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Don’t get trapped by Christmas credit


Money is not the root of all evil, but it sure can feel that way when you’re struggling with your finances.

Christmas may be some time away yet, but considering the amount of money that you might ‘need’ to spend, now is the time to look at your wages and get around town to buy some early gifts.

Everyone works so hard to be happy at Christmas, but it can actually be a massive stress can’t it? Buying gifts for family members you don’t really know. Visiting relatives and trying to be polite about their food! People in your house at all times of day, phones ringing, dogs barking, charity adverts on the tele and just no peace! No space!

Then there are other people. People who don’t have the hustle and bustle, the cards and the gifts. Christmas is a miserable time to be alone (although I like to think New Year is a good fresh start).

However many cards and gifts (and extras, like tins of biscuits and decorations) you have to buy, don’t you find that you run out of cash in the middle of December? The joy of late night shopping is completely quashed by being down to your last tenner and wondering how you can stretch that to last you a week.

My personal reliance on self-injury was because of many things; family, grades, friendships… actually, just one thing – low self-confidence and a crippling sense of responsibility for everything. But beyond those, money played a big part in my stress levels.

It’s hard to enjoy a night in with friends if you’re worried about the Direct Debits leaving your bank account in the morning. It’s hard to tell concerned friends that ‘everything is fine’ when you’re trying to work out how to afford travel costs and food costs. Obviously, you go out for the odd pint, but you don’t feel good that your friends have to buy you a drink just to get you out of the house.

When I was 18, 19, I couldn’t sleep with all the money worries I had. I’d got into some really bad financial habits. I wasn’t spending frivolously at all, but there were times when I had to ‘appear normal’ and that meant buying a white shirt or getting some new shoes. Such expenditure would push my finances over the edge, and all because I felt so very pressured to keep up a good front, to make sure people thought I was ‘doing alright’. It got to the stage where I was buying my weekly food shopping with my credit card.

Oh how I wish I had never ever got a credit card of any kind.

Sometimes, now that I’m here in 2010 and doing OK, I wonder what my life would’ve been like if I’d said ‘no’ to that credit card offer when I was 18. I wonder if I’d have a mortgage and a nice house now? Maybe I’d have a car and drive. I don’t know, I don’t worry so much any more, but I did back then.

I had to hurt myself to take away the dread enough so I could sleep. I couldn’t open bills and any letter that came through my door terrified me. I had this assumption that ‘they’ would take everything away from me. I was terrified of having nothing; I had so little (no TV, no laptop, just some books and clothes and a stereo) but I was worried I’d lose even my few possessions. If only I had someone to talk to, someone who could put my (small) debt into perspective.

It felt like a huge weight to me, and, looking back, I didn’t work hard enough to keep my debt small. It grew when times got hard. When I lost my jobs in the autumn (I took whatever seasonal work I could get back then) I’d rely on my credit card more and more.

At one point, I had three part time jobs. Each was one after the other, so I was working a long day and having to pay for taxis to get to each job (the taxi fare cost me more than I could earn in an hour). With money in my pocket, I still didn’t feel financially secure as I felt I was just working to pay off my credit card really.

There’s a great deal of stigma attached to financial difficulties. We hold the ‘financially irresponsible’ person accountable for their mistakes. That’s right and correct of course, no question.

But we make bad decisions for a reason; pressure in the present can make us take financial risks, with only the tenuous hope that we’ll sort things out in the future. Are we betting we’ll ‘earn more’ or something in the future? That’s a good bet, normally; may not be true in this recession though :(

I wish I had known that buying food at Tesco with your credit card is not normal if you’re poor, like I was. People who manage their income and outgoings get to use credit cards wherever they like (and earn those extra club card points!). But when you’re as poor as I was back then, buying food on credit is a sure sign that you’re out of cash, that you’re just hoping the sale will go through and you can grab your shopping bags and leave.

The worst thing is when you’ve gone over your credit limit and you have to put toiletries back, and just buy the bread and pasta. Cripplingly embarrassing.

It’s not been easy to write this article; I can’t face editing it. I’ll just publish it now before I delete it instead. The shame of my poor finances haunts me to this day; it’s affected a great many areas of my life, although I am financially recovering.

All because I was 18 with a credit card and a minimum wage part-time job.

If life is about learning, then I’ve had a lot of lessons, and I’ve learnt who my friends are. I would not have survived without support back then.

My reliance on self-injury was nothing in comparison to the massive weight of my finances back then. Don’t let your financial situation drive you to hurt yourself; don’t let any sense of shame stop you talking to your friends about money.

Count how many wage packets you’ll receive before Christmas; you do not want to have to buy everything with your last pay packet. Can I suggest that you start buying gifts now and putting some money away for December?

I have a  vase in my kitchen that I’m putting tenners into now, so that I can buy some lovely food when December gets here.

Christmas may be a time of giving, sharing and caring, but please care about yourself right now.


Photo credit: Howard Lake


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