We're celebrating 10 years of our Debt-Free Wannabe board and forum community, which aims to show people who are struggling that they can find light at the end of the debt tunnel.
Sophie was inspired by our Demotivator tool to calculate her skinny latte habit – £1,750 over five years. Then she moved to the forum: "I learned to meal plan, to sell empty perfume bottles on eBay, and got £900+ tax savings" says Sophie. Since, she's cleared her £22,000 debt.
Richard, 49, used to owe £54k: "After being in debt since I was 18, I'm now debt free."
Set up in 2005, the Debt-Free Wannabe board started as a hub for people to ask questions and share stories. (Also see our Debt Help guide for what to do and where to get help if you're struggling.)
But it soon took on a life of its own, becoming a hugely popular community, with hundreds of MoneySavers working hard to pay off their debts and to support each other at the same time.
Since 2005, we've added the Debt-Free Diary area, where forum members can tell their own debt-free wannabe stories and keep everyone updated on their efforts to pay off their debts. People offer each other tremendous help and support there.
Also helping to keep everyone motivated is the Debt-Free Challenges board, where you'll find challenges including:
- The Sealed Pot Challenge, where MoneySavers save as much spare cash as possible in sealed pots throughout the year until just before Christmas, when they open them.
- The Completely Crazy 2015 Clothes Challenge, where members pledge to stick to their personal budgets for the year ahead and hold 'no clothes spending' months.
Our community's holy grail, though, is the Debt-Free Roll of Honour, where our debt-free wannabes celebrate the day they clear their final debt and are given a 'Debt-free and Proud' virtual badge on their forum account. We're in awe of the inspirational stories there, and we dare you to read it without shedding a tear.
To help celebrate Debt-Free Wannabe's anniversary and to inspire people who are struggling with debts, we've asked some of our MoneySavers to tell you their stories. We want to give hope to others and to remind them that whatever the amount, it is possible to tackle debt head-on and that they're not alone.
Sophie owed almost £22,000 in June 2013. She became debt-free in March 2015
Sophie Christie, a 46-year-old food technologist from Yorkshire, had her "light bulb moment" in June 2013. Thinking she was £12,000 in debt, she checked and found the total was actually nearer £22,000 with, in her own words, "absolutely nothing to show for it".
Using our Demotivator tool, she calculated she'd spent a whopping £1,750 on skinny lattes in the last five years, and "that doesn't include the odd muffin, panini and rocky road slice either." This prompted her to start her own forum debt diary: "I don't need another skinny latte".
The problem, Sophie says, is that she spent most of her life living beyond her means. She got her first credit card when she was 18 and didn't have a job, but she says she has no-one to blame but herself.
However, thanks in a large part to the help of fellow forum members, she paid off her debt on 27 March this year. She says: "The forum has been an invaluable help. I learned how to meal-plan, that you could sell empty perfume bottles on eBay, and someone even highlighted some tax savings worth over £900!
"I also learned how to get the best deals on car and house insurance, how to haggle with Sky, and I have received over £700 from TopCashback. I could go on forever. The forum has been part of my daily life over the past two years, and the things I have learned have changed my life forever, so I would like to say a massive thank you."
She says next up is joining the Mortgage-Free Wannabe board.
Alex has paid off £32k since August 2013
Alex and his wife created a joint forum diary in September 2013 to help keep on top of their debts after their light-bulb moment the month before.
At their height, their debts totalled just over £32,000. But with the help and support of the Debt-Free Wannabe board, they reduced them and became debt-free in January 2015.
Alex says that before he joined the forum, he didn't know the cost of basics such as food, despite being the one who did the shopping.
He says: "I also didn't care if I filled the car with petrol at an out-of-town place charging 10p per litre more than Sainsbury's. Rather embarrassing to look back and realise how much I was wasting every day.
"Whilst I'm not exactly good at being frugal, I do not want to slip back into the old, unsustainable, habits. I realise that I often write something similar on here, but it serves as a reminder for me not to be so stupid in the future."
Richard cleared over £54,000 debt
Richard, who works for a veterinary practice in East Yorkshire, built up debt from an early age. The issue was compounded when his former wife suffered an injury, leaving her unable to work and halving the couple's income.
After years of trying to tackle the debt, Richard had his light-bulb moment in December 2007, when he decided to sell his house. In May 2008, he took on an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), and with the help of the Debt-Free Wannabe community he worked to live within his means and to repay his £54,000 worth of debt.
He finally became debt-free in June 2014, having repaid a significant proportion of the debt and having the rest written off. He says: "I have now turned 49 years of age and, after having been in debt since I was 18, for the first time in my life I am debt-free and able to live within my means. It is a good feeling.
"What advice would I offer to people in similar situations now? It's difficult to say and it depends on all sorts of things, but to my mind, the sooner you have your light-bulb moment and realise things need to change, the better it will be."
He adds that the comments on the forum from people in similar situations helped him immensely and admits being "completely clueless" at first. He says: "The DFW community gave me the confidence and the knowledge to deal with my creditors, and debt collection agencies, in a much more positive manner."
"Without the DFW board, and the knowledgeable people who post on it, my debt-free journey would have been a lot harder and more painful, and I am forever grateful for all the advice I have gleaned from it over the years."
'Budget properly, cut bills, and boost your income'
Wendy Alcock, MoneySavingExpert.com campaigns manager, says: "We're all in awe of all our Debt-Free Wannabes for working so hard to clear their debts. It's great to hear that our forum is so inspiring and supportive to those who've realised they need to stop spending and get help to bring their finances back under control.
"These stories underline how important it is to budget properly, cut bills and maybe even boost your income as a way to manage money worries.
"To anyone who's struggling with debt, please take a look at our Debt Help guide for what to do and where to get free one-to-one help. There is always a way to solve money worries and a non-profit debt counselling agency can help you decide which is the best action to take depending on your individual situation."