This is my first Blog post and as such, I would like for formally welcome you to my site.
I really hope that you can get some benefit out of the content, relate to some of if not most of my experiences and ultimately, find a way to move forward if you’ve found yourself in a similar position.
I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Growing up, my family never had much money.
That isn’t an excuse and I am by no means blaming my parents, they worked like horses and everything that happened in the coming years was my own doing, it’s purely to give you some context.
I guess I was your standard child from a working-class family, never really had the expensive toys or clothes, I was teased and bullied at times as I didn’t have the latest gadgets or games for the new top console, etc, etc.
This is not to say that I had a tough upbringing. My parents did everything they could to ensure we had food on the table and a roof over our heads, that’s the important thing and now I have a massive amount of respect for them and everything they did for me.
At the time, however, I have to admit there was part of me that felt a little hard done by. This led me to paper rounds and part-time work from around the age of 12.
Not a bad start many would say and I would have to agree. This continued throughout my childhood and right up until the time I left school (right after flunking my A levels).
AFTER LEAVING SCHOOL
This is where the problems began. I was 18 years old, working full time in the job I’d been doing for the past few years and earning a reasonable wage.
Sharing a house with a few friends I found that I finally had some disposable income (I have grown to hate that phrase) so was living the student lifestyle without being a student.
Out hitting the town 3-4 nights a week, thinking nothing of spending £50-£100 on a night out and just generally enjoying myself. That’s when it happened, my first credit card.
I’m sure many of you have been in the same situation, I hope you were more responsible than me but suffice to say, I opened a letter from the bank and was excited when I saw that I had been pre-approved for a credit card.
Obviously, I applied for it straight away and was astounded when it arrived with a £1000 limit. 18 years old with a £1000 limit on a credit card, as far as I was concerned at the time it was free money.
Looking back that was the problem I think. As much as a lot of people would say that growing up without much money should educate you with regards to the value of money, I went the other way and had no real understanding of credit cards and so jumped in with both feet, spending the entire lot within a matter of weeks.
I spent a lot of time telling myself that it was ok because I’d enjoyed myself, this was short-lived until the first bill arrived and the journey began.
I found myself in the position that by the time I’d paid all of my bills and the credit card, it really didn’t leave me much to survive with for the rest of the month.
So, what did I do?
Did I have a few months of going out to pay the card down and reduce my debt? NO.
I did what I’m sure a lot of other people have done and got another credit card to “just tie me over and help until I could get the other card cleared”.
I’m sure you can all see where this went, more credit cards, more debt, higher payments, and less money free every month for things like food, you know, slightly important things we all need in order to survive.
I found myself in a vicious circle of debt, payments, more debt and it took me a very very long time to realize that I was actually getting into more debt every month due to the interest rates.
After a couple of years feeling like I was sinking deeper and deeper into debt, by sheer accident I found myself in the bookies with my old man.
This was something he had done for many years, always having a couple of pounds on the horses with the occasional win.
Now, this was nothing life-changing but even winning a couple of hundred pounds was amazing for him, purely because he did it for the enjoyment, not for the fact that he could win money.
As you do, on this day I decided to get him to show me what he was doing and how he did it, which he did gladly. Why wouldn’t he, I was working and earning my own money and frankly, it was actually really nice to do it together, sharing something he enjoyed for the first time.
As many gamblers will probably tell you, they won the first time they tried and were hooked.
I would love to tell you that my story was different but no, low and behold the first time I had a bet on the horse racing I bet £3 on 4 horses and won over £200, that was it, I was hooked.
Now, I didn’t have a problem with gambling at this stage, that was something that came much later in life.
At this stage of my life, it was something nice that I did with my dad on my day off each week.
We would go to the shop, grab a paper and go for a pint down the local pub where we’d go over the days racing.
After an hour or so and a couple of pints, we’d run over to the bookies to get our bets on before returning to the pub for a few games of pool and a few more beers whilst we watched the racing, a really nice time and I don’t regret it at all.
