Buy, buy, buy! I was Flash Harry, just buying lots of stuff. But I didn’t realise that the interest charged gets higher and higher.
Eventually, my debts got so big that I needed help.
For years, I had used credit cards, bought things from catalogues and signed mobile phone contracts without thinking too much about how I would pay it back. One of the rent-to-own companies phoned to offer me a TV on credit, so I signed up for it. They put a box by the TV into which I had to put money each week to make it work. It was a rip-off but I didn’t realise.
To pay those debts, I borrowed money from doorstop lenders and other loan providers. At one point, I owed nearly £10,000 and had 34 different loans! Letters started to arrive, up to 10-a-day. I borrowed £100 from someone and they came each week to collect £80. I lost track of how many weeks I had been paying that.
I kept pawning things, just to provide money to make the payments. Everything was out of hand. The friend I live with also got into debt problems. We both needed help.
“Everything was out of hand.”
It’s true that I shouldn’t have borrowed so much money. At the same time, those firms should not have lent it to me, as I was unwell. But they prey on vulnerable people who don’t have a lot of money. I was scared to answer the door. People think that borrowing more money is a way out, but it isn’t.
Due to my mental illness, I’m supported by a mental health charity. My support workers could see that the debts were causing me constant worry and aggravating my mental health problems, and that I was still struggling with it all. One of the workers knew about Riverside Money Advice and arranged an appointment for me. I agreed to go but it seemed nerve-wracking to meet an advisor face-to-face.
That first meeting was really hard; I was shocked when I realised the size of the debt. But I needn’t have feared; the advisers were very friendly and supportive right from the beginning. I took along a big pile of all the paperwork. With hindsight, it was a good thing that I’d kept most of it, as I had been tempted just to throw it all away. The team took it all in their stride. They sorted through the paperwork systematically and then got on the phone to all the creditors to get breathing space and freeze interest and charges. They also offered to pray for me and that felt brilliant, it really helped me.
“The team took it all in their stride.”
From then on, I had weekly meetings at Riverside Money Advice (RMA). My support worker also came, which was very useful.
RMA helped me apply for a Debt Relief Order , which completely cleared the debts. This should have stopped any of the creditors from pursuing me, but some kept contacting me. So the adviser gave me a script to read to help me say the right thing.
My approach to money is so different now. RMA helped me to develop a budget, which I follow. I’ve now got two bank accounts: one for paying the bills and the other for saving. With further help I got a better deal on my fuel. Also, I didn’t know how to shop very well, but now I slow down and don’t buy more than I need. After I’ve paid the bills, I mostly save anything that’s left over, although I’ll allow myself to spend just a little bit. Now, I know what is going in and out of my account and I feel confident about handling money. The threatening letters have all stopped.
“I can now afford to do things that weren’t possible.”
What’s amazing now is that I can now afford to do things that weren’t possible when we had the debts. My flatmate Lucy and I saved up and went to Blackpool for five days in September: our first trip away in three years.
Since then, we’ve also saved up enough to buy a new Hi-Fi. It felt so good to buy it outright, with no credit! It has been a long and difficult process but I now understand the value of money. I’ll never get into debt again.