‘I paid off €15,027 of debt in one year. This is how I did it'

When mounting debts began to affect her health, Santis O'Garro knew something had to give. Here the Montserrat-born Dublin native charts her journey towards financial freedom 

Okay, I'll cut to the chase. On December 13th 2018 I found myself in a predicament where I was at my wits' end after an especially turbulent year. I would like to say there were a few factors: the loss of my dear grandad; the breakdown of a relationship; working in a stressful environment 40 hours as a manager and being a single parent of, at the time, a one and two-year-old.

Last, but definitely not least, I was so deep in the red that my actual breathing became a problem on a day-to-day basis.



Getting out of debtSantis O'Garro


I was living on the edge, day in day out. I was working full-time, owed money to friends and financial institutions. Every Thursday payday brought on stress and panic attacks like no other.

It was a constant game of shuffling money around from one account to pay the most urgent bills.

'How could I tell people that the kitchen they'd admired so much was not really mine but the credit union's?'

Like most people, I had a way of covering my problems up and that was with a smile. How could I tell people that the kitchen they'd admired so much was not really mine but the credit union's? And that lovely couch they're sitting on is on a hire purchase plan. The list went on...


I felt so hopeless and drained that my way of thinking became dangerous. I visited my GP who advised me to cut back on my working hours, prescribed me antidepressants and warned me that something really had to give.

My boss also agreed at the time. So I took the plunge and cut back my working hours. Next, I had to look at my debt situation. Don't get me wrong, I take full accountability for my debts. I was dumb, stupid and I have been this way since my first loan at 17.

Everyone that I knew took pride in having a credit card, car loans, credit union loans and, as my wages increased, so did my lifestyle inflation.

So in January 2019, after doing research via YouTube, I decided I would begin a debt-free journey. I proudly popped on to my Instagram account and announced it to my 250 followers and in one year I managed to clear off €15,027 in debt.

This is how I did it:

Make a list

I listed every single person or institution that I owed money to, from the smallest amount to the largest. It all added up to €15,000. Now I knew my starting point.


Write a budget

I wrote out a zero-based budget. This meant that every single cent I earned had a place to go. I made sure that my Four Walls were prioritised (Food, Housing, Utilities and Transport). Once I had my budget done then it was all about cutting out the unnecessary outgoings.

I cancelled about €60 worth of subscriptions per month. Those €5 and €10 add up. I want you to realise that I viewed this debt-free journey as being short-term pain for long-term gain. I wanted it to be as short a possible. And when your back is against the wall you either cower or come out fighting. I chose the latter. Anyway, my reason "WHY" (my children and my mental health) were too big not to.

Have an emergency fund

One of the biggest reasons people fall back into debt while clearing debt is because they don't have a back-up plan in case of emergency. Let's face it, my boiler went, I had a leak and a few other things and I didn't need to reach for the credit card. I cannot highlight the importance of this enough.



Cash is king

Cash envelopes were the most successful tools for me to stay within budget. I use my cash envelopes for my shopping, childminders, petrol, fun money, children's fun money and house upgrades. During my budgeting, I really found that cash is king. For example, if you walk into a supermarket with €50 for your weekly shop then you will leave the supermarket having spent €50 on your weekly shop.

Set aside 'fun money'

Most people find budgeting and paying off debt really miserable so I put 'fun money' high up this list having learnt the hard way in the past. Keeping a fun envelope made the world of difference. There wasn't loads of money in my envelope but at least I was able to keep doing my lashes throughout this journey! Just knowing some money is going towards you makes budgeting easier.

Plan your meals

I literally reduced my shopping bill by less than half by simply meal planning. Look in your fridge/freezer and presses and see exactly what you have and try to think of meals around that. This also promotes zero waste, which is great, and you will see a huge difference on your shopping bill. I cook 95% of my meals, partly because that's how I was brought up so I don't really know any different. Plus, I absolutely love to cook and it just so happens that this is a cost-effective way of eating too.

Try batch cooking 


There are certain meals that I think you may as well make more than one portion of when cooking. For example, lasagne, pulled pork, Mexican spicy pulled beef... the list goes on. I usually make four separate meals in these scenarios. I try to keep in mind that I want to make life easier for myself. And that's one meal off the meal plan.

Pencil in a 'no spend day'

We are made to believe that if we went a day without spending a cent we would be considered strange or tight. For me that's madness! My favourite days in 2019 were when I packed my kids up and we took a picnic and just went somewhere exploring. Those days have saved my budget on many an occasion. I now practice one per week. Not only does it keep money in my pocket, it also promotes mindful spending. I’m very much present on these days too. And I'd rather get a nice cup of coffee one day than to fork out on crap for five days.

Explore other income avenues

I got a student in to allow a bit of breathing space while I focused on getting debt-free. I also did a Marie Kondo-style clear-out, but instead of binning everything or giving to charity, I got on to selling sites and sold what I could first.


Okay, I'm guessing announcing that you're going on a debt-free journey on Instagram is not for everyone. But I found I had to show up every single week. I was pushed by people I didn't even know!


The advice was phenomenal and the debt-free community was a brilliant tool to have at hand, with real-life people going through very similar situations. I also found my accountability partner there.

For the most part, budgeting has been the biggest helper. I feel so overwhelmed at what I have achieved. Now I'm determined to help others in the same situation as myself to be financially free.

You can find me on Instagram @thecaribbeandub where I share both the budget and life behind the budget!

Photos: Pexels and Pixabay

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