Could you tell me a little bit about you and your life?
I’m 39 years old and live with my partner. I work in digital learning, absolutely love my job and get so much satisfaction from what I do, which hasn’t always been the case!
How did you find yourself in debt?
I went through a period of about 8 years in which I felt really unhappy. I had a terrible job and was struggling with a really toxic work environment, which was causing severe anxiety, frequent panic attacks and hugely impacting my self esteem! But instead of trying to move jobs, I was seeking a quick fix by booking 3 or 4 holidays a year. By travelling, I could leave my problems behind for a week or two, and when I came back real life seemed more manageable for a bit. But because I was doing nothing to make my everyday life better, the situation got worse and I needed the breaks more – and started booking bigger holidays that cost more money, putting them on credit cards…etc etc…
How did denial play into it/why do you think that was?
I knew that I was spending beyond my means, but I would tell myself that it was all under control. It clearly wasn’t, because I became terrified of looking at my bank statements. I started leaving them unopened by the front door, and then when the pile got too big I hid them in a big rucksack at the back of my wardrobe. I think that shame played a big part in my denial. I grew up on a council estate and my parents didn’t have much money when I was a child, but they worked hard to make sure that I could go to university, and they were really proud of me for getting a degree, moving away and being independent. I couldn’t bear to tell them that I was struggling because I’d have felt like I was a disappointment to them, and also didn’t want them to have to worry about me. To be honest, I think that I was projecting my feelings about myself onto them.
What was the turning point?
My turning point was on Christmas Day in 2019. I was due to fly to New Zealand for another holiday, and before I left I thought I’d try and move some of my credit card debt onto a 0% APR card (so that I would feel less guilty if I needed to use my credit card while away). I’d guesstimated that I owed about £3000 on the credit card, but when I checked I actually owed £8000, which combined with being overdrawn on my current account meant that I was nearly £10,000 in debt! I was horrified, scared and disgusted with myself as I finally realised how stupid I’d been to ignore my finances for so long.
How did you get out of it?
As soon as I got back from New Zealand I tried to cut down on my spending and started trying to save, but found it so difficult. Lockdown was a circuit breaker which helped me to cut back on my outgoings, because obviously I couldn’t book any holidays or buy things I didn’t need. I also moved in with my partner for lockdown which helped to cut costs for food, bills etc. As I was spending so little in general during this time, I managed to pay off the overdraft on my current account within 6 months. Then, just as I was starting to sort myself out, I was put at risk of redundancy! I realised that this was a chance to move away from a role that was seriously affecting my mental health, so I took voluntary redundancy. I received a good severance payment which was immediately used to clear my outstanding debts. The sense of relief was immense; I felt like I’d been given a fresh start and was determined to never get myself into debt again.
I now have a healthy savings account which I never dip into, I check my bank account several times a month and open my letters immediately.
Any guidance to anyone who's where you were?
I feel a bit fraudulent giving suggestions because I’m very aware of how lucky I was to have been made debt free by a redundancy. I didn’t get out of debt through hard work like most people have to – I was given a lifeline, and I think about how differently things could have turned out every day. All I can say is that avoiding your problems is never a good idea - whether that’s through spending money to make yourself feel better, hiding letters from the bank or anything else. I wish I’d taken the time to think about what was triggering my spending and addressed the root cause. Also, as scary as it was to find out the truth about my debt, knowledge is power, and once I knew the extent of my situation I was in a much better position to start making some changes.
If you’re in a situation like this where your debt is unmanageable, please get free advice. I know there is a massive and unfair stigma around debt but there are brilliant and supportive services out there.
• Citizen's Advice are a great starting point
• CMA are great if you want to chat to someone in person
• StepChange offer online and telephone advice Avoid scammy texts offering to wipe your debt and any service which charges you
If you would like to speak to other people in debt, the GFY community space has a ‘Debt Support’ group; a judgement free space for honest conversations and encouragement.
🧠 Mental health:
In addition to getting good advice, you can also access something called The Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. You can find this online and ask your health or social-care professional to sign it. A debt adviser can also guide you through this process. Having this form means lenders will be more considerate of your situation.
If you’re really struggling and need to talk to someone:
Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can call 116 123
If you need advice and support: Mind.org.uk
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