“When I first met Riverside Money Advice my marriage was over, a car crash had caused havoc with health and emotional wellbeing and my business was failing, I had two young children, and multiple debts with utilities, council tax, and a confusion of amounts going in and out of accounts but all mixed up.
Life was difficult, no, impossible. I didn’t see any point of going on. My two kids were trying to look after me, but I was all over the place. I don’t think things could have got any worse. I was buying stuff just to try and help me feel better. I wasn’t eating properly, I lost a lot of weight, and every day was a struggle to go on.
A death in the family deepened the depression and my emotions were out of control – the whole family was being affected. My mind was relentlessly skittering around all the various problems, but it was completely overwhelming – I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of another. I was trying to pay off loads of money, but trying to do so in a way that was unplanned and harming me and the family at the same time. My youngest son, who was 3 at the time, remembers that period as a time when he missed me because I was not around. For the periods that I was, I was mentally checked-out and struggling to cope. Compared to many I had a good income, but trying to support my ex-partner and kids and keep a roof over my own head, but in an uncontrolled and reactive way, was taking its toll. I was really down and lost, exhausted mentally and physically, and fundamentally just “lost”.
When we first starting talking, it felt like we were facing a pile of spaghetti where everything was messed up, where everything all intertwined, and you couldn’t pull out any particular strand without moving everything else. The moment we started to look at one strand I would flit onto another, because I couldn’t see boundaries or how to separate out the family issues from housing from business. It’s easy to make comment on someone else’s problems rather than your own. I felt immobile because I couldn’t prioritize.
But there was a shift in direction. I had inspiration that there may just be a way through the mess – not an escape, but a systemic sorting and straightening out that would stop everything moving around and fix it in place and be finally under control in a good way. I had been sterile for ideas and had no idea that there were people who could navigate through such a complex set of issues.
It took me a long time to believe that there was a way out. It took a while to think better of myself. When you get stories that feed on depression and press you down, it makes you feel more down. When I was hearing some good things, it gave me confidence to look upwards and start to believe that there was a better way forwards.
When I started to be able to save money because I followed the advice, I started to see the financial benefits and having a bit more money than previous months.
Some of the symptoms of the original chaos ended. There was a sort of snowball effect, that as we straightened out each issue it provided more freedom and increased momentum and spare cash to tackle the next.
The team were great at objectively looking at what I had, taking the bird’s eye view and going through things consistently each time we met. Looking back I can’t extricate who was doing what or in what order as things got sorted out. Each time we met I was given just 2-3 things to go away and focus on completing, in parallel to work the team was doing. We had to put the family home on the market. Once we understood how this would help and clearly enable the separation of our assets from my marriage, I had no fear. My ex-partner got another house, and the sale of the house cleared the arrears that had built up on the house and paved the way for a clean financial settlement. It enabled me to walk away.
At the same time as this, the company that I worked for went bankrupt. My income suddenly plummeted at a time when I really needed the stability. I had no choice but to drastically reduce my expenditure and adjust to a time when I was living on very little.
My own self-employment records were also in a mess and transactions were flowing in and out of my personal account and it was very confused. The advisers pointed me to opening up a separate business account for all transactions relating to my business to keep them out of my personal affairs, and I changed the way that I was handling everything.
HMRC joined the party and were pursuing me for £15,000. We had to get my affairs in order and running to a budget to work out how that was going to be paid back. Some excellent negotiation and pragmatic discussions took place which enabled a realistic repayment plan to be put in place. Looking back now I can’t believe the number of crises that have been part of the season of the last 2-3 years – marriage, housing, business debts, utilities, health issues… just a mountain.
I know that any money advice service that is restricted to just offering one-off appointments would have completely failed to help me make any headway into this mess. I had no strength or determination or skill to help myself get out of all of this – I needed someone willing to walk alongside a complete stranger for a long period of time in order to effect a rescue.
I appreciate every one of the 125 hours that the team have put in on my behalf – across meetings, calls, letters, budgets, follow-ups and actions that were followed through. Was it worth it? I wouldn’t be here now if someone had not been prepared to do that.
In January 2016 I became completely debt free. It wasn’t a day of sudden celebration, because I had had that months before when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We finally had a plan to get from where I was to the relief of that day, and that made all the difference. The road was manageable and straight.
I’ve learnt quite a few lessons along the way, like increasing your income if you can, but if you don’t have, don’t spend it. You have to adjust your expenditure to your income.
Across all the times we met together, the team have always prayed for me each time. It’s been a great comfort and the glue that has held things together when times have been hard. There have been times when I was at rock bottom and the team were prepared to meet just for a cuppa and to pray for me, without making me face the tasks and next steps that were waiting. There’s a patience there that understood what I needed, and a willingness to walk slower along the road while there was hurt that needed attention.
I can’t deny therefore that the faith and Christian element of the service that has been provided is central and inseparable from the help that has been provided. I have a strong sense of my time with Riverside Money Advice being “meant to be”. It has brought comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone, and a tangible sense of camaraderie as we have faced things together and laughed at a few things along the way.
There is no comparison now between today and who I was a couple of years ago. It’s like I’m a stranger to myself back then – two different people.
Now that this period of my life is history, I can look forward to aiming at a happier life and being able to save up for a house deposit – and can plan for that.
If you’re reading this and life is one big mountain of trouble and money issues form a big part of it, put your pride on the shelf and ask for help. Things get bad and you can’t do anything about them. We all react differently, but when you start cutting yourself off from everybody and feel immobile and can’t do anything, that is exactly the time when you need to get help. Riverside Money Advice is the start of that road.