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Debt is a common problem for a lot of people, and becoming debt free is a hugely popular goal and aspiration for lots of people, myself included. Getting out of debt is probably the first step to achieving financial freedom, and yet a lot of people get trapped in debt spirals for all sorts of reasons and end up in long battles trying to get out of debt with little success.
A few statistics on debt in the UK as of February this year (2019):
- The average amount of total debt per UK household is £59,552.
- As of the end of February, outstanding consumer credit lending was £216.3 billion.
- The UK’s total interest payments on personal debt would be £51,140 MILLION over a 12-month period (an average of £140 million PER DAY)
That’s a lot of debt!
Not All Debt Is Created Equal
Although no debt at all is obviously the best kind, some debts are definitely better to have than others. For example, a mortgage for a home. For most people, saving up enough to buy a house outright is pretty much impossible, and a mortgage allows them to do that; paying off the debt also pays for the home, so it’s usually (though not always) a worthwhile debt in the long term.
Other debts, such as taking out loans for unnecessary purchases with extremely high interest rates, debts that come from over spending or funding addictions, or debts from taking out payday loans are much worse, and have the potential to be much more damaging.
Unfortunately, my debt falls into the second category.
Debt where the money spent gained nothing, and the money repaid gains little except to get rid of the debt.
This post is a hard one to write. To be honest, it’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written so please bear with me.
Because my debt is from gambling.
Writing ‘out loud’ so to speak that I have a gambling problem is a hard thing to admit, and I still struggle to even really believe it.
I’d like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent person.
I’ve definitely always considered myself to be ‘responsible’. I’ve never done anything remotely risk-taking because that’s just not who I am.
I KNOW (as we probably all do) gambling sites are designed to take your money and losing is inevitable.
And yet, here I am.
30 something years old, with a university degree, a home, a great husband, beautiful children who make me smile every day. And thousands of pounds of gambling debts.
It doesn’t make much sense.
I don’t have an excuse. There isn’t one.
All I can say is that I was struggling with feelings of post natal depression after having my third baby, suffering from months and months of sleep deprivation, having a difficult time in my marriage and I guess it offered some kind of escape or control perhaps. I can’t explain, really, because I still don’t completely understand.
Here’s what I do know:
These sites are also designed to suck you in. To keep you playing. To tempt you further. To exploit vulnerable people. And for all their talk of promoting ‘responsible gambling’ I honestly believe there’s no such thing.
I’m writing this to try and say that it can happen to anyone. I really believe that.
You might be the most disciplined, moral, self-controlled person and think ‘well I’d never do that’ and fully believe it.
And perhaps that is true for a lot of people.
But it also may only take a change in circumstance, mental health, relationships or finances to lead to a change in behaviour you never thought possible.
How I First Got Into Debt
For me, (as for most) it started small.
I took online casino offers for free spins thinking I could make a few pounds here and there, and for a while I did. I tried matched betting and I made a bit of money doing that. But then I started getting sent more offers, depositing a little more, losing a little more.
Then a good friend died suddenly and unexpectedly.
I was devastated.
She was around the same age as me, leaving behind a daughter the same age as mine, and it hit me, hard. I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings I had. I slipped back into having more low days than not and one night when I couldn’t sleep I went back on a slots site and started playing. Of course I lost, but I deposited more to try and win it back.
I spiralled. I wasn’t enjoying playing anymore but I just wanted to wipe off the losses I’d made. I knew what I was doing wasn’t okay but I carried on anyway. I spent money from my savings, hid it from my husband, I took out credit cards and a loan, borrowed from my family and completely and totally lost control.
Even now, I can’t get my head around how I could do what I did.
Although he didn’t know what was going on, my relationship with my husband was tense and strained because he could feel something wasn’t right. I wasn’t giving my kids the attention they deserved. I just felt constantly sick, anxious and stressed. I couldn’t sleep and the debt kept getting worse.
Eventually, it came to a point of desperation and I found the words to tell my husband what was going on. We have been, and still are working through things together. It is hard, and obviously I’ve caused a lot of hurt and anger, both by what I did and also by hiding it and not talking about it sooner.
I feel a lot of shame and guilt about what I’ve done, which I don’t think will pass for a long time, if ever. But I also feel a lot more free and less burdened not carrying this secret around and although it will take time for relationships to heal and a long time to pay off the debts, I feel confident of not falling back into the same pattern now I have people to support me and hold me accountable. I realise I’m lucky to have this.
Why Am I Writing This?
