A savvy saver who was “drowning in so much debt” on a low income plus benefits that she stopped paying bills in order to feed her daughter says “simple budgeting” has changed her life and she now hopes to buy a house.
Divorcee Jodie Wright, 31, worked part-time in retail when her marriage ended and she moved into a two-bedroomed rented house with her daughter Amelia, now 14, in early 2017.
Receiving weekly benefits of £160, by Christmas Jodie, of Swansea, Glamorgan, says her life was “unravelling,” bills were mounting and she quickly found herself £4,000 in debt.
Forced to choose between paying bills or buying food, it was not until 2018, by then feeling desperate, that she called the debt charity StepChange and found help, saying: “It took all my courage to call them, as I was so embarrassed by my situation.
“I told them I needed help. It had got to a point where I couldn’t take the letters asking for money anymore.
“I’d reached the stage where I couldn’t pay my bills, but they were amazing on the phone and went through everything with me.
“It was a case of, ‘I need to buy food. Do I pay this bill or do I buy food?’ And it was obvious which one I had to choose.
“It was a really difficult time. I was filled with crippling anxiety.
“Each day I’d just be waiting for these letters to drop and I’d feel like I was drowning. I felt stuck.”
Starting again as a single parent when her marriage ended was expensive for Jodie, who had to furnish her new home.
She said: “I was doing extra hours at work just to keep on top of things.
“Beds, washing machines, a fridge, a freezer, wardrobes – I had to buy it all. The only things we had were a cooker and each other.”
Sleeping on a mattress, so she could afford a single bed for Amelia, Jodie ploughed all her energy into keeping her daughter safe, properly fed, clothed and happy.
She said: “I was just focused on making sure I could make a good life for Amelia and that she had everything she needed.
“For months, I slept on a mattress on the floor, because I didn’t have a bed. But she had a single bed.
“She had everything that she needed. The bed, the wardrobe, everything that was essential she had.”
Things got worse when Jodie’s hours at work were cut and she was told she had received too much in benefits, so they were slashed to just £80 a week.
She said: “I was struggling to pay back everything that I owed. It was a loan, it was credit cards. It felt endless.
“Out of nowhere, everything was piling on top of me. It just hit me.
“I couldn’t pay my bills because all my money went into keeping my daughter fed and warm.”
By the end of 2017, Jodie was providing meals for Amelia, but only eating snacks herself to save on the food bill.
She said: “As a mum, you need to make sure your child is properly fed. I’d eat a packet of crisps or biscuits and make sure she had a full meal.”
Finally, feeling desperate, when Jodie asked for help, things soon began to change for the better.
Admitting that the debt management expert she spoke to was “baffled” when she could not answer how much she spent a week on food, she simply said it was whatever she could afford.
She added: “They asked me how much I spent on food on a weekly basis, and I had no idea. I’d never looked into it.
“I didn’t know how much I spent on gas or electricity. I just never kept a note. I simply hoped for the best.”
With the charity’s support and advice, all that changed.
And by the summer of 2018, Jodie had meticulously planned out every expense she had.
She prepared meals plans to fit into a tight £30 weekly budget and began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
She said: “The first thing I started to do was meal plan. I used to buy anything to try and make a meal.
“But now I was planning the entire meal for the day and only bought the necessary ingredients for the week.
“With a meal plan, it’s very organised and you can plan your savings for the entire year.
“I think preparing a budget is absolutely crucial, even if you’re not trying to penny pinch.
“I love planning ahead now. I love making a to-do list, as anything that will make my life a bit less stressful is worth the time.”
Jodie, who now works 20 hours a week as an admin assistant and is in a new relationship, could not believe how quickly she turned her life around by simply planning and budgeting.
The frugal mum-of-one is also always on the look out for “yellow stickers” at the supermarkets, showing food has been reduced, as well as keeping her eyes peeled for top Tesco club card discounts.
She said: “When I get into a supermarket I go straight to the reduced section just to see what is there, in case there’s anything I need.
“No one should be afraid of used by dates, as food is usually safe to use after that. Even meat you can freeze and use at a different date.
“Everyone should have yellow sticker stuff. I’ve always bought it.
“That bit of the supermarket is where all the treasure is.”
Incredibly, just two years into her new budgeting life, Jodie is so in charge of her finances that she sold her rusty old Ford Ka and bought her dream run around – a £1,000 2008 Nissan Micra, which she bought outright.
She said: “It was an amazing feeling to buy it.
“It was incredible to see how much I’d saved myself.
“To get the car I wanted, to be able to tell the person, ‘Here is the money for it.’
“It was the best feeling. It was the first time I was completely financially autonomous. I was in control of what I could get my daughter and what I could get myself.”
Jodie, who starts saving for Christmas as early as February, so she can buy her daughter everything she wants, now budgets for everything including dinners with friends.
She said: “I budget for everything, including a dinner out with friends.
“Budgeting helps you to visualise where you’re overspending, so you can figure out what you need to do.”
When she was drowning in debt, Jodie never dreamed she would enjoy a day out with Amelia, so it felt wonderful when they went on a day trip to Bristol last year.
And she is now budgeting to take her to Warner Brothers Studios in London later this year.
She said: “I never imagined I’d be able to take my daughter on a trip like that, even if it seems so normal to some people.
“I’ve seen pictures of people going abroad, going on trips, and I thought I could never afford that.
“I felt like my child was missing out, so being able to take her out on a day trip, so she could experience something different was amazing.”
And four years after she first started budgeting and keeping on top of her finances, Jodie will very soon have paid off the last of her debts.
Her ambition now is to save enough to buy a house – a dream she can see coming true before too long.
Now, by speaking out, she hopes other people who are in debt will shelve their pride and embarrassment and seek help, like she did.
She said: “It doesn’t feel real that we might be looking to buy a house. It’s not something I ever thought could happen.
“But it’s something I’m now planning ahead for.
“Being able to plan for the future is a great feeling and I want other people to know that debts are nothing to be ashamed of.
“If you feel like you’re drowning in debt, like I did, ask for help. As soon as I did, I started doing something about it.
“Now I’m excited about the future, rather than living in fear.”
* To follow Jodie’s journey on Instagram go to: @budgetmamauk
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