I’m a single mom and have paid off £24.5k in debt in 17 months

A SHOPPING single mother has paid off £24,500 in debt in 17 months by saving more than her annual salary and is now helping others stay debt-free.

In April 2020, Malaika, 35, from London, was shocked to discover the huge amount of debt she had taken on credit cards and shopping credit over a 12-year period.

Malaika hopes to be able to help others stay out of debt


Malaika hopes to be able to help others stay out of debtCredit: Jam Press

Although she knew she had some debt, the special education needs learning support worker had no idea it had reached £24,500 and only realized it when she was trying to save up for a deposit. car.

For Malaika, debt has grown over time – largely due to the cost of childcare, easy access to ‘buy now, pay later’ programs and 0% interest loans on household goods. use.

The mother of two, who worked in retail, also became obsessed with buying clothes and other items.

Ashamed of her money problems, Malaika keeps the extent of her shopping a secret from loved ones.

Malaika, who has a 13-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, told Jam Press: “I usually love to shop – and I always want to buy something.

“I used to work in retail and every new season we had to buy new items, so it’s become a habit for me to always want the latest trends – and social media and Ads don’t help either.

“My debt is not from shopping for clothes.

“I’m a single mom and everything adds up – the cost of childcare, new clothes from the kids as they grow so fast, school activities, grocery shopping.

“Before you know it, you used your credit card or took out a loan to pay for something.

“Looking at the final amount was a huge shock to me because not everything is in one place – you have a credit card, an overdraft or you buy a sofa on credit.

“The small amounts you pay each month seem manageable, but when you add the numbers together when you decide you want to pay it off, you start to panic and wonder how you’re going to get out. out of debt.

“Before you know it, your minimum payments are £200 to £300 a month and you don’t realize you’re just paying interest after that – in some cases you don’t have to pay for the product. Products.

“I’m not financially savvy.”

The mother of two currently rents and wants a future mortgage but knows she needs to pay her bills first to stand a chance.

Malaika decided to set herself a deadline of February 2022 to be completely debt-free – giving herself 22 months to pay off the hefty sum.

Using an Excel spreadsheet to track her finances, she calculated the minimum payments on her credit cards and found that it would take her 35 years to pay off her debt.

Nauseous calculations leave the mother feeling “defeat” before she begins her journey.

“When you see that, you freak out,” she said.

“You start to wonder if you’ll ever be out of debt. [I wondered] Is it easier to just pay off the minimum amount and wait.

“When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you feel like a failure.”

But Malaika is determined to take control of her finances.

The first step was to join an online debt-free community on Instagram, where she connects with others who are posing similar challenges.

“Some of our debt isn’t because we’re ‘bad’ with the money – sometimes we don’t have a big enough savings to make bigger purchases or don’t earn enough to save for them.”


The lockdown restriction also turned out to be a blessing for the mother as it meant she couldn’t go shopping or be lured into buying things.

“I became razor-focused and said ‘things have to change to break the cycle’,” she says.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic so I can’t see my friends, can’t go out shopping – everything’s closed so I know this is the right time to pay off my debt and start saving for the future. future.

“By the time the lockdown started, I had just received a refund for a car I bought that broke down – it was my first debt payment sorted and got me started to settle the debt. mine.”

Malaika wrote down all of her debts and liabilities and made a budget plan that she could work through while still saving money.

She is also financially savvy by educating herself with; finance books, learn new ways to save money through online communities and start selling unwanted items.

With a credit card at 49.9% APR, Malaika wanted to tackle her bad credit rating and set up a finance company run by the charity, Credit Union, where she could get a loan. at a lower interest rate – helping her save on interest.

“I don’t want to lose any more credit and lower my credit score anymore – I want to find a way to build my credit score to a better position and hopefully one day,” she said. get a good mortgage.”

Malaika also helps save money by setting herself smaller goals – such as cooking meals using only foods she already has in the house or finding ten items around the house to sell – which has helped. motivated her to continue her debt-free journey.

She also makes meal plans to help save money on food costs and food waste during the week, and gets her kids involved so they find the activity more fun.

The whole family cooks together, creating affordable meals like curries, pasta bolognese and lasagne.

Malaika says: “Change is not easy, but what is change?

“It was necessary. I sat down with my children to explain what I was doing and why, how it would benefit us in the long run, and teach them the value of money. money.

“There’s really not much help in getting people out of debt.

“Debt has a lot of shame that comes with it.

“Some of our debt isn’t because we’re ‘poor’ financially – sometimes we don’t have big enough savings to buy bigger ones or don’t earn enough to save them.

“We were not taught financial stability, emergency funds or credit scores in school.

“I know I don’t want this to be my life or the lives of my children.”

The online community acted like her “gossip”, keeping the mom motivated and “in the area”.

The shopaholic mom has worked to change her mind from wanting to buy things to wanting to pay off a portion of her debt each month – something she says has become her “main focus”.

She learns tips online, such as using cash envelopes to budget and skip coffee dates to move money aside.

“What you don’t realize when you’re doing it is that adding even those small amounts of money is detracting from your interest,” says Malaika.

By September 2021, after just 17 months, Malaika had written off her £24,500 debt.

She added: “I couldn’t believe it – it took me a whole month for it to sink in.

“I now feel more in control of my finances and still stick to the same habits I did when paying off my debt, as they are fundamental in keeping track of my money and helping it grow.

“I strongly believe in showing your kids the right way rather than just telling them.

“Actions speak louder than words and this will be a great foundation for them to build on.

“I want them to see money in a different way, and for that to happen, I have to look at it differently.

“Now that I am debt free, I have more options and choices.

“I have more control and feel lighter, less anxious, and not living beyond my means – I’m excited to see what else I can achieve.”

Malaika is currently focusing on building her emergency fund and saving a down payment to buy a home – a challenge she is “excited” to take on.

She also has a savings jar dedicated to happy shopping, so she can enjoy life while continuing to save.

Malaika, with her 13-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, are all working together to become debt-free


Malaika, with her 13-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, are all working together to become debt-freeCredit: Jam Press

For more savvy ways to go debt-free, see how this mum paid off her £16k debt in just two years.

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