking funds quite early on in our debt repayment journey but I wanted to pay off our debt before I started my own sinking funds.
“Sinking funds are simply a manageable way of saving for something coming up in the future.
“For example, we saved Sh2, 000 (£14) per week last year for Christmas, giving us Sh118, 700 (£800) come December.
“This saved us from having to find a large amount of money at Christmas, or even worse – borrow money for gifts.
“I have sinking funds for our tax bill, car and van repairs, car insurance, school uniform, holidays, school trips."
Ruth credits her thrifty saving habits with completely overhauling her life and now shares her advice on Instagram, where she has over 7,000 followers, and her website.
She also has a money-saving blog where she offers free, printable budgeting materials.
Ruth said: “Becoming a savvy saver has turned my life around.
“I have gone from being constantly stressed and anxious to feeling in control of my finances safe in the knowledge that if any sort of emergency happens, I will be able to deal with it."
But while it's worked, that's not to say it's been easy.
She added: “In order to save this much money, we have had to make huge sacrifices.
“We don’t go out a huge amount. We tend to take the kids to places that are free – e.g. parks, woods etc.
“We haven’t had a holiday abroad for almost eight years though we have saved for one but I love being a money saver."
There have been benefits too, though.
“I hate to feel like I’m being ripped off and love to get a bargain," Ruth said.
“I have made some wonderful friends in the Instagram debt-free community too.
"I get messages from people daily, thanking me more for giving them hope.
“They can see how bad our debt was and how we managed to dig ourselves out.
"It is the best feeling in the world knowing that I am giving people hope.”
Ruth's top tips for saving money
1. Go through your bills and cut everything that is not essential (gym membership, magazine subscriptions, TV, and music subscriptions). This is not forever – just until you are debt-free
2. On bills you can’t cut, call your provider and negotiate. Don’t be afraid to leave. There is so much choice out there.
3. Shop at budget supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl and buy own-brand food.
4. Create a meal plan. Make a shopping list from your plan, take that list shopping with you and stick to it!
5. Try to increase your income – take on a part-time job or increase your hours at your current job. Think about taking on a side-hustle such as completing surveys online.
6. Make a budget! This needn’t be difficult – money coming in and money going out. You need to know where your money is going.?
7. Shop at charity shops for clothing. I’ve found some great bargains recently.
8. Switch to a SIM-only deal for your mobile. When my contract ended, instead of upgrading my phone I kept my phone and got a SIM-only deal for just Sh1, 100 (£8) per month. This gave me more data and also saved me around Sh3, 700 (£25) each month.