Marguerite Valentine, Bristol

Back to the Black … how to become debt-free and stay that way

The author, of ‘Back to the Black’, Michael MacMahon, writes with compassion and some humour about being in debt. After all, he’s been there, so the experience has given him some authority, as well as an insight into the subsequent problems.

Michael takes the perspective of a coach advocating a rational approach to getting a grip on debt, which means facing the facts, analysing your financial situation, deciding on a personal strategy to make sense of what’s gone wrong, and what might work best for you to put things right.

He  considers why people get into debt; obvious things like a dip in the economy which if you own a business may create problems in investment or the less obvious, like the costs arising out of a divorce And then, of course, there’s ‘discretionary spending’, which is ‘spending ’ to buy things, which you could, in reality, do without.

I found his short case studies really interesting. He showed how some financial event, which in itself was minor, can, if not handled  properly,  snowball into something frighteningly out of control. He proposes three possible strategies, one’s choice depending not only on the factual circumstances but how one views working with each possibility.

The final part suggests strategies to avoid a recurrence. There’s also an extremely helpful list of resources, such as charities, templates for possible letters, and a glossary with explanations of financial terminology.

For those in debt, or fear the recurrence of debt,  ‘Back to Black’ is a straightforward account of what to do and where to go for help. The tone is reassuring, informal, and informed, and reading his book as someone with very little experience of financial matters, I found it interesting and it made sense! It can’t get better than that.

Marguerite Valentine


John Lynch, Shropshire

Back to the Black: How to become debt-free and stay that way (Telling Experience Book 1) (Kindle Edition)

I’m giving this book 5 stars, which I don’t often do, because it’s extremely well-written, pulls no punches, and doesn’t waste time on exhortations. What I most want to say about it, though, is that the title and the blurb both do the book a disservice in that the impression you get is that this is simply a book that tells you how, if you are in debt, to get out of it. It’s much more than that. What the author has produced, based on what is clearly a long and successful life, is a series of lessons on how to conduct yourself in general and how to get the best results and achieve your dreams. You could get a great deal out of this book if you didn’t owe a penny. I learned an awful lot about sane and healthy mental practices, and I don’t have a debt problem. As a refreshing change to some of the half-baked Life Manuals that are out there by people a quarter of McMahon’s age and a tenth of his experience, I recommend this as a very good read.

“Amazon customer” (Amazon reviewer, UK)

A book that could just save your sanity.

With the present economic situation, all too many people are finding their finances are falling apart. What is important is not to to keep pretending its not happening. This is the book to help you face up to reality and start your journey back to financial stability. It is full of practical ideas, information, options and tools that will help you. Amongst these tools are appendices that contain helpful guides as to how to write to your creditors.

Let’s hope you never need the advice in this book. However, whether you’re already there or not, it is well worth while gaining the knowledge to be found here to help you.

“Enoch Press” (reviewer on Amazon’s US site)

Have you ever had debt?

If the answer is yes then you need this book. We all had (at least most of us) periods in our lives where money was tight. This book doesn’t just help dealing with those days when you are in them but helps preventing them from coming back.

Certainly he has great experience and he is a good communicator.

Rob, UK

Not just for people in the RED.

This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine for a variety of reasons and I must say I love it.

I would go as far to call it a must-read regardless of your current or past indebtedness! The insights in the book are just so deep and pearls of wisdom start to pop up from the early start.

I particularly enjoyed the studies mentioned in chapter two as well as the following story. I won’t spoil this for you by telling you, but make sure you read those.

Well worth the money even for such a strained budget as the one before bankruptcy.

Christine Lawson, UK

Didn’t learn anything. 

Like most of the population, I wanted to find out if there was anything more I could do to help myself survive in this financial climate. I already do most of the things Mike Macmahon advises. So it didn’t help me. I’m afraid what I need is a better paid job and I would break even.

Tobias Roote, Corfu

A useful handbook for living within your means. 

This is a been there, done that, got the T shirt book. In other words it’s written by someone who knows the issues and learned to deal with them. Worth the small change it costs to put it in your library and read it in a spare moment when you cannot afford to go down the pub.

Jenny Hammerton, London (a P.S.)

… and another thing … here’s the best sentence yet from your book ….

“You and no-one else, can decide how much of your discretionary income you’ll spend on non-essentials and how much is available to pay down debt.”

A lightbulb has gone on.  For me this is the CRUX of it all.  It’s up to me…


I like the wording “pay down debt” – it has definitely made me think that not spending up to the hilt every month will help me to decrease my debt. I’ve just been letting the money drizzle out of my account without actually thinking about where it is going and how just making some resolutions about not spending as much will help me creep back to the black.I will continue!

Jenny Hammerton, London

I’ve started reading it Michael and it is GREAT!  I’ve been meaning to tackle my debt for many, many years and now it is time.I got paid this week and received a nice bonus.  I also paid in a cheque that I was owed for some freelance work.  Despite the monthly salary and some extra I am STILL in the red.  This has got to change.  Time to stop living beyond my means.I loved your case studies.  They made me think, “there but for the grace of God go I”.  My situation is not as bad as most of your examples.  I have a steady (and fairly stable) job however, there are several reasons why I am getting deeper in debt every month and I am going to address them once and for all.

I am setting a goal of being debt free by the time I am 50.  Although that sounds pretty crazy I think it is do-able.  You are absolutely right that the first step is actually sitting down and getting all the information together about how much is owed and thinking about how to tackle it.

I have never thought about my bank being a creditor before but of course in a way they are.  When I actually looked at the figures yesterday I realised that I was close to reaching my limit on both bank account and credit card.  I have to manage my OWN money.

I’m working my way through your book and will let you know how I got on but just wanted to let you know that 24 hours in I am already feeling EMPOWERED to do it.  To get myself back to the black.

Have you thought about setting up a “Back to the Black Club”?!!!!!

Tony Rowlands, Bristol

Your book is immensely readable, even though I’ve never been in that position, and as much a blueprint for a successful life as a manual for debt management. A fine achievement.