The Truth about Debt

Let me tell you the main thing about getting into debt.

Getting into debt is super easy.

Think about it, it’s managing your money that is hard. Making all those decisions, putting things back if you can’t afford them, saving up for things, that’s the hard stuff.

But if you have had at some point a pretty ok credit rating you can destroy this very quickly.

Here’s how it happened to me.

I have worked sporadically since graduating from University. I was in no way afraid of hard work (I at one point had SIX jobs), but I have only had one full time contract with a yearly salary in my lifetime. Everything else was short term, casual contract, volunteer work, self-employed work or something inbetween.

At some point after leaving University I was offered a Barclaycard credit card. I already had one credit card, but somehow I had misread things and thought the Barclaycard was a 0% balance transfer card. Which is one of the credit cards you do want. I had a guess that my income was about 10k a year (it wasn’t) and signed up.

Initially despite being very poor due to working part time on a casual basis I was good with the credit cards. I paid them off in full each month. This did mean that I had cash in my account for about 3 days of each month, as all my money would go on paying the credit card in full (I was too afraid of paying just the minimum) and then I would use only the credit card to pay for things.

This led to a particularly low moment when I was forced to buy a 40p reduced loaf of bread on a credit card as I had zero in my current account.

Somewhere around 2013 I got sick of my deprived lifestyle. I had just left a job that was so awful it made me have to take anti-depressants. I had cleared the Barclaycard months ago and destroyed the old card. I ordered a new one and spent. And spent. And spent. I had Amazon deliveries coming about twice a week. I ordered books I wanted to read, I ordered sports gear, I bought clothes and everything else.

I then went to climb Snowden with my sisters, whilst coming back down the moment I got a call from Barclaycard to say my request to increase the balance had been approved. My sisters cheered for me, but even at the time despite the freedom to buy more things that caught my fancy I knew that this was a low point.

I started a new job, which I was fired from after 7 days because the villains at my old job put a stop to it (I will tell you more about this point in my life another day). I got another job, but it was again casual. I maxed out my credit cards at Christmas.

I survived through my pittance of a pay slip and lots of borrows off my boyfriend. It was in about 2014 when I was thinking about the book series ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ . I didn’t know how someone could amass a huge collection of credit cards as I thought you could only get them through a bank. It then occurred to me that there must be other ways to amass credit cards.

A quick google search later and I had an Aqua Card heading my way.

I thought I would use it to buy a laptop, or to pay back my brother, but I was a twat and used it very very quickly. I blew through 500 quid in a couple of weeks.

At this point my credit rating was still passable so I quickly ordered another card. And then another.

My monthly bills went sky high. I blew through this money (borrowed money) so quickly that I am ashamed of the way I behaved.

I was a complete and utter idiot. I was selfish. I was bad. I was awful.

Getting into debt is a stupid, stupid, thing to do.

I was depressed, and debt and depression usually go hand in hand. I was buying things because I wanted to feel better because I felt so awful on the inside. My confidence was zero. I believed I was worthless.

I was sick of not getting anywhere with my career. I was sick of working casual jobs for minimum wage. I was sick of not owning the same things my friends did.

I was wrong. I was selfish. I was a twat.

When one of my credit cards was extended in late 2015 I used it to pay off a long debt I had to my brother. Finally I was free of that, but I had caged myself into a long standing debt on that card (which was one of five).

My minimum payment for that card alone soon reached nearly £200.

I had reached rock bottom finally. In debt there is the point of no return. The point when things are too late. The point when you have screwed everything up and things are almost irreversible.

I was thankfully about 1 month away from having a financial catastrophe. I stopped myself just in time before I would have had negative income. And it coincided with a new year, so yes, it was a cheesy ‘new beginning’.

Since January I have done a complete 180 on my financial situation.

I used to almost be turned on by the things I bought. Now I get excited by what I save, even if it is just a matter of pennies.

Getting into debt is so easy. Credit card companies don’t exactly make it hard, because here’s the big secret.