MOVING FORWARD A FEW YEARS
At this point lets fast forward a few years to when I was about 25 years old.
Don’t be fooled, the debt hadn’t gone away and was really at the point of being completely unmanageable.
I found myself working to almost just pay the interest on my debts and struggling to pay the bills and actually just get through the month.
If you have ever been in this position then I’m sure you know what I mean, if not, here’s a little example to show how bad things can get out of control:
For those eagle-eyed individuals amongst you, you will notice that the interest payments for the credit cards were higher than the monthly minimum payments and due to my income at the time, the minimum payments were all that I could make.
In retrospect, I could have looked at earning more through additional work or maybe trying to reduce my monthly outgoings on rent or bills, all great things that I know now but at the time I was so worried about where my finances were going that it seemed almost impossible just to think logically about it let alone come up with some form of plan to sort it out.
This was just getting me in more and more debt and I could see myself gradually getting further and further into a completely unmanageable position, something had to be done.
Do you think by this point I had learned my lesson? No.
After looking at a few avenues to try and get myself out I decided to take out a debt consolidation loan.
Although this was going to extend the overall duration of my debt it was going to save me around £200 per month, a decent amount when stuck in a position like that.
I’d justified it to myself that as long as everything was paid off then I could afford it AND it was going to save me getting charged an absolute fortune by the banks for late payments or over-limit charges, which it did.
However, at this point in my life, my gambling had escalated to the point where I was looking at it as an avenue for income rather than just a bit of fun.
At times, I had won decent amounts of money ranging from a couple of hundred pounds up to thousands, every time giving me a bit of respite from my debts and allowing me to get them in order again, for the short term at least.
The issue was, looking at gambling as a way to MAKE money caused me to become fully, without any doubt, addicted.
This continued after I had taken out the debt consolidation loan with the thought that if I had another good win then I could possibly pay that off early and be debt-free. Obviously, this is not what happened.
So this went on for around a year or two, with me winning at times and paying some debt off then using my credit cards to gamble, ultimately leaving me in a position where I had my debt consolidation loan payments, along with all the monthly payments for the credit cards that I had now built back up.
This was a totally self-inflicted tough time in my life.
I never realized at the time how bad an addiction gambling was.
Alcohol and drug addiction I understood and thankfully never fell foul of but gambling, was that really an addiction or had I just put myself in a really really bad position?
Step in my absolutely awesome girlfriend (Now my fiancee).
Don’t get me wrong she did not make this easy for me and looking back now, I do not blame her at all.
As any addict will probably agree, when you’re addicted and doing the thing you’re addicted to, it is very hard to think of the consequences.
My girlfriend had previously made it clear to me that she did not like gambling and wanted me to stop.
Fine I thought, no problem, although that is not how it went.
I found myself gambling online while she was at work or when I was away, doing everything I could to hide it from her.
This did not work and she could and still can read me like a book.
She always knew when I’d been gambling and ultimately ended in the ultimatum, me or gambling, you can’t have both.
This was a massive wake up call for me and made me realize just how much I wanted our relationship.
It also, with a little nudge, made me start to think about gambling and how much of an issue it had become in my life.
Accepting the fact that I had an addiction was probably one of the toughest things I have ever done. I’d always thought I had control of it and could stop whenever I wanted, it took a lot to realize that I couldn’t and ask for help.
SEARCHING FOR SOME HELP
It was in my early 30’s that I’d finally had the kick that I needed and asked for help.
Right now I need to say that if any of you resonate with anything that I’ve said then please if you take one thing from this blog post, ask for help.
I spoke to GAMCARE, a UK based gambling support charity. They were amazing and so considerate, they’d been there and heard it all before. Everything I was ashamed of or embarrassed about talking about, they brought out in an understanding and very nonjudgemental way.
