Something a little different today. I was copying various dates and info from last years calendar so that I can recycle it, and this little scribble made me pause for thought. It shows the final payment dates on my three debts – although once I have paid the first one, I can increase payments to the others and pay them off a little quicker. The end is in sight. If you cannot see any light at the end of the debt tunnel, I hope this post might help you.
My ex partner ran up a credit card bill of thousands of pounds, in my name, before I finally got him to leave. Once he left, he refused to pay any child maintenance or offer any financial support of any kind. Our bills became my bills, our mortgage became mine – in spite of his name being on the deeds of the house. I had to return to work to pay the bills, but incurred massive childcare costs, which meant I was working for nothing, and getting nowhere. When I saw sense and moved back home, he swooped in and took back “his” house, comfortably paying the mortgage from his salary.
Devastating, depressing, and at times utterly infuriating – but none of that matters. What matters is the here and now, the reality of my situation. I had two children, squashed into my parents home, living off their goodwill and feeling like a huge burden. My ex partner very sweetly passed on my forwarding address to the collection agency so that they could find me and continue to ask for money. The worst thing, the very worst thing about living under the shadow of debt, was the fear of the postman every morning, and the sickening dread every time the phone rang. That feeling of being hounded, chased, threatened, it was worse than trying to feed the children on a budget, worse than having wet feet every time it rained because of last years shoes having holes in them, it was worse even than the feeling of having lost so much to someone else’s lies and deceit.
I took great comfort in my beautiful children, and my parents were incredibly welcoming and kind, but I wish I had had the strength to find better ways to cope with my debt problem than simply trying to hide for so long. It is a natural response, apparently, when faced with what looks like insurmountable debt, to run away, but it doesn’t help. At best you get a few years before you have to face it, at worst you end up in court, or feel so overwhelmed that you lose your ability to think rationally and do something terrible.
If I could pass on just three things, and if even one person sees this and finds a glimmer of hope, then all of my stress was not wasted.
If you are living in fear of the mail every morning, if you are feeling crushed by the never-ending dread of people demanding money from you, if you can’t face your debts because you think you owe more than you could ever pay;
- Firstly, stop running. Those people on the other end of the phone, they are only people. They get up in the morning and go to work, they have a list of people to call, and you are just a name on that list. They will keep calling until they reach you, so just answer the phone. Better still, call them. Explain. It is hard, you might cry, don’t be ashamed. Make them an offer. Figure out what you can manage to pay them, and explain why. They would rather take your money at £5 a month for 20 years than get nothing from you at all.
- Secondly, ask for help. Find your local money advice centre – many charities have one – and call in to see them. Again, don’t be ashamed if you cry. (When I met someone at one of those centres, they had a box of tissues in a drawer. Money problems are very upsetting, and are rarely without some life trauma to go with it.) Sometimes just talking to someone can help you to find your way out of what you thought was a tangled mess. Sometimes they can arrange to contact the collection agencies on your behalf, if you really can’t face them. It is definitely worth going to see these people, they are doing amazing work.
- Thirdly, pin a calendar to your wall, and put in every “income” and every “outlay” that you know of for each month. I found it amazingly helpful to be able to see in advance the weeks when I needed to put something aside for the bigger bills that were ahead. It sounds a bit too simple to really help, but I know a few people who have a similar “budget plan” calendar on their wall, and they all agree it is a powerful planning tool. This will also help you when you are dealing with the collection agencies; you can talk them through your monthly outgoings so that they can plan your repayments to suit. They want to make things easy for you, after all; a payment plan that you can’t stick to is useless to them.
I know this might seem like a very personal thing to be blogging about. I guess it is, but I found when I was suffering in silence that nobody talks about debt, ever – even though many of us have, at some point, found ourselves juggling bills and wondering which ones to pay, and which to leave until next month. Any of us can end up in trouble; it is not a sign of stupidity, or recklessness, or greed. So, if any of this strikes a chord with you, I hope you get back on your feet very soon – and if you get an “end date,” like I have, then I hope you can look forward to freedom from your debts too. You can get through this.