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“How I got out of debt – and stayed out of it”

It’s not easy to get out of debt, especially if you rely on credit to make it to month-end. Three South Africans share how they became, and remain, debt-free.

19 October 2023 · Fiona Zerbst

“How I got out of debt – and stayed out of it”

The debt trap is difficult to escape, but with some perseverance, credit wellness can be achieved. Three South Africans share their experiences.

Tip: Is debt preventing you from living your best life? Find out more about debt consolidation.

“We stopped overspending”

Everyone likes to spend on something new – but there needs to be a limit, says 40-year-old clothing designer Leon Moodley.

“My husband and I wanted the best of everything when we married – kitchen appliances, a smart TV, a new car,” Leon recalls. “Of course, all these things came at a cost, and we were soon drowning in debt.”

Raising a baby increased the financial pressure. “Nanny and daycare costs were hefty,” Leon says.

The couple decided to become more prudent shoppers, which was a humbling experience.

“We looked for specials, bought in bulk if it meant long-term savings, and gave up luxuries such as ice cream and weekly pampering treats,” Leon relates.

“The trick was to channel all our savings towards paying off our debt, and then not incurring any more. It was difficult, but we started by paying off our smallest debts first. Most of the debt was paid off by the time our baby was a year old.”

The couple has a few bigger debts remaining. “But the great thing is, we haven’t incurred any new debt,” Leon says.

“I found ways to avoid temptation”

Sometimes a crisis can force you to change your financial behaviour, says cashier Alicia Mthembu, aged 42.

Alicia admits she has always had a problem saving. “I spent my money as soon as I got it – I was always broke. I thought opening store and credit accounts would help me manage my money better, but it just got me into debt.”

When Alicia’s water and lights were cut off because she wasn’t paying her bills, she realised she needed to take action.

“I stopped buying on credit and made arrangements with the stores to freeze my accounts, so that I could pay them off, and close them,” she says.

“I did the same with my credit card. It took me a long time to pay what I owed, but I never miss a payment now, and I always try to pay more than the minimum amount.”

It has been three years since Alicia had a store account, and she says she won’t open another because the temptation to overspend is too great. “Not everyone can be disciplined with credit,” she says. 

“I want to be debt-free when I retire”

For 56-year-old salesperson Prav Tathiah, the goal is to retire debt-free. 

“I’ve never had an overwhelming amount of debt, but now that I’m close to retirement, I’m making a concerted effort to pay off my debt within the next year,” he says.

Prav started by paying off his highest-interest debts.

“I always pay more than required, and through perseverance, I paid off my credit card two months ago,” he says. “I rewarded myself with a full-body massage – treats after achieving something worthwhile always make me feel good.”

Prav works with a budget and sticks to the payment plan for his vehicle loan, which will be paid off in a couple of months.

“My next treat will be a holiday in the Drakensberg,” he says.

“If you can avoid accumulating new debt, your existing debt will go down slowly but surely, and you’ll reach your targets.

Tip: Use our budget calculator to understand your expenses and see your actual monthly budget.

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