By Alex Horridge, Safety Business Partner
I’m Alex and in support of Talk Money week, I wanted to share my story.
From the outside I looked successful, I drove a flash car and had a great lifestyle, but in reality, I was slipping further and further into debt and it happened so easily and quickly.
I was 25, working for ASDA, on good money, and renting a room off a mate. A few months down the line he met his wife so I needed to move out. I bought my own flat, which I loved, but the jobs that needed doing to it started to pile up.
I opened credit cards to pay for the works and then got a loan to clear the credit cards – I was maxed out on credit and within the space of six months I’d fallen into a very serious debt situation, owing £25,000.
It was, without a doubt, the worst point in my life. It had a huge impact on my mental health because of the stress of wondering whether I’d be able to afford to eat or put fuel in my car to get to work. If I couldn’t get to work I couldn’t earn money and it would be game over.
I didn’t know what to do, but I was determined to keep a roof over my head, so I plucked up the courage to contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who gave me some options. I didn’t speak to anyone else about it. I knew my parents could help me, but I was too proud, stubborn and stupid – if I’m honest – to admit I’d got myself into this situation.
Instead I had to enter into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) which is a formal and legally binding agreement between you and your creditors to pay back your debts over a period.
I’m not a fan of IVAs but it helped to get me out of this horrific situation. It left me with very little each month, after paying my mortgage and usual bills it left me just enough for a few simple groceries.
At the time you think you’re invincible, you soon realise that you’re not. We’re all vulnerable and having poor credit is scary. I can’t tell you how much it can affect the rest of your life, your economic status and where you live. I’ve now paid off all my debt, but it’s left me with a black mark on my credit file. I can’t apply for a mortgage, get a mobile phone or have a normal bank account.
I’m now married and have a son – it’s really changed my perspective on life. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. Setting a budget, and sticking to it, is key (something which I was terrible at) – I’m now the king of spreadsheets. I think that education is so important. It’s great that there’s so much support available to colleagues, including our new partnership with StepChange, and that we’re trying to break the taboo about talking about money and asking for help when it matters.
If you can relate to any part of my story, I’d encourage you to reach out for help. There’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, most people have got in to debt in some shape or another. Pick up the phone, ask for help and talk to someone. I genuinely understand how hard it is to talk to family members or a friend, but I’ll be honest, the relief I got from telling someone felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders… it wasn’t gone, but wow it felt better.