I have no doubt that this was the start of my recovery. I will always be a Gambling addict, but now I can accept that and have come to terms with not gambling anymore, I have turned my energy to other, more useful pursuits so I can provide the life that both I want and the life that I want to provide for my fiancee.
If you need to please check out GAMCARE at the link below, it will be the best thing you’ve done in a long time if you are or if you think you may be suffering from a gambling addiction.
Also, if you think you know someone with a gambling addiction or if a loved one suffers with it then check them out, they don’t just help the addict.
After going through the material provided by GAMCARE and around 4 months of group sessions (online), I was in a good position with my gambling, or by this time the lack of gambling.
Now it was time to move forward and start tackling my finances.
I took a bit of time going through my finances, creating a comprehensive spreadsheet to show all of my balances, outgoings and monthly payments. Now, this did take a while and involved a few phone calls but wow was it worth it.
I’d done ok over the years leading up to this point so a new job, a few promotions, and a decent wage meant that I could pay everything every month, however, I had put myself back in that position AGAIN where my income and outgoings meant that I could only really pay the minimum payments every month, not an ideal situation to be in.
I knew a few people who had been in a tough position financially and had taken out an IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement) with their creditors, not really something I wanted to do but it was an option.
Thankfully, by this point in my life I had learned to research before jumping in and to explore all of the options.
Eventually, I spoke to STEPCHANGE, a UK based debt relief charity. Now they will not pay any debts off for you, however, they are experts in their field and if you look at almost any lender now, they all advertise STEPCHANGE if you’re having trouble making your payments.
These guys were great, they listened to my situation, got me to fill out some paperwork going through all of my creditors/debts/expenses and my income.
Once they had all of the information, they had a look and gave me the advice I needed on which avenue was best for me.
I ended up with a debt management plan (DMP), this wasn’t easy as the monthly repayments were high, however, they were affordable and meant that I paid back the debts in full.
I was happy with this as it didn’t impact my credit score as much as some other plans may do.
I know how it can be, especially with us men and having too much pride, or being too stubborn to ask for help.
I was that man for a number of years but I have to tell you, once that DMP was set up and the creditors stopped getting in touch, it really felt like I could get on with my life.
I had my budget, I knew how much they were taking every month so I could plan the rest of my life.
For those of you who may not be aware, one of the biggest benefits of arranging a DMP or IVA through a debt charity like Stepchange is that they DO NOT charge you for the privilege.
There are a lot of companies out there that tell you they will take care of everything for you but then charge you every month for doing it, please please please do not use them, go to a charity if you need help, that is why they are there and they won’t charge you which in my opinion, would just make the whole thing worse.
If you or anyone you know is in a tough financial position with debt then please check out Stepchange at the link below.
On a final note, regarding my life at least, I have finally moved on. My fiancee and I are very happy, enjoying a more financially free life and I am in the midst of moving forward towards financial freedom.
It is a long way away from where I was and it has been a long road but everything worth having is worth working for, as they say.
I have a couple of new articles that i’ve written which, if you’ve enjoyed this post might interest you.
So this blog has been a lot longer than I intended and as much as I apologize for that, I felt it was important to give you a brief (believe it or not) introduction to me, what struggles I went through before I got to where I am now and where we are going to go from here.
So from here, let’s look at the future of the Blog and take a look at some of the things I want to cover in the future.
If there is anything, in particular, you would like me to write about, please leave a comment and I will have a look.
Also, If you know anyone who is struggling with Gambling or debt and you think would benefit from my blog, please share it as wide as you can, I just want to pass on what I’ve learned and if I can help just 1 person then job done.
Preparing for your financial future
Live within your means
Get your debts in order
Manage your finances
Your credit score and how to understand it
How to improve your credit score
Financial product reviews
etc, etc, etc
So, Let me know what you think. Are any of these subjects things you would be interested in me covering? if so, let me know.
Have an awesome life all and I look forward to catching you with my next post soon.