They want you to get into debt with them. As long as you can make the minimum payments each month they will have you for life. They will have your money each month. They will take you for everything you’ve got.

Please do not think for one minute I am blaming the credit card companies for my mistakes. I made them wholly on my own. No one exactly forced me or tricked me into getting into debt. I knew the risks. I dived in anyway.

I will tell you more about what I’ve achieved this year. I will teach you how to save money. I will show you there is a way out.

But just remember, getting into debt is easy. Getting out of it? That’s the achievement.

A Fresh Start

It has been a while since I last posted, and I guess it’s time to come clean.

Through a combination of bad/casual/infrequent employment over the years since graduating, and also a result of ‘being a twat’ with money, I have rocked up nearly 6K of credit card and overdraft debt. This is in addition to my student loan debt of around 22k, and also a not insignificant debt I owe my boyfriend.

After nearly a year in a wonderful role in a job that was everything I had wanted I am now in that tricky stage where I’m between contracts with my employer, so I am for want of a better word, unemployed.

I decided this year would be the year I got serious about paying back my debt. 2016 started off with good intentions, but there is no denying that I began 2016 by checking my bank balance after a hefty Christmas to find I was nearly 20 quid into an UN-arranged overdraft. Which meant I was over my arranged overdraft of a thousand pounds, of which only 500 quid was interest free.

However, up until June 2016 (the first month of my technical unemployment) I had been making great strides. I had not touched the (5) credit cards at all. Considering I spent most of 2015 paying the minimum on the (5) credit cards, and only doing so so that I could then spend that available balance once the payment had cleared, you can see that not using the cards was an achievement.

I managed to survive June 2016 through self employed work, selling everything on ebay, getting refunds on bad purchases and a little bit of moxy.

July was a different kettle of fish though, and somehow I had lost my desire and ended the month borrowing the money I needed to pay my bills off my boyfriend. So more was added to that debt.

I am determined that August will be different, and because I’m a bit of a masochist and love giving myself extra work I thought ‘Hey, why not just survive the month, why not blog about it as well?’

If I can help anyone going through a similar situation I will, or at the very least I will keep you company.

I will tell you more about how I got into this mess, how I did so far this year, and how I intend to get out of it forever.



Poverty Hurts: Life on a zero hour contract

You’re in the supermarket looking at the cotton pads. This is the cheapest store. Here you can buy a 200 pack for 99p. You know it’s the cheapest because you’ve been to Savers, Tescos, Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Rainbow Bargains comparing prices and here you are in Home Bargains looking at the cheapest cotton pads, which you need to cleanse your face. But you put them down, because you have five pounds on you, five pounds found by trawling through every purse and loose change tin and even under the sofa cushions but you need to buy washing up liquid (you’ve been using the not cost effective hand wash as a substitute until you came up with this money) and food. So you put down the cotton pads and you will continue using toilet paper which shreds and leaves little bits of itself on your face when you wash your face at the end of a hard shift where all you smell like is chip fat, grease and sweat.

This is not a one time event. This is the not the result of going out all of last week and now having no money, this is an everyday occurrence, the Sophie’s choice of choosing which items are essential and which are not. Because you’re on a zero hour contract.

I think you get stuck in the job you first end up with. As a studious person I was taking five A Levels which only left me with evenings and weekends to work. I was on EMA (I went to college when EMA still existed) but since I was taking very costly subjects (photography, fine art, film, english, history) I spent a lot on supplies and books. So I needed a job. The only thing my seaside town had a plenty of was jobs in Hotels and catering. So my first ever job was in a Hotel restaurant where the Manager would swear at me and dock my wages if I incorrectly performed silver service. Where I had to get up early on a saturday and sunday and work till 11 at night, but I did it because I wanted to succeed in my courses, and I left College tired but with a string of A grades behind me.

Since then all my jobs have been casual contracts, which at first suited me. I got my third job in the canteen of my university as a second year student and the hours suited me because I could work on days I didn’t have lectures. The money meant I could finally catch up with my (rich) classmates with parents already in the industry and buy myself a HD camera which is all that remains proving myself to be a filmmaker.

