An Irish woman has managed to clear almost €30,000 of debt in just a year and a half and is now saving to buy a motorhome and retire at 50.
Emer Farrell, 38, from Dublin but living in Birr, Co Offaly, with her partner Damien, used to buy clothes on impulse from adverts she would see from influencers on Instagram.
Her spending on new clothes caused her to run up large debts on her credit card, as well as a personal loan and a car loan, and in 2019 she owed the banks €27,759.
For years, Emer thought her spending habits were normal and didn’t give much thought to the extent of her debt load or how she fell for the many ads aimed at her on Instagram.
“I probably thought I wasn’t like the others,” she told the Irish Mirror. “If I wanted to have a big vacation and I had no money, I would take out a loan and put it on my credit card.
“If I saw a new handbag, I really liked the look of it, I didn’t wait to save, I bought it. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything too different.
She added: “I followed people on social media but I was convinced that everything they bought, everything they promoted, I had to have it too.
“I wouldn’t think about what I already have, if I had five or six pairs of jeans in the wardrobe, I don’t need any more.
“It struck me that I had this bad habit of shopping online and poor organization of food shopping, which led to so much waste. I had no place in the house for the things I bought .
Although she earned an average salary, Emer struggled to get to the next payday each month and sometimes ended up putting groceries on her credit card.
“I was in this bad cycle of spending and increasing my debt, not because of anything very extravagant, but just to get out of it,” she said. “I didn’t contribute anything [to] my future. I had been in this pattern for some time.
However, in September 2019, Emer was forced to reassess the amount of her debt after realizing with shock that she would not be able to retire for another 29 years – until 2048.
“Something kindled inside me when I saw this date and I thought I would do what I can to move this day forward,” she said.
Emer carefully analyzed his spending habits and quickly discovered that in addition to online shopping, a large portion of his income was spent on groceries, with $850 alone spent on monthly groceries for two people.
“The very first thing I did was print out bank statements for the previous three months,” she said. “It was horrible, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done because I could see where my money was going.
“I was able to calculate how much I had spent at the supermarket, takeaways and McDonalds and how much they amounted to.”
She added: “There are only two of us in the house and I saw that on average I was spending €850 a month [on groceries’]. It was just crazy,” she said.
“Initially, I reduced that amount from €850 to €300 per month, which is a huge saving.”
Although it was a hard pill to swallow, Emer was determined to break her spending cycle and split her costs into two categories, needs and wants, and was soon able to make drastic savings.
“I couldn’t get rid of any ‘needs’, but I looked to see if I was getting the best value for everything,” she said.
“I changed everything, my electricity, my broadband, my telephone [provider] to get a better rate and pay less each month.
The couple also ditched their Sky TV bill, which was €57 a month, saving them €684 a year and Emer saved a further €600 by switching mobile operators.
However, Emer said she wasn’t too strict on herself in the process and made sure there was always a portion of the budget to spend on entertainment, nights out and the like.” desires” every month.
In the process, she discovered that when she kept a close eye on where her money was going, she placed more value on the things she already owned.
Over the course of 18 months Emer slowly reduced her debt and in April 2021 she was officially debt free.
“I paid them in order of highest interest rate because I wanted to make sure the banks didn’t get extra money from me,” she said.
“So credit cards went first, personal loan was next, then car loan was last to go. It was really good to know that the car sitting in the driveway belonged entirely to me.
“I’m pretty sure we were in lockdown then, so I don’t remember doing anything to celebrate!”
During her journey to financial freedom, Emer discovered the Debt Free Online Community which helped her create a support network of people who could talk openly about their debt and share advice with one another.
“With the online debt-free community, there’s no guilt or shame in talking about [debt],” she said.
She added: “You often feel like you’re alone. I think a lot of people think nobody else talks about their debt or stresses about two weeks after payday, this stress of “how am I going to pay the bills?”
“But really, everyone is in the same boat until you start managing your money better.”
With all her debts paid off, Emer and her partner, Damien, now hope to realize their dream of early retirement at 50, while continuing to save to buy a dream motorhome.
“All that money I was paying for my debts, I can now spend on my other goals,” she said.
“One of them is retiring early, but we dream of buying a motorhome and obviously now I’m able to save a lot more money for that.
“I’m just dreaming about it for now!”
Emer’s top four tips for paying off your debt:
1. Find out where your money is going
It’s the “biggest thing” to start with because then you’re able to see what you’re spending your money on and what you’re willing to cut back on to start paying off your debts.
2. Unfollow influencers on Instagram
Emer has temporarily ditched many people on Instagram who she says are “doing their job” and tricking her into buying things she doesn’t need. It helped stop unnecessary spending as she was not tempted.
3. Appreciate what you already have
Emer says if you’re grateful for what you already have, you’ll be less tempted to buy more. On top of that, when you work hard to save for something you want, like a vacation or a car, you feel like you’ve really earned it.
4. Build good habits around payday each month
Every month, Emer sets a budget and sticks to it. On payday, she has a routine where she puts the money where it needs to go, payments, savings account, etc., which makes it easier for her to control where her money goes. She said once you stick to these habits, it becomes second nature.
For more advice on living debt-free, you can follow Emer on Instagram: @onefootinthesave