Recently I have received several emails from people asking about my debt story – specifically how I got into debt in the first place. I have already written about certain chapters of this story; the fact that I lied about being in debt, and how I got out of it, but for some reason, I struggled with sharing the part where it all began.
It’s a little embarrassing to be honest with you, but despite the shame I feel, I also feel proud of how I turned things around. So, with that in mind, *gulp* here it is.
I first got into debt in 2001, having just turned 21. I wanted to do something to mark the occasion, and what better way to celebrate this milestone moment than to take out my first credit card?
I was desperately naïve back then and uneducated about how credit cards work – interest rates were an entirely unknown entity and I was every banks dream. Blind to the reality of what credit cards were, I signed myself up willingly.
It started slowly; a new dress here, designer sunglasses there, but before I knew it I had maxed out the card. Not to worry, I thought. I’ll just apply for another one.
It was madness. I was being allowed credit way beyond my means of repayment. I was working in a restaurant at the time and wasn’t exactly raking in the big bucks. My spending habits far outweighed my income and quickly became an addiction I had no control over.
This addiction was fed by my extreme lack of confidence, and unwillingness to admit how deeply unhappy I was with several other aspects of my life. I smothered my inner yearnings for a different way of living by telling myself owning more stuff would make me happy. I was afraid to face up to my life and make changes, and so every time I felt sad, I went shopping.
I carried on in this way for the best part of the next decade, occasionally paying off a card, then needing more money, so taking out another and only paying back the minimal repayment on each one. It was a mine field – I knew at some point something was going to blow, I just didn’t know when
I was way out of my depth. My debt permanently hovered around the £15,000.00 ($24K) mark and I was in complete and utter denial.
I tried several times to get out of debt. I would make headway, then temptation would rear its ugly head again and boom, I was right back to square one. I didn’t value myself enough to end the vicious cycle. I had zero self-worth at this time and shopping was one of the few things that made me feel good.
Like any habit, timing is crucial in your ability to break it. You have to be ready, and you have to want it badly enough.
So what was it that finally enabled me to change? I’d love to say something profound and meaningful here, that I reached a moment of clarity and my materialistic ways were suddenly rendered obsolete. What it actually came down is this:
I met Lee, an adventurous Scotsman, in 2008 while on holiday in Goa (courtesy of my credit card). Now I don’t know how far reaching the Scottish reputation is, but round here they are known for keeping their purse strings nice and tight. Lee was very good with his money, and I was terrified of revealing to him how bad I was with it. So, quite simply, I didn’t. I hid it from him for several years.
I was deeply ashamed of my debt and just couldn’t face telling Lee about it. I loved the way he saw me and couldn’t bear to risk shattering that. I hoped I would be able to pay my debt off without him ever knowing about it. It’s crazy I know, but debt can make you do crazy things.
The crunch finally came when we moved into a new flat together in 2010. Our outgoings increased dramatically and I was struggling to keep afloat.
I was lying to Lee left, right and centre to try and keep my debt concealed, but eventually I realised I had to come clean. The weight of my lies was debilitating and I was sick with worry about what was going to happen. Our relationship was already on very rocky ground as Lee suspected I wasn’t being honest with him, and I feared the truth would push him over the edge.
So I told him. I blurted it out one day and he took it better than I expected at first, but once the depth of my lies sunk in he was deeply hurt and betrayed. He lost his trust in me and, though we tried to keep our relationship going, in the end we decided to split up. I moved back home to my mum’s house and he stayed on in our flat while he looked for a new place to live.
I was devastated. I was entirely to blame for what had happened and wracked with guilt. I hated knowing that I was capable of stooping so low. Things had to change.
From this point onwards, change came easy. No matter how many dresses I saw, nothing was more tempting than my dreams of a debt-free existence.
As I started to regain control of my life again, I also began to regain Lee’s faith in me. He was proud of my efforts and could see that I was doing it for myself, not him. I wasn’t trying to win back his love, I was trying to win back my own.
Nine months later and roughly 2500 hours of hard work, I had earned enough money to clear my debt completely and cover an additional £1,500.00 ($2,300.00) in interest and an early repayment penalty. My relationship with Lee was back on track and I even had enough money left over for us to go on holiday to Egypt for two weeks. I felt pride in myself for probably the first time in my life, but more than anything, I finally felt like I was living the life I had been so afraid to chase after for all those years.
So there you have it. It’s not an easy story to share, but I am doing so in the hopes that it may go some way to helping those of you still struggling with debt. If you have any questions or just want someone to talk to, please send me an email – I love hearing from you. And believe me, if I can rewrite my debt story, anyone can.