£25k DEBT. HOW I GOT INTO IT & HOW I AM GETTING OUT AGAIN.

INSPIRING, MUST READ, SOCIAL MEDIA, THOUGHT-PROVOKING, WORK & MONEY

Even typing ‘£25,000 of debt’ makes my palms sweat, having struggled through Ben’s business going insolvent I know how overwhelming owing a substantial amount of money can feel. But after years of burying her head in the sand this writer of Instagram’s anonymously under the name @myfrugalyear is finally taking control and doing all she can to working her way out of the financial black-hole. Here’s her story.

  • If you’ve never been in substantial debt, you might ask the question – how? How does one get into £25k of credit card debt without kicking oneself into touch?

  • The short answer is that it’s easy. The long answer is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

  • Most of this list comes from me, and me alone, and there’s a reason for that. Most of the debt, although it’s shared in terms of what we’ve spent it on, is in my name only, and I’ve kept it close to my chest. My husband has known it was there, known it needed tackling, but we are both head-in-the-sand types, so he didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. To be frank, even I didn’t know. I lived for a long time in fear of finding out the full extent of what we owed.

  • I’ve never really understood money. When the credit crunch hit in 2008, I just couldn’t get my head around it – where did all the money GO? Couldn’t they just make more?

  • I grew up between two households. The one that I frequented less often was the one where money was treated with care, and my Dad would spend half an hour every Sunday working out his finances in black bic, on a piece of plain paper that he kept in a plastic wallet in his sock drawer. Sometimes I would wander up from whatever film I was watching or book I was reading, and he would quickly tuck it away. It’s only since I’ve become an adult that I’ve realised what he was scribbling in his small, neat handwriting.

  • He passed away nine years ago, before we could really talk about money. He left me £10k and, at 20 years old, I had no idea what to do with it. Nobody told me to save it. I booked a solo trip to Bali not long after his death, to try and work out who I was without him. It disappeared disconcertingly quickly, and I have a pang if guilt every time I imagine what this steady, careful man would have thought of the way I spent my inheritance.

  • My other household, my main home, was a hotbed of financial instability and abuse.  My mum and stepdad owned a business, but neither was good with money. It was a feast or famine economy that we lived in – sometimes there was an abundance of money, sometimes there was none. My stepdad would move money around, trying to plug holes, and my mum’s card was declined at the supermarket more than once.

  • By the time I was responsible for my own money, my relationship with it was already fraught with anxiety. My mum has since separated from her husband, and is rebuilding her financial health from scratch.

  • It started with a student overdraft and credit card, and it spiralled from there. I’ve never lived within my means, until now. I imagined that my £16k post-uni job was enough to find whatever lifestyle I wanted, and before I was able to climb the career ladder, I got pregnant with my son.

  • I was 24, in a new relationship with an old friend, and I took it in my stride – if I have one thing going for me, it’s resilience – but the financial consequences didn’t even occur to me. My now-husband got a better paid job, but we ate out too much, bought too many baby clothes, needed to furnish our first rented house together.

  • I got used to living in the red – I treated the overdraft as ‘my money’, because I could withdraw it from a cash point at will. There were never any availability funds at the end of the month.

  • Most of the debt was accrued from our unaffordable wedding, but I refuse to regret it. Having paid the deposit, my husband lost a succession of jobs. A symptom of the cutthroat hospitality industry and circumstance, but financially devastating.We decided to push on with the wedding and borrow the money, but I didn’t do it smartly, or pay it back in time.

  • I used and abused soft-search functions on financial advice websites to get 0% deals, which have long-since expired. We dialled things back, but not enough. I had planned a Pinterest-perfect wedding, and that was what I was going to have. I budgeted to how much I could borrow, not to how much we could afford.

  • I found out I was pregnant with our second son the day we returned from our honeymoon. We were thrilled, but a little voice in my head cheeped ‘How will we afford it?’

  • We moved to a bigger house on the less-expensive side of an expensive city, during the Beast from the East. The deposit ate up my January bonus from work, and we were snowed in at the new house during the time we’d allocated for cleaning and repairs of the old flat. We lost a lot of our deposit.

  • Maternity leave and stay pay started, and I soon started doing the kind of juggling that I despised in my family home. We were both in better paid jobs by now, but the money just disappeared on repayments, and credit card purchases soon switched from frivolities, of which there were still many, to necessities, as all of our income was swallowed up by the debt hole.

