Do you have too much debt? At the beginning was…feeling

This post is part of the Debt Movement.

OK, I already owned up to the staggering amount of debt we had three years ago (just a reminder: it is mostly gone and we are expecting to be making the final payment any day now) but I never told you the story as it was – probably because it was never my intention that this blog becomes a record, a diary of us paying off our ‘negative wealth’. Tonight, as a special opening to the series of articles on debt and what to do about it I am going to tell you the story – with six points that can be used as a check list. If you answer ‘yes’ to at least four of these, please get off the internet (or log in your internet bank account but nothing else) and start working it out.

It is true that at the beginning is feeling; this ought to be followed by detailed knowledge – and more than one kind of knowledge if you are to get anywhere in this ‘debt butt kicking’ game.

At the beginning was feeling

I remember, as if it was a week ago, the dark and wet autumn evening slightly over three years ago. Dark and wet is not unusual for Manchester (Manchester UK, this is :)); what was unusual was the gloomy feeling around the kitchen table, John’s face telling stories of sleepless nights and endless hours working and the tight knot in my belly, the premonition that ‘the sh*t is just about to hit the fan’ and the impotence to do anything about it.

When I think back, nothing had happened; it was just a feeling. Then I looked up and saw the kitchen ceiling: bits of it hanging down because of continuous leaks from the two bathrooms on the first floor and it was still in place only because of the patching John did after it fell down. Yes! We were sitting in a kitchen the ceiling of which fell down on the day of my 45th birthday party (we were expecting over fifty guests) and two and a half years later was still like that.

The sight of the ceiling tipped me over and I started shouting; if you asked me what was said I don’t remember, if you ask me who was my anger directed to – nobody. It was a proper full blown tantrum; one where you really have to kick something, use some words referring to different reproductive practices and forget about it. But out of the blue, and this I remember, I said: ‘I can’t take this anymore; all we earn goes in this pile of poo! I want it sold and that is that!’

To this, John responded and my tantrum morphed into a full blown family crisis – the knowledge about our financial situation was born from this crisis. Hard to believe it, I know, but at the time I had absolutely no idea what I earn, what John earns or what we spend on different budget items. How was I supposed to know whether, and in how much, debt we are?

During that dark and wet evening, in our kitchen the ceiling of which was falling on our heads, a vague feeling of unease became the crisis that precipitated knowledge. My tantrums are not pretty; but without them e won’t be ‘functionally’ debt free today.

Six signs that you may have too much debt

Here are the six signs that you may be in too much debt and it can be used as a check list:

  1. You have ‘the feeling’. This is difficult to explain but before I did my numbers I had this feeling that things are not right; my worry about money kept coming to the surface and I kept pushing it back. Although this is difficult to pinpoint and explain I believe that anyone who is in serious debt would immediately know what I am talking about. Also it is very closely linked to the next sign.
  2. You don’t look at your financial statements. This is very common behaviour in people who have the feeling of impeding financial doom but not the guts to learn exactly how bad it is. It may be that you never check your balance when taking money out of the ATM; or you have forgotten what a financial print out looks like; you have no idea what your password for on-line banking is. I didn’t look at a financial statement for almost a decade; I know!
  3. You have no idea how much is in your bank account. This is an immediate consequence from the previous point. Because you never check, you never know. But this also means that you don’t know how much goes in your bank account, what are you paying for, and are there redundant payments. You can’t chose to switch providers and get better deals for large expenses.
  4. You think ‘my problem is so much bigger’ when you are buying something expensive. This is a very interesting one. Most people who are in control of their finances either know they have enough to cover the bill, or that they will have to forego something else to do it. People who are likely to be in debt think differently; they justify their purchase by stating that things are so bad anyway they can’t get worse.
  5. You have no idea how much a pint of milk or a loaf of bread costs. These are basics; if you don’t know how much you pay for a pint of milk it is unlikely you will notice any other expenditure. This is turn means that you are not likely to be able to judge what is ‘good value for money’.
  6. You are surprised every time you open your wallet. Yep, you either have too much in it or too little. But you never really know what to expect. Whilst this is certainly a way to make your life that little bit more interesting it is also a sign that you are not in control of your money.

How did you do?

26 thoughts on “Do you have too much debt? At the beginning was…feeling”

  1. I’m glad you ‘lost it’ or you still be there staring at that broken ceiling. Congrats on almost being out of debt and for helping many with your advice. 

    1. @Brent: And we have not only paid off so much debt but we have three brand new bathrooms, new kitchen ceiling and decorated kitchen. How about that, uh? 🙂

  2. I used to be like this when I did have lots of debt. I really was in a place where I wasn’t even aware of how bad things were. I am so glad I cleaned up my act and don’t have to worry about debt anymore. It wasn’t a good way to live.

    1. @Miss T: Yeah, so did I. In fact, I took responsibility for my finances when I friend showed me a pint of milk and asked me how much did it cost. I had absolutely no idea! Terrifying!

  3. I am good now but have made a few risky moves that, had they not turned fine, would have stretched my budget a lot, and kept me wondering at night if things would be fine. Glad you got yourself together and regained control, like any bad habit it is hard to kick.

    1. @Pauline: I rememebr the sleepless nights full of worry when I was in my 20s; this was different! Probably because I am older and it was so much more embarrasing to realise that I was completely clueless about money (interestingly this was only at ‘micro level’ or about my money) and not very interested in it either. I am still not interested in money as such; I am interested in life and I need money to live it!

  4. I know “the feeling” extremely well!  I had it (finally) 16 months ago.  When I went to write down all of my debt it was so painful I could barely do it.  The list was long, and the amount was excruciating to look at.  Just like you, I am almost done.  Congrats to you!
    I am very much enjoying reading your blog!

  5. Fortunately, I’ve never been in debt (other than mortgage), but I think your tips are really spot on. You must take a tiny step and face up to the problem, count up your debt as a starting point, in order to move on. You can never get rich without paying off debt.

  6. I know that “feeling” but thankfully (I have to really thank my lucky stars because I didn’t do this consciously) we got that feeling when our spending was about to go over what we had in the bank every month. I stopped spending cold turkey whenever I got those feeling because it was really alarming. So by luck, we ended up with no debt. We are planning to add an enormous amount of debt (mortgage) this year. I am super nervous!
    Congrats on being in the final step of being debt free!

    1. @Suba: It wasn’t luck, Suba – you listened. I didn’t listen to the ‘feeling’ for a long time you see (I am a woman of reason) and this is how I missed the early warning. Now I know! And don’t be nervous about the mortgage – this is a fact of life and it can be repaid (just choose a good one but I know you will :)).

  7. These are all certainly common things to note when you are in debt and are struggling. I think that a lot of people can relate. It’s also common to not want to look at financial statements, dread the mail, and and yes, the feeling of impending doom. I’m glad that you’ve been able to dig yourself out of that situation.

  8. What a great piece! I think the six signs are spot on – I never know how much money I have in my bank account though… slightly worrying – I used to spend until my card is very awkwardly declined in a shop! I thought you might be interested in this little interactive called You vs. the nation . Just in case people were wondering how their debt stood against the national average and the UK as a whole. Quite revealing that with £10,000 debt I am under the national average!

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