It didn’t take long for the overdue bills to hit the doormat and I never opened them, which just made things worse (Picture: Ella Byworth)
Growing up as the youngest of six children meant that, like most families, we didn’t always have everything. But as brothers and sisters grew up and moved out, it was just me and my parents left in the home and money went a lot further.
I was taught to respect money, and as a teen I got a job when I wanted something and my parents would contribute half. They were frugal, avoiding buying in installment plans and they always bought everything with cash.
My parents both died before I was 18, which left me broken. I had to leave the family home and moved into a flat on my own.
Grief-stricken and as a new adult, I forgot my parent’s teachings about finances. I worked hard through the week but spent it all at the weekend so I could take my mind off life and didn’t feel alone.
It didn’t take long for the overdue bills to hit the doormat and I never opened them, which just made things worse.
That’s when my debt really started. I owed a few thousand and was managing repayments and chipping away at them, but never really got rid of them properly.
After I got married and had two children, debt began to take over again. I’d always had a credit card on the go but it was manageable. As general family finances got strained, I took out another card or an account with a catalogue, which allowed me to ‘buy now, pay later’.
We paid back the minimum amounts each month, not leaving much else left over and we had nothing spare for if something went wrong – and that’s precisely what happened.
In the space of a week, the engine fell out of the car (a new credit card took care of that), then the washing machine just stopped working, then the fridge packed in. I was maxed out.
We had more going out than we had coming in and I started to panic. I compared my family to others and I felt like I was failing. Other people were managing, at least on the outside, and we couldn’t keep up with normal life.
The payday loans weren’t covering the bills, and we couldn’t afford to pay the money back, so we did a stupid thing: we stopped paying.
In the end, a payday loan bailed us out. It did exactly what it said on the packet – it saw us through until we next had money. Unfortunately, we got trapped in payday loans for months, borrowing more each time as the interest got higher.
It got to the point where the payday loans weren’t covering the bills and we couldn’t afford to pay the money back, so we did a stupid thing: we stopped paying. It wasn’t long before the burden of debt stopped worrying me as much.
It gave us breathing room – but at a massive cost. The threatening letters turned into ones from debt collection agencies, then there were bailiff and county court judgement (CCJ) letters.
Petrified, we started to pay back the people who shouted the loudest, and for a few months this worked. We started paying off some of the debts, as well as starting repayment plans with whichever creditors caught up with us.
But we didn’t realise how skint we really were. Making dinner one night, I realised that the food in the freezer had pretty much run out and there was nothing in the cupboards. We had a total of £6.20 left, which had to feed us and get nappies to last until the end of the week.
I kept hoping that everything would somehow work out OK in the end. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. This was not the kind of thing they teach you in school, it wasn’t spoken about on TV and I felt ashamed to ask others for help. I thought they would judge and look down on me.
The threatening letters turned into ones from debt collection agencies, then there were bailiff and county court judgement (CCJ) letters (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
What I did know was that we couldn’t go on – we weren’t living and things had to change.
Between us, my wife and I confronted all the unopened mail, which was when we got the next shock. Adding all our debts up, we owed around £42,000 in consumer debt. It was double what I expected.
We wrote down our full budget then rang the creditors one by one, telling them things were going to change.
The majority accepted a token debt repayment while we could find ways to reduce our outgoings or boost our income. We could then increase payments, clear one and start on the next one.
We worked hard. We made more changes to our lifestyle, cutting back on all unnecessary bills and payments, stopping all spending, and only buying second hand if we really needed it.
We got additional jobs cleaning in the evening and on weekends so we’d have more money. After about three years, we cleared the debt and a new chapter of our lives started.
I believe I have learned from my mistakes. I try to avoid taking on credit now, but If I have to I ensure it is manageable and we are using it to help build and improve our…