Let's talk about debt

6 min | 05 February 2024

Chanté Joseph
Chanté Joseph

Debt can be hard to talk about, so let's lift the lid on the taboo. From expensive dates to spontaneous student spending, here are some debt stories that will get you thinking.

Debt isn’t a dirty word, so why can people feel so ashamed of it? To gain a good credit score you need to show that you can handle debt responsibly, so it's not as if it's an unknown concept to most people. To break down the stigma surrounding debt, I’ve spoken to people about their experiences to understand what it's taught them about money management.

There are countries in debt, governments in debt and huge companies operating in debt. Despite being an essential part of our financial system, individual debt can carry so much shame. According to The Money Charity, in June 2022, the average total unsecured debit per adult was £3,855, and Citizens Advice UK dealt with over 2,000 debt issues in the year up to May 2022.

"To find out more about how our experiences with debt shape our relationship with money, I spoke to 5 people about their own debt stories.

I’ve had more than £12,000 in debt twice in my life. I cleared the first debt in my 20s by paying it off with commissions from my sales job. I should hopefully finish paying the most recent one as I'm working two full-time jobs simultaneously. Both times I got into debt, I was in long-term relationships where I was earning more than the other person. As a result, I often had to support them, and pay for things like dinners, holiday and gifts.

When I’m single, I largely live within my means – it’s hard to spend above your level just for yourself. However, in relationships, I’m just like, “let’s go for dinner, let’s go on holiday, let’s get a takeaway, let’s buy you some clothes, I’ll get these drinks, I’ll lend you some money,” and you never really ask for it back because it's for your partner. "

Tom, 34
"I got into about £10,000 of debt through going to uni at 17 with zero financial support from my family. I had a mentally ill mother and had to send money home. When I was offered credit cards and overdrafts, life felt free and easy.

The main thing I wish I’d known earlier, although it sounds obvious now, was how interest rates worked. If you’re paying £250+ a month in interest, you take out more credit, and it spirals. I only really managed to get out of my debt during the pandemic. I used [lockdown] to put myself on a strict budget and get everything paid off.

I wish I’d realised in my early 20s that it’s OK to say no if you can’t afford it – we shouldn’t put pressure on each other to spend money. I was stuck in a constant cycle of going out, borrowing and spending while only earning £23,000 in London, and it was not enough. I felt like I had to keep up with everyone, but eventually, I became more honest with my friends about debt and money.

I found that many people were experiencing similar situations but had so much shame around money. So I felt much more comfortable just saying, "no, I can’t afford it." Or I would suggest coming over to cook dinner or doing something much more affordable.

I also think during the pandemic I really started to actually stop caring what people think, and prioritise myself!"

Lucy, 30
"I have both credit card debt and a loan. I got a credit card to improve my credit score, and although I don’t regret it, I wish I'd been more responsible. I now have £850 on my credit card, of which £600 is veterinary treatments my insurance won’t cover. The loan I have is £2,300 over 18 months, and I’ve paid six months' worth.

I had to take out this loan because I maxed out my card, paying rent on my own for a month when my boyfriend broke up with me and wouldn’t split the rent. I could've gone to my dad for help paying my rent instead of taking it all on my own. I didn't want to do that, out of pride, which was stupid because he’d been helping me already for years."

Nic, 24
"I always swore I wouldn’t get a credit card when I was younger, but I got one to build my credit score when I was around 21, and then I just got reckless with it, only ever paying off the minimum. I ended up with three cards and about £11,000 worth of debt.

My debt was mostly racked up from putting holidays or expensive items on my card with the view I'd "pay them off quickly". I told a friend about my debt and she gave me some advice and helped me follow a strict budget – the lockdown helped me achieve this.

It took around 18 months, paying around £800 towards the debt most months. Luckily I was living at home, so I had the privilege of putting any extra money I had towards paying down my debt. I even began selling items I didn't need so that profits could go towards my debts. Eventually, I paid it all off in October 2021, and I've managed to save and invest around £5,000 since the start of this year."

Zee, 26
"I’m nearly 30, and my student overdraft has had me in a chokehold for the longest time. The biggest reason for this was a lack of understanding about debt, credit and what it means as a student to take on that debt. The first £500 of my overdraft, I splashed out on things like clothes. At university, the shopping centre would have student lock-ins where they’d have huge discounts in popular stores.

I was frivolous with money during my first and second years of university – I quickly spent my wages and had to be bailed out by my parents. My dad financially cut me off when I failed my third year, and, to pay for my houseshare deposits, I extended my overdraft by £1,000. All in all, I was about £3,000 overdrawn.

It took four years to pay it off, and I would’ve paid it sooner had I not had to pay so much interest. This has definitely impacted my relationship with money today – I now make an effort to live within my means and have only just got a credit card to help my credit score."

Tia, 28

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and does not constitute financial advice. If you have any concerns about debt, you can get free information by contacting MoneyHelper (Opens in new window)

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