I have been writing this piece for over a week, since last week Friday when I crunched up the numbers and realised that 5 years on from when I acknowledged that I had racked up a massive amount of debt and decided to do something about it, I’m pretty much still in the same place. I am worth around -£30,000. The craziest thing about this situation is not how much I owe but the fact that this figure is speculative. I don’t actually know how much I owe for sure.
A couple of months ago I pretty much hit rock bottom in more ways than 1 and made a resolution to sort things out – permanently. I handed over control of my account to a dear friend of mine and created (yet another) budget that I decided would help me finally get onto the right path. The month after I took that decision was brutal. I had to pay back £2,383.33 from my pay check and live on the remaining £577.66. This amount was supposed to cover rent, bills, and personal care. Considering I live and work in London and pay rent + household bills of £916.58, this was an impossible task so I borrowed an additional £740 from three lovely friends, pawned a phone as well as my PS4 and sublet my room for 5 weeks. I also had to face the indignity of getting a weekly cash allowance from my friend and the last day before pay day saw me scared shitless while walking down the lonely and unlit streets of St Albans at 1am because I couldn’t afford a cab to my friend’s whose summer shed I was sleeping in.
You would think I’d have learnt enough to stay within my budget and ensure that I never put myself in danger again. My friend had to go away just before pay day and our crazy schedules meant that I could not meet her to collect cash for the duration of time she’d be gone so I got access to my money – at the bank or over the telephone to keep some element of resistance – for the first time in a few weeks. I went mad, relative to the budget, and splurged on taxis, takeout, rounds of drinks for friends, and restaurants so that I have no idea of the specifics of where £200-250 of the amount I’d planned to use to pay off a loan went. I did something I haven’t done since I’ve had this level of debt, I stretched out my budget from my usual few months to cover the duration of time it would take me to pay off all my debt (with income and expenditure staying the same as today, effectively a worst case scenario) and I got a shock! I wouldn’t be done till December 2018.
If, during this worst time of my life, I couldn’t even stay within my rather reasonable budget – based on conversations I’ve had with people who earn a third of what I do, how could I possibly hope to stay on top of this super long term plan? That’s when I realised that I have been financially irresponsible and I really need to come up with a strategy for the difficult times, when I’m most susceptible to foolishness. For the times that I’m asked to go to the pub after football and I partake in the “rounds” culture. For the days I’m out for 18 hours because I’m working two jobs and get hungry and resort to takeaways for sustenance. For the nights I want to feel a little bit better about myself and cuddle up with a person of interest after a day in the cinema. For the days I’m exhausted and face a 20 minute walk home in the rain and opt for a taxi or a bus. For the news that I will need to pay a £240 bill to fix my bike that’s central to my £60 monthly transport budget.
Once the initial panic dissipated, I started Googling. I came across the term “luxuriously frugal” on the Frugalwoods blog which has been a source of comfort and lots of inspirational content since last Friday. I also discovered Blonde on a Budget this week which provided me with a frugal / minimalist lifestyle that is more in line with my personality. Reading both of these have helped me create a plan that should transform me from spendthrift to thrifty.
- Evaluate the things that give me joy – follow that up with categorising them in terms of how much they cost and how essential they are
- Define some long term goals that can underpin the struggle with the debt and effectively give me the ability to resist when the temptation to spend comes along
- Nail down the actual amounts I owe -contacting all creditors is essential
- Modify the budget – ensure that it is realistic & sustainable
This blog is to keep me accountable. I’ve discovered that in other areas of my life, where I have accountability, I’m generally more likely to stay on track.