  • Every now and again, I would write up our income vs our outgoings, trying to make it work, trying to reconcile to figures on the paper with what was going on in our accounts. I still didn’t understand where we were going wrong.  

  • For my 29th birthday, a relative generously deposited £2,000 into the Lifetime ISA  I had optimistically opened, to keep my dream of owning a home one day alive. I was over the moon, but the debt overshadowed my joy. I though of the ISA money as ‘good money’, and my debt repayments as ‘bad money’. Every time the debt got in top of me, I would check my ISA balance and feel a false sense of well-being. I was still very much in denial.

  • As all this was happening, our family life became more and more unbalanced. I didn’t like being on my own with two small children, and I was on my own a lot. My husband was working up to 70 hours a week, and was too exhausted to be present when he was home. I was desperate for the fulfilment of work, and he was desperate for a break. Talks of shared parental leave turned from abstract and far-fetched to a solid plan as my boss, faced with an under-resourced team, made promises he couldn’t keep to get me back early. One of those promises was a pay rise, to make my early return affordable, considering my husband’s higher salary. I asked, and asked, and was fobbed off again and again. A token pay rise finally arrived six months later, when I was waiting to hear back from an interview for my current job. Too little, too late.

  • Which brings us to March of this year. The breaking point – or turning point, however you want to look at it.

  • With over £25k debt spread across seven credit cards, two cars on finance, a loan with just under two years left and a £2k overdraft. Childcare for our baby to pay in advance and my husband on his final month of stat parental pay, the full weight of our debt descended on me.

  • If my nights hadn’t already been sleepless from my nocturnal baby, they would have been wrecked with debt anxiety.

  • I felt like the protagonist of a 1990s debt consolidation advert, sitting head in hands at my kitchen table with a calculator and a pile of red stamped letters.

  • The gravity of all of those I arranged overdraft texts and their associated fees, the returned direct debits and the invoice reminders opened my eyes at long last. I knew something had to change.

  • Instagram and influencer culture has always held a strange power over me – I know the game inside out thanks to my work but still, I wanted the mini white pumpkins, the organic baby clothes, the luscious, full bouquets of peonies and the #kitchenreno before and afters. My credit card was saved to my paypal account, and it was easy to order a little piece of that lifestyle without thinking about it. But now that I recognised its power and my weakness, something occurred to me, sparked by a blog post by Alex Stedman of The Frugality. I could use Instagram to turn things around.

  • I set up MyFrugalYear to open up about my debt. The first post on my account was a summary of all of my credit cards. I had only just calculated the sum total, and sharing it right away felt like the right thing to do. It stopped it being a sordid, shameful secret and made it a matter of public knowledge. I could be held to account.

  • A journalist shared my post and I gained 150 followers more or less immediately. It’s not a lot by influencer standards, but those people started sharing their stories with me, such personal stories, which were about money but also so, so much more. Abuse, unemployment, addiction. It made me think more about how money is woven into the fabric of our lives, how fraught with emotion our finances can be. Mental health and money are so linked – money worries can both cause, and be caused by, poor mental health and anxiety.

  • I had no idea that there was a whole movement of instagrammers posting about financial matters with the hashtag #debtfreecommunity. I don’t think I’m one of them, to be honest – some accounts and content are the financial equivalent of #fitspo, unrealistic goals and ‘inspirational’ figures that make you feel as worthless as a normal human woman staring wistfully at a heavily retouched Candice Swanepoel. But there are a whole group of like-minded people, struggling to overcome huge debt and succeeding, encouraging one another and sharing their progress. I’m not in this for some kind of monetary crash diet, I want sustainable change, so my budget includes the odd Nando’s to ward against a ‘fuck it’ moment that culminates in a Michelin star tasting menu.

  • The more I share, the better I feel. In the past month, I’ve faced up to my debts in a public forum, I’ve spoken to a journalist, I’ve released that £2,000 from my ISA to break the cycle and I’ve written this list. I’ve realised that I’m not alone in this, I have an ally and confidant in my husband. We, and our children, are fit and well. He have decent salaries, and we have each other. We can do this. I’m as confident as I can be that we’ve turned a corner, but the rest is up to us.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Carol May 12, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    Been there done that, there is life after debt, and you’ve done the really hard bit – which is actually facing up to it. Bloody well done. Xxx

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