I wish I could say travel was to blame, but in reality it was me. I wanted to keep up with my fellow backpackers doing skydives in Australia, drinking cocktails on Rodeo Drive and partying on Koh Samui. When I began earning money again on my return to the UK I wanted to own the nice things that my Cabin Crew colleagues had; the convertible sports car, the expensive make-up, the designer clothes. Then when I stopped flying I wanted to keep up my travels and booked trips to Russia, Morocco and Thailand without blinking an eye. I was earning a good salary by this point, I could pay it off later, right?
Well yes, that was right-I have had to pay for every single penny and a rather hefty sum of interest in the process too. You see, there is only a certain amount of credit lenders will give you and once it's gone, it's gone, and so is your good credit rating. All of a sudden I went from living a life of luxury to one of near-poverty. OK, so it wasn't severe enough to lose my house or have debt collectors knocking at the door. But all of a sudden not only did my line of credit disappear but so did all of those ever-so-appealing interest-free deals. Minimum payments quadrupled, taking almost all of my disposable income each month.
Fortunately, I had recently met my husband-to-be at this point who, financially, thinks COMPLETELY differently to me. Whilst my friends would say how 'lucky' I was to visit all these exotic places every few weeks (and by the way traveling is most certainly NOT the result of luck!), hubby's friends would remark on how tight he was with his wallet. Whilst I would be drinking pre-trip prosecco at the airport at 5am he would be peeling the cling film off his home-made cheese sandwiches and asking the airport vendors to re-fill his plastic bottle with water after he was made to drink it all before security. We could not have been more different in the way that we managed money.
So as you can imagine, that was our first proper argument. He thought I was a financial risk, and let's face it-given my track record he probably wasn't wrong. But he stuck around and reluctantly helped me. Being 'tight' all these years had allowed him to save up a chunk of money that would one day be used as a deposit to buy a house so he paid of my credit card balances for me on the condition that I would pay him back a substantial amount each month. This meant that I could avoid paying hundreds of Pounds a month in interest. To make it work though I had to do more than just paying him back, I had to change the way I lived. So here are the top things that I did over the past three years:
Goodbye Tesco, hello Lidl. This was especially good as I enjoy a glass or three of vino of an evening and Lidl have some great wines that are significantly cheaper than you find in other supermarkets.
Entertain at home.
Goodbye drinks out, trips to the pub and dinner dates. We started to invite friends to our house instead of going out. This not only saved on the cost of food and drink (good old Lidl wine) but it meant that we could both have a couple of Friday evening drinks without worrying about paying for taxis etc.
Take a packed lunch.
I started making my own food to take to work. A salad or sandwiches each day cost far less than my usual jacket potato and bottle of coke from the canteen. I never did, however, give in to the airport packed lunch- I still do think this is just wrong-a soggy cheese sandwich in the departure lounge when you're excited about your forthcoming trip is just such an anti-climax!
Bring tea and coffee facilities in to the office.
No more trips to Starbucks and Costa.
Turning down social occasions.
This was sometimes hard to do, but sometimes it was necessary. Friends didn't always understand just how little money I had, especially given my previous levels of spending, so it was difficult to tell them that I couldn't come to their hen weekend in Marbella or for the girls' night out in London.
Don't shop. If you must shop do it during the sales.
For the past three years I can count on one hand how many items of clothing I've bought that haven't been in a sale. Next is my favourite, although I'm not quite so dedicated to start queuing at 5am! After three years my wardrobe had become a little scarce though, so now I can start spending the money I earn I am looking forward to purchasing a few new items!
Sell the stuff you don't use.
I have sold DVDs and CDs on Music Magpie, I have sold household items on Ebay and books on Amazon. Seriously, you don't still need those university textbooks... and when was the last time you actually watched that film? If you don't use it, get rid. You might not sell it for much but it all adds up!
Think of money-making initiatives.
I have a few additional income streams but I would like to emphasise that these are SMALL and IRREGULAR. I cannot rely on this money but when I'm sat at home (not going out because I'm trying to save money) then I might as well try to make a few additional Pounds and put my free-time to good use. I sell my travel photos on Shutterstock, I accept guest posts on my blog, I have been interviewed for national TV and I have written a book, just to name a few. As I say, I can't rely on this money, but when it does come in I like to use it to give myself a little treat because paying off your debts is hard work!
This month I closed my final overdraft bringing my debt down to £0. I paid my husband back about a year ago and I have also paid for a wedding while paying off these debts. I made many sacrifices, mostly to my social life, but I did continue to travel when I could as travel is, and always will be where my heart is. Rather than spending loads of money on my trips, however, I planned carefully. Year one I visited Jordan as there were super cheap flights with EasyJet (which are unfortunately no longer available) and then Egypt and Israel. In Israel we stayed only in self-catering apartments and bought all our food from the supermarket as it was pretty costly there. Egypt brought with it some fantastic bargains as a result of the post-revolution state of the economy and the tourism industry. In year two we visited my dad in Spain and did a road-trip through to Morocco, staying in Air b'n'b places throughout. We went to Riga for my hen-do which was excellent value for money due to the exchange rate and cost of living there. The honeymoon to the Galapagos and the Amazon jungle was expensive, but we asked our guests to buy us experiences while we were away (such as a canoe ride in the Amazon river or horse-back riding in the Andes) as wedding gifts to help pay for this. In year three so far we have visited Mexico, again staying in air b'n'b places and eating in local, cheap restaurants etc and Greece-a destination of choice due to their economic troubles (although this didn't always result in cheaper prices as I had anticipated!) and cheap flights.
So you can see that I made sacrifices, but not so much so that I have had a miserable three years. Life is absolutely about living and doing what you want to do, but at the same time it is about living within your means. I don't think my husband and I will ever see entirely eye-to-eye with money, but fortunately I think that the distance between us is no longer quite so great. I will continue to book cheaper hotels and compromise on going out for dinners in exchange for a home-cooked meal, but he now enjoys a pre-trip meal at the airport (although I haven't yet quite convinced him with the 5am prosecco!). So, you see, life is not about luck-it's about careful management and planning-with this you CAN make your dreams come true, they might just sometimes look slightly different than you envisaged or take a little bit of time.