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Tips for getting rid of debt and saving money

For the longest time, I have promised that I’d write a blog post sharing what we did to get rid of our debt and most recently, how we have managed to start saving towards our South American travels. It hasn’t been an overnight success but with a little bit of discipline, goal setting and motivation, we have done it.

To paint a picture for you; Darren and I got married when I was 19, we were already living together and due to circumstances beyond our control – we basically started life together, in a whole lot of debt. I know, not a great start.

Our life together started in a one-bedroom garage that had been converted into a granny-flat. The bathroom didn’t have a door, and the lounge was so damp that I kept getting chest infections. But it was home – our first home. We couldn’t afford to go out every weekend, or even to have internet installed, so we ended up spending every weekend watching DVDs and playing Borderlands on PlayStation 3. Looking back, this was EXACTLY what we needed at the time and I am so grateful for the humble beginning as it was a great foundation to establish and build our relationship upon.

Darren and I weren’t earning the greatest salaries, but we were… surviving. We moved out, fell pregnant, got married and moved into a beautiful farm home where we continued living a very simple life before moving again, this time into a complex that was in town.

Things were going well when disaster hit, and Darren was retrenched. Axl had only just turned a year old, and my salary wasn’t nearly enough for us to cover all our expenses, but we made it work. In fact, we made it work for more than a year, before Darren landed his job with our current employer.

That year was rough – there were months where I was a week or even three weeks late to pay rent. This lead to not paying our accounts, and then having the burden of trying to catch up the month later. When things got really rough, we took a loan to consolidate our debt and well… buy groceries!

Once Darren had gotten a job, I realized it was time to gain control of our finances so here’s what I did.

  • I updated all our information and had all the invoices emailed to me monthly.


  • I created an excel spreadsheet where I listed the accounts, the instalment due, the balances, and the date the payment was due. Before the end of the month, I’d print a hardcopy of the list and tick off each account as I paid it. This was personally motivating as I love ticking stuff off my list.


  • We are paid weekly, so I called some of our accounts to have them schedule payment dates throughout the month instead of having them all go off at the end of the month.


  • If we weren’t able to manage our instalments, I called the accounts and made payment plans – most people avoid calls from accounts, but I decided to take the approach of being adult enough to take responsibility of the situation and see how they could help me in easing the load. Believe me, they are willing to listen.


  • I tracked every cent spent so that I could see where we were overspending and how we could do better the following week. I also created a budget and stuck with it.


  • We shopped with a calculator in our hand, to track everything so that we knew exactly how much money we would end up spending at checkout.


  • We shopped smartly by comparing prices, looking for deals or would buy “bulk.” This was especially helpful when shopping for meat where I’d buy value packs from Food Lover’s Market and divide them into portions to freeze.


  • I stopped spending money on makeup, clothes and non-essentials for 3 months.


  • We only shopped once a week and made sure that we ate before we shopped (never shop on an empty stomach – you’ll want to buy EVERYTHING!) and planned our shops so that we got everything we needed.


  • We walked to the shops instead of driving to save money on petrol and would take Axl to the park for a picnic instead of going out for lunch.

Before long, we managed to gain control of our finances and within 6-12 months, we had settled a lot of our debt and now, we’re getting ready to travel South America. It IS possible to see the end of your debt repayments.

As our plans to travel continue to evolve, we’ve become quite motivated to save as much money as possible. To be honest, Darren and I are useless at saving – we love spoiling the kids and ourselves, and considering that we work so darn hard, we see nothing wrong with that. But our tickets are around R30,000 not to mention all the gear we’ll need before we leave (hello expensive luggage!), so we figured we were going to start saving ASAP towards our trip.

Here are some tips for saving money:

  • Track every cent spent, you’ll be surprised by how quickly those little transactions add up.


  • Open a separate bank account that is dedicated to savings and make it a rule that you will not touch the money once it has been deposited.


  • Set a goal to work towards. For us, it’s getting our tickets to Chile. I feel that once we have our tickets in our hands, things will feel more real and it’ll get REALLY exciting.


  • Consider giving up your everyday luxuries like cigarettes, a takeaway coffee or your favourite chocolate. We gave up our favourite cappuccino sachets and started buying normal coffee. Typically, I would go through about 2 boxes of cappuccino (R49 each) in a week but found that a normal jar of coffee (R50) lasts an entire month. Which is a saving of R342/month. Another example is that we used to buy 6-packs of water which is roughly R30 for 3 litres, however by reusing the bottles and filling up with the larger 5 litre waters (R20), we are saving R5 per litre of drinking water. Remembering that Darren drinks about 6 litres, plus my 2 litres a day, we are saving R40/day or R1,200/month.


  • When you do say no to your regular splurges, put that money into the savings account instead of keeping the money in your spending money. This is when having your banking app is really helpful. While shopping, I track some of the things I’d usually buy but have said no to, and then immediately transfer the money into our savings account before I have even left the store. Otherwise, I’ll just end up using that money on other useless stuff.


  • Eliminate unnecessary expenses like unused gym contracts and TV subscription services. I have cancelled several services like Google Music, Buffer, and Canva.


  • Sell stuff you don’t use or can’t take with – that bookshelf stacked with books you’ll never read? SELL THEM!


  • Create a visual way to track the money saved. We created a giant chart and stuck it up on the wall of our lounge, where we colour in a section each time we get closer to our target. It might seem juvenile, but it is quite motivating as we get closer to buying our tickets!


  • Have fun with it – saving money has become a competition between Darren and I. We are constantly comparing who managed to be more discipline and reaching each goal on our chart has become quite rewarding.


  • Find new ways to entertain. Darren and I like going to restaurants, shopping, going for long drives, and whenever I am bored… I do far too much online shopping. These days, we are finding new ways to explore our city on a budget by visiting museums, markets or tourist attractions that you think you’ve seen a thousand times but haven’t REALLY paid it any attention. We’ve also started spending more time at home, watching travel shows, planning itineraries and looking up flights.

I am so proud of how close we are to reaching our first goal, in such a short time. Had you told me 2 months ago that I need to come up with R30,000, I’d tell you that you’re crazy but given the right motivation, it has seemed effortless.

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  • Melissa Javan
    Posted at 12:10h, 18 April

    Great tips Megan. I like what you said about eating before going shopping and also putting up your goals where it can be seen. Thank you for sharing.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:10h, 07 May

      Thanks Melissa, so glad you enjoyed the post!

  • kerryheathfield
    Posted at 12:58h, 17 April

    Thanks for writing this Meg. You know I needed it 🙂
    I will probably keep coming back to this but for now have I written down a few notes and am going to make this my focus because I really want to get to where you have gotten.

    • Megan Kelly
      Posted at 10:13h, 07 May

      So happy to have helped! You CAN do it!!