But once I left university and a string of bad decisions meant I was unlikely to be working for BBC4 anytime soon I needed a job. So I left the university where I had my shifts cancelled and during the summer I would have been better on the dole, and got myself a full time job. But my old job which had been forcing me out as a graduate gave me a bad reference and I was let go after 7 days with the words “this is no reflection on your performance, your performance was great” and I was unemployed for a couple of months. But then bizarrely that was when I became a filmmaker, scoring my first professional film and tiding me over, but I needed a job, and this is where I ended up.

The sad thing is I love my job. The people, the managers, the staff, the customers and the benefits are wonderful. I have no criticism of my job, my job is and always will be wonderful. My criticism is with zero hour contracts, not my job.

Zero hour contracts do have benefits, they suit people managing their time with other commitments, whether it be childcare, studies or personal goals. They skew the statistics of who is and isn’t unemployed. pleasing the Government. But in most cases, cases like mine, they do not work.

I have been subsidised by my boyfriend since leaving university. Luckily he has always had a stellar career, and could afford to pay for me on the condition that I live with him and love him. Which is easy. But it makes me feel like a parasite. I grew up with Destiny’s Child and the song “Independent Women”, I am a feminist, how can I justify myself when I am being supported by a man?

Some months I would be better on the dole, but I have a strong work ethic and want to work and contribute towards my wonderful country. I am proud to pay my taxes supporting public facilities and those even more unfortunate than me.

But here are the facts. I have no shoes which aren’t warped, filled with holes or with the sole coming off. I need a new bra but don’t know when I can afford one. In the past I have sold my christmas presents on eBay because I need the money more than a need a loving gift carefully chosen for me to bring me joy. I stupidly took on those dodgy credit cards so i could buy groceries and have been left in more debt and a bad credit rating which will haunt me the rest of my life, leaving me more out of pocket if i ever buy a house.

I am forced to work for free to pursue options which could lead me to a better career. I hope it will pay off one day. But my boyfriend and I are running out of money fast. Some days we weigh up our options. Should I move out so I can claim housing benefit? Should we move to a cheaper area? Do we take on a room mate? But my boyfriend and I are happy with our situation and don’t want to split up. But we may have to. But what if i can’t pay the rent there?

I don’t buy myself things. I don’t smoke or drink, I can’t remember the last time I went out. When I get tips at the end of the shift (which i have to pay taxes on) do I put them towards a cab because I live 45 minutes away from my job and it’s late and i’m tired? Or do I get a high fat snack to temporarily make me feel good? It goes in the pot which I take to the bank when it’s full and cash in to temporarily and minutely swell my account, which hasn’t been out of the overdraft for three years.

Some people may be reading this and thinking “well get a job then” and to that I say “oh gee whizz, I hadn’t thought of that”. In October 2014 I had six jobs and I thought for once I’d have money, but then a nasty bug saw me lose most of the money I would have earned. I currently have two paying jobs and a voluntary position which is essential because it could lead to a better job in the long run.

I’m signed up to three temp agencies, but haven’t had any work yet. I spend at least an hour most days applying for jobs, feeling my confidence and hopes die with each application, debasing myself for any position that would help me.

When I do work, and it can be up to three weeks between shifts I sometimes get asked by staff and customers “I haven’t seen you around for a while, did you leave?” and I vary my answers. Some think I’ve been on holiday. The irony stings. Sometimes I get offered shifts on days when I am volunteering and I have to decide what is more important, the money or the potential benefit? To some it might be an easy choice but to me it’s not. Do I help myself in the short term or the long term?

Sometimes I get offered bar shifts which finish late and on occasion I’ve had to turn them down because I don’t have the money for a cab. Once I had four late night finishes in a row and I spent each night at a local friends house to save £30 on cab fares. £30 which I didn’t have.

This is what it’s like on a zero hour contract. The juggling, the choices, the decisions, the pain and the despair.