Although I still feel sick just thinking about it, I’m sharing this because even it it just makes one person think twice about that first ‘harmless bit of fun’ or to just recognise a feeling of temptation or desperation and decide not to carry on gambling, or even to reconsider getting into any other kind of ‘bad’ debt, then it’s worth it. I hope that it does.
Our relationships with money can be significantly impacted by our emotions , feelings and mental health. I wish I had gotten help sooner but I thought I should be feeling happy and grateful to have the baby I’d so wanted.
I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling to cope. I somehow thought if I did that it would mean I didn’t really love my baby, and I wasn’t good enough to be a mum.
So I let things get worse.
I don’t want anyone to experience the desperation, anxiety and stress that I’ve felt, the shame I still feel now and the worry I’ve caused my family. It is hard to talk about, and I have thought a lot about whether to share this or not, but I think it’s important to be open and talk about the difficult stuff too.
Do You Have A Similar Story?
If you are struggling with gambling, or with any debt that’s weighing you down, or can recognise yourself emotionally overspending, I’d just encourage you to talk to someone about it. I understand it’s difficult, I do. I couldn’t bring myself to do it for a long time, and let things get much worse before I did (to the point I was worrying about people knocking on the door asking for money).
The sooner you can talk to someone about it, the sooner you can start overcoming it.
I can’t lie, it won’t be an easy conversation. For me, there were (and are often still) lots of tears! But honestly, the best thing to do is to get it out in the open and get some support.
You might want to try and prepare the person a little beforehand, by telling them you have something difficult but important to talk about, and make sure you pick a time where there’s plenty of time and space to talk it through properly.
If you feel like you really can’t talk to a friend or family member, or need further support there are more options:
- Consider making an appointment with your GP who can discuss with you what options are available for help and support.
- Contact GamCare, who can offer online support and over the phone counselling, and also point you in the right direction for face-to-face counselling.
For advice and guidance on dealing with debt you can contact:
StepChange – a debt charity offering expert, practical help with your debt.
CAP (Christians Against Poverty) – an award winning charity that provide debt counselling and support.
Both of these organisations offer real solutions with absolutely no judgement.
Getting Out Of Debt
If you are like me, with a lot of debt to pay off and needing to make changes to save money, or want to try as hard as possible to pay if off as quickly as possible there are lots of small life changes and habits to adopt that combined together can make a big difference. Essentially these come down to:
- Having a good budget and sticking to it
- Cutting back your outgoings and spending less
- Finding ways to earn some extra money
The more you can save and the more extra you can make, the more you can throw at the debt to pay it faster. This is what I’m trying to do.
Make a plan you can stick to
The best thing to do is make a detailed plan of how you’re going to pay it back (and this is something the charities above will be able to help you with).
Start with creating a budget. This needs to include all the income you have from any source, and every single outgoing expense. Don’t leave anything out. Your budget is the foundation for keeping on track with your finances, and being able to manage your money as best you can.
Once you have your budget, you’ll know what you can afford to repay, and sometimes it’s possible to come to an arrangement with your credit card company/bank regarding the amount they’ll allow to pay back each month, and they might agree to freeze interest payments for you.
Because you can see exactly where all your money is going, it can also give you a good idea of where there might be areas you are spending that you might be able to cut back in, which can free up more money to throw at the debt to clear it sooner.
It’s helpful to work out exactly what you need to repay and how long it will take.
In my case, I am able to pay just the minimum repayments on my credit cards for now, but as they have a long interest free period, I can do this for now then reevaluate and possibly balance transfer when that period ends. I’ve also agreed an affordable amount I’m paying back monthly to each debtor, and am working hard to earn as much extra from home as I can and adding it to my repayments.
There are lots of different methods suggested for paying off debt, but I’d recommend trying to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first as this will be more expensive the longer you have it.
With no extra income, it would take me 9 years to pay off my debt, which at first was a horrible, overwhelming thought, and I felt like it would be hanging over me forever. Then I worked out that if I could make £100 extra a month (which feels achievable) I could almost half that time, and any more earnings or savings I can put towards it will help me reduce the time more.
This helps me feel much more motivated about being able to get rid of this debt and move past it.
Once you have a plan and an idea of a timescale, you have a goal to work towards, and it’s easier to find the motivation. Each small step is a step closer to being debt free, which is the ultimate aim.
I really hope this post helps a little, if you are struggling with debt, especially secret debt, and I want you to know that nothing is impossible to recover from. There are lots of options and possibilities, even if they seem out of reach right now. Taking the first step and talking to someone, as soon as you can, really is the best thing you can do.
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