MUM-OF-TWO Chloe Symonds explained that in 2019 she was drowning in debt and couldn’t afford to pay for Christmas.
The savvy saver decided enough was enough and turned it around to find financial freedom.
“It was the missing Christmas lights that did it,” the 31-year-old carer from County Leitrim in Ireland, remembered.
“They may have only cost a few pounds to replace, but it was money we just didn’t have.
“In December 2019 I looked at the tree, and my two lovely boys, and that’s when I realised how huge our financial problems were.”
For years Chloe thought she was doing well in life. She said: “Growing up my family had no money. Taking on debt wasn’t seen as a bad thing.”
Meeting George at 17 the couple had their first child, Tyler, when Chloe was 22.
She said: “We were painfully broke. When Tyler was one, the only way we could afford to attend a wedding was to borrow money. We took a £250 payday loan without a second thought.”
For two years one payday loan followed the next.
She said: “One was for a fancy £330 car seat I was desperate to have. One loan and it was ours.”
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In 2015, when their second son Darragh was born, they took out a £9,300 car loan.
Chloe said: “I was a carer for Tyler, who had anoxic seizures, and so wasn’t working. When we were approved for the loan I felt relief, and excitement that we had this fancy car. We were moving up in the world!
“Next came a van loan and a credit card. I thought we were doing great. We could meet the repayments, so why not?”
Engaged in 2017 Chloe planned a low-key, low-cost wedding. She said: “I was going to bake the cake and give guests stew for dinner. But people told me I couldn’t do that.”
The £10,000 credit card they took out to pay for their big day was higher than the £7,600 they initially planned to spend.
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Chloe said: “So, of course, that became our new ‘budget’. I became obsessed with getting ‘Chiavari’ chairs I’d seen in wedding films. George thought I was crazy, but I was adamant!
“George is a magpie and loves buying shiny, expensive things. I’m a ‘giver’ and like to spend money on other people.
“We didn’t have a fund for emergencies. If something broke, we’d just put it on the card.”
In 2019 the couple were desperate to move out of their rental home.
Chloe said: “We were fed up with noisy neighbours and wanted to buy our own place. But even with George’s £40,000 salary from working in electric car charging installation, we discovered our car loan meant we couldn’t borrow enough to buy.
“By December the noise from next door was breaking me, and I realised what the debt really meant for our life.
“When I couldn’t find the Christmas lights and realised that we couldn’t buy new ones without using the credit card, I knew something had to change.”
The couple went into 2020 determined to deal with their debt, but it wasn’t until April 2020 that Chloe finally sat down and added it all up.
Chloe said: “When I saw that we owed £35,000, I felt a wave of shame. I’d been fooling myself. How had we let it get this bad?
“The time for pretending was over. We were going to get out of this mess. George was happy for me to take charge of it all.
“We needed to know exactly how much was coming in and going out. It’s a hard, boring job but I knew we wouldn’t succeed without it.
“I prioritised the credit card debt. As soon as George’s salary came in, that was paid first. Whatever was left was our money for the month.
“Tracking our spending I realised how much we were paying to buy food, bring it home, and then to bin half of it. It was utter madness! In came strict meal plans, and our weekly food spend dropped from £120 a week to £67.”
Chloe became ruthlessly organised. She said: “I’d been frittering money away buying things we already had. Decluttering meant I wouldn’t even buy a roll of Sellotape until I knew for sure we were out.
Out went pricey TV subscriptions and trips to the cinema. She said: “They don’t seem expensive but by the time you’ve bought snacks and a meal for four of you its £80 a time. We’d go out in nature as a family instead, or just have fun at home.”
Watching every penny meant Chloe didn’t buy any new clothes, and if George wanted new tools they had to wait and save.
I was super organised for Christmas 2020. Meal planning for Christmas dinner and finding the best deals for gifts.
Chloe was surprised how little upset these changes caused. She said: “I thought we’d be miserable, watching every penny and going without things. In fact, it made us even closer as a family.
“We explained to the boys that we were saving up for a new house, where they could have a puppy and a kitten. They became even better at saving than me!
“As for George, every now and again he’d say, ‘my fishing rod is broken!’ and I’d grumble a bit about how much it would cost to replace. But I’d hunt for the one he wanted, and for Christmas or his birthday he’d have it.”
“He was happy for me to make all the financial decisions. Seeing the debt drop each week meant he trusted me to keep us on track.
“I was super organised for Christmas 2020. Meal planning for Christmas dinner and finding the best deals for gifts.”
By the end of 2020 they had paid off £20,000 of their debt. Chole said: “It was an incredible feeling. I felt so empowered. We started 2021 even more determined to be debt free as soon as possible.”
One of the things that helped Chloe was Instagram. She said: “I’d started an account about my debt in March 2020, as a way to keep me accountable and on track. But it was anonymous. I was ashamed and didn’t want anyone in ‘real’ life knowing what we owed.
“But in 2021 I decided to put my name and face on there. I wanted to show that I was a real person. I was shaking like a leaf but the support I got from the debt community was incredible.”
Still, it wasn’t easy. By mid-2021 Chloe had been watching every penny for 18 months.
Family found out about her debt and were shocked. Chloe said: “My daddy couldn’t believe the figures, but was impressed with our progress.”
Things hit a low point when new neighbours moved in and were even noisier than the last.
She said:“I was so tempted to find a new rental. But it would cost us money and take us away from our goal. So, we stuck with it.”
On December 5th Chloe made her final payment. They were debt free.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’ve done it. George and I planned to go for dinner but ended up walking in the forest and having chips from the van. Even now we can’t bring ourselves to splash out!
“This Christmas we’ll have a lovely meal and gifts under the tree, but all carefully budgeted and paid for months ago.”
The family will be going into 2022 focused on saving for a home of their own.
Chloe said: “Two years ago, that would have seemed impossible. Now I know that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
Follow Chloe on Instagram.
For more inspiring stories, we spoke to Sophie Marriott – who quit school at 16 and turned her DIY door bows into a £310k Christmas business.
And Jemma Solomon revealed her sister sister Stacey caught the labelling bug from her – she set up her company with £300 & now Lord Sugar has invested.
Plus Tropic Skincare’s Susie Ma set up her £51m business when she was 15 – Lord Sugar fired her on The Apprentice but STILL invested £200k.