How I went from financial novice to budgeting king

Working in the MoneyAware team and learning all our favourite money-saving ideas and budgeting tricks inspired Mark to take control of his own finances. This year he got to work and started paying off his debt one savvy tip at a time. Here’s his story…

Watch Mark talk about his experience with budgeting


I’ve always had money worries with debts to pay off, but I kept them at the back of my mind. It never felt urgent enough to deal with straight away.

But in December 2018 I got an annual spending report from my bank that just opened my eyes to how I was managing my money! I felt so fed up with having no money for myself and no emergency savings pot that something just clicked in me.

monzo card and phone

Cutting down on guilty pleasures

The report showed what most of my money was being spent on and I immediately saw what I needed to change. The first action I took was quitting smoking. This was tough as I’d tried and failed to quit so many times before.

I noticed the financial benefits of quitting straight away. Not only was I able to put £180 away in a savings account each month, but all my energy and motivation came back too. An immediate win or what!

Buying coffee every morning on my way to work was another big cost – £120 a month to be exact! I know it sounds like an easy thing to blame for spending money on, but I honestly didn’t realise how much it was costing me each month. I now make a fresh pot of coffee at work, and that £120 a month (minus a few pounds for the coffee powder) goes into a Help to Buy ISA.

Getting competitive with myself

Once I got going with my saving and changed some of my biggest spending habits, I started getting competitive about it! I scoured the MoneyAware archives for ideas on how else I could save money and how I could budget better to keep building my savings pot.

There are loads of great tips on this blog. I managed to:

  • Plan my weekly meals and prepared my own lunches for work instead of shop-bought sandwiches and salads
  • Only said yes to social events I really wanted to go to and didn’t bow to peer pressure about going out and spending on alcohol
  • Downgraded my home wifi and my phone contract to cover the data I was actually using
  • Switched to a cheaper energy supplier
  • ‘Marie Kondo’d’ my entire flat, selling a bunch of unwanted belongings on eBay and Music Magpie
  • Set up a ‘spare change’ filter on my banking app to round up my spending to the nearest £1, putting away the difference in a Christmas savings pot
making own sandwiches

Changing my mindset changed my life

I got some budgeting advice, and as it was the right thing for my circumstances, I took out a consolidation loan to pay off credit, a store card, an old loan, and an overdraft.

I’m now making one monthly payment towards my debt and paying less in interest, so I’ll be debt free in two years.

Debt consolidation isn’t suitable for everyone, so I made sure I did plenty of research to make sure it would help rather than hinder me.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made is my mindset. Now I think about gaining joy from the little things in life, instead of worrying about the spending pressures of social activities. I’ve been working hard at the gym and thinking about my overall wellbeing.

The money I’m saving is also going into a holiday fund so for the first time ever I can pay for a well-earned break out of my own pocket rather than putting it on a credit card. That’s a great feeling.

Although I’m cutting things out of my routine, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything. The changes I’ve made have lifted me out of a rut and I can finally see a financial future for myself!

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Learn more about managing your minimum payments – read the StepChange Factsheet about ‘persistent debt’ and take the 60-second test to check if you’re in control of your repayments.

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