Hull money bloggers offer budgeting tips they’ve learned after being £43,000 in debt

Ricky and Naomi Willis, creators of the Skint Dad blog, offer valuable advice in a new book on how to keep more money in your pocket.

Little more than 10 years ago, Hull-based Ricky and Naomi Williams were more than £43,000 in debt and owed money to 25 credit card companies. With three children – when they met in 2008, they each had a child and went on to have another together – when childcare costs and then commuting into London proved too expensive, Ricky gave up his full-time job at a printer’s to look after the youngest, while Naomi carried on working locally, and in 2014 they founded the Skint Dad blog, now one of the largest money blogs in the UK.

In 2014 they founded the Skint Dad blog, now one of the largest money blogs in the UK.

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Naomi recalls that at one point they had £6.20 in the bank when it was a week until pay day, with only enough food in the cupboard to feed the family for three days and only four nappies left for the one-year-old.

Ricky and Naomi Willis. Credit: Ricky and Naomi Willis/PA.Ricky and Naomi Willis. Credit: Ricky and Naomi Willis/PA.
Ricky and Naomi Willis. Credit: Ricky and Naomi Willis/PA.

They struggled through that week, with the money going on super economy pasta and sauce, frozen sausages and own-brand cheap nappies. Not the best situation, but they managed.

Ricky wrote about it in his earliest blog post, which attracted hundreds of messages from people sharing their own money worries and tips. And it set them on the road to sorting out their finances and sharing their experiences.

It took them just over four years to pay off their debt. What they have learned along the way has been recorded in Make Every Penny Count, an easy-to-follow guide featuring budget tips and tricks on how to make, save and manage money.

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They offer the following tips to help you sort out your finances…

1. Track your cash spends

Work out your outgoings and incomings – not just your direct debits and standing orders, but your cash spending, Naomi advises.

“If you take £20 out at the start of the week and pop to the shop, or to get yourself a coffee or pick up some sweets for the kids, those little cash spends will add up. It’s harder to track because at least if you’ve got a banking app, you can look at the transactions to get a grip on what you’re doing. With cash transactions, most people don’t keep receipts.”

2. Monitor subscription offers

Subscription services can trip people up, where you’re offered a free trial and there’s a danger you’ll forget to cancel it, she warns.

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“Make sure if you’re taking that free trial, diarise when you need to cancel it, putting a reminder into your calendar on your phone as soon as you sign up with a reminder for three days before that trial comes to an end so that you get a notification to cancel it. They don’t remind you because they want you to start paying for it.”

If you really want that subscription and you use it, whether it be a gym membership or Netflix, but consider if you might get a service cheaper elsewhere or take it a level down.

3. Cut out pocket money

“One of the first things we cut was the kids’ pocket money. If you don’t have enough money in your budget to pay your bills and keep a roof over your head, just cut the kids’ pocket money because it’s not necessary.

“I know the kids might be annoyed, but it can always start back up again when you’re in a better place financially.”

4. Plan meals

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Check what you have in your cupboards, what’s in the freezer and in the fridge, plan your meals for the week, make a list, stick to it and don’t buy what you don’t need, she advises.

“Avoid the end of the aisles with the sparkly offers saying, ‘This is reduced, it will be nice’. If it’s not on the list don’t get it.

“When I make a list and work out how much we’re going to spend, I try to round everything up. If I’m going to buy onions, I’ll price them at £1 even though they might be less. So, at the end I’ve got a buffer within how much I was predicting that I was going to spend.”

She suggests making a meal plan for three or four days at a time rather than doing a whole week, otherwise it can become boring.

5. Try a 30-day no eating out challenge

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Go over your bank statements and receipts from the previous month to find out how often you buy food out and add it up. Put at least half of it into a savings pot and the rest you can add to your grocery shop for extra food you’ll eat at home this month, they advise.

Set the scene for a special occasion at home, master some super speedy dishes if time is short, or batch cook and freeze so that the takeaway urge doesn’t take over when you’re tired.

6. Create a sinking fund

This is for unexpected costs – it might be your car breaks down, or you need to pay for a school trip – and also things which you’re likely to need each year at some point, like new glasses or school uniform.

Put a small amount aside throughout the year for these irregular costs, so that when they come round the cash is there.

6. Seek free advice

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If you are struggling with debt, seek free impartial advice from charities such as the National Debtline or Leeds-based StepChange, she suggests.

“They can help you work through it and put a plan in place so you can look at how to pay off the debt and potentially help contact creditors to ask for some breathing space on the debt or work out a way a repayment can be done in an effective way,” Naomi notes.

“The worse thing we did when we were in debt was that we didn’t do anything. We just stopped opening our letters because we knew we couldn’t afford it. We ignored it. It was the most stupid thing we did.

“Just open the letter, contact the creditor and say, ‘I’m struggling’. Things have changed a lot in the past 10 years. Now, you can ask for breathing space or a break in your payments to help you get going again and creditors have to help you more than they did previously.”

Make Every Penny Count by Ricky and Naomi Willis is published by Piatkus, priced £12.99. Available now

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