A decade in denial

32 comments

Recently I have received several emails from people asking about my debt story – specifically how I got into debt in the first place. I have already written about certain chapters of this story; the fact that I lied about being in debt, and how I got out of it, but for some reason, I struggled with sharing the part where it all began.

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I first got into debt in 2001, having just turned 21. I wanted to do something to mark the occasion, and what better way to celebrate this milestone moment than to take out my first credit card?

I was desperately naïve back then and uneducated about how credit cards work – interest rates were an entirely unknown entity and I was every banks dream. Blind to the reality of what credit cards were, I signed myself up willingly.

It started slowly; a new dress here, designer sunglasses there, but before I knew it I had maxed out the card. Not to worry, I thought. I’ll just apply for another one.

It was madness. I was being allowed credit way beyond my means of repayment. I was working in a restaurant at the time and wasn’t exactly raking in the big bucks. My spending habits far outweighed my income and quickly became an addiction I had no control over.

This addiction was fed by my extreme lack of confidence, and unwillingness to admit how deeply unhappy I was with several other aspects of my life. I smothered my inner yearnings for a different way of living by telling myself owning more stuff would make me happy. I was afraid to face up to my life and make changes, and so every time I felt sad, I went shopping.

I carried on in this way for the best part of the next decade, occasionally paying off a card, then needing more money, so taking out another and only paying back the minimal repayment on each one. It was a mine field – I knew at some point something was going to blow, I just didn’t know when

I was way out of my depth. My debt permanently hovered around the £15,000.00 ($24K) mark and I was in complete and utter denial.

I tried several times to get out of debt. I would make headway, then temptation would rear its ugly head again and boom, I was right back to square one. I didn’t value myself enough to end the vicious cycle. I had zero self-worth at this time and shopping was one of the few things that made me feel good.

Like any habit, timing is crucial in your ability to break it. You have to be ready, and you have to want it badly enough.

So what was it that finally enabled me to change? I’d love to say something profound and meaningful here, that I reached a moment of clarity and my materialistic ways were suddenly rendered obsolete. What it actually came down is this:

A boy.

I met Lee, an adventurous Scotsman, in 2008 while on holiday in Goa (courtesy of my credit card). Now I don’t know how far reaching the Scottish reputation is, but round here they are known for keeping their purse strings nice and tight. Lee was very good with his money, and I was terrified of revealing to him how bad I was with it. So, quite simply, I didn’t. I hid it from him for several years.

I was deeply ashamed of my debt and just couldn’t face telling Lee about it. I loved the way he saw me and couldn’t bear to risk shattering that. I hoped I would be able to pay my debt off without him ever knowing about it. It’s crazy I know, but debt can make you do crazy things.

The crunch finally came when we moved into a new flat together in 2010. Our outgoings increased dramatically and I was struggling to keep afloat.

I was lying to Lee left, right and centre to try and keep my debt concealed, but eventually I realised I had to come clean. The weight of my lies was debilitating and I was sick with worry about what was going to happen. Our relationship was already on very rocky ground as Lee suspected I wasn’t being honest with him, and I feared the truth would push him over the edge.

So I told him. I blurted it out one day and he took it better than I expected at first, but once the depth of my lies sunk in he was deeply hurt and betrayed. He lost his trust in me and, though we tried to keep our relationship going, in the end we decided to split up. I moved back home to my mum’s house and he stayed on in our flat while he looked for a new place to live.

I was devastated. I was entirely to blame for what had happened and wracked with guilt. I hated knowing that I was capable of stooping so low. Things had to change.

From this point onwards, change came easy. No matter how many dresses I saw, nothing was more tempting than my dreams of a debt-free existence.

As I started to regain control of my life again, I also began to regain Lee’s faith in me. He was proud of my efforts and could see that I was doing it for myself, not him. I wasn’t trying to win back his love, I was trying to win back my own.

Nine months later and roughly 2500 hours of hard work, I had earned enough money to clear my debt completely and cover an additional £1,500.00 ($2,300.00) in interest and an early repayment penalty. My relationship with Lee was back on track and I even had enough money left over for us to go on holiday to Egypt for two weeks. I felt pride in myself for probably the first time in my life, but more than anything, I finally felt like I was living the life I had been so afraid to chase after for all those years.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia GW January 20, 2012 at 17:58

BRAVO! I think you’re very brave to share your story with such honesty. Good for you for bringing yourself out of debt on your own… and in only 9 months! What greater force is there than a combination of love and the desire for freedom?
I still feel the oppressive force of debt because of university tuition. It’s so draining to have everything you earn go towards a negative balance. I can’t wait until I graduate debt-free and – like you – am free to live the life I really want in my heart.

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Hannah January 20, 2012 at 18:43

Thank you so much for your kind words Patricia, that really means a lot. I think it is remarkable that you are working whilst studying to avoid the typical university debts – I applaud you 🙂

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kittencat January 20, 2012 at 18:07

Congratulations for being so brave sharing your experiences – I’m still gobsmacked by how all too easily we allow ourselves to fcuk-up and con ourselves that our problems will go away if we ignore them, we all do it, and yes it takes huge courage to admit you have a problem and go about changing your life… I’m still amazed as to how quickly you’ve managed to pay off your debts. Maybe that’s just because I earn such a crappy salary or maybe – unlike you – I’ve not been motivated enough to work as hard as you, but wow I take my hat off to you, wow, REALLY bloody amazing… Would love to hear more specifics earnings v savings v paying debts off… I’ve only very recently been able to say I’m saving but its slow going, what advice would you offer I wonder…? hhhhmmmmmm…
Ok I’m probably waffling on a bit here! Thanks for sharing and hope many people are inspired by your experiences, not to give up!!!
🙂

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Hannah January 20, 2012 at 18:51

Wow, thank you for your kind comment. I have emailed a few people more specifics about this so perhaps I should turn that into a post? I’m always hesitant as this is predominantly a travel blog but still debt has been such a huge part of my life that it seems crazy not to share my experiences. I really value your encouragement and support 🙂

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Kim January 20, 2012 at 19:58

Hannah, you have such a powerful story and I’m sure many, many people in the world can learn from (and lean on) you. You are brave to tell your story and, because you did, others out there in the world will benefit. XXX.

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Hannah January 20, 2012 at 23:35

Thanks Kim, it’s so wonderful to have your support and encouragement xxx

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Renee January 20, 2012 at 20:37

First of all, thanks for sharing your story and I am sure it was not easy laying it all out there. I am still chipping away on my credit card debt too. I have put a stop on one card and paid off the remaining balance. A few other cards I have decreased the credit limit. I have also closed a few cards. It is working for me and it is hard admitting to and dealing with this type of debt because it can be such a vicious cycle. Thanks again!

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Hannah January 20, 2012 at 23:34

Thank you Renee, I really appreciating you taking the time to comment. It wasn’t easy sharing my story, but support like this makes it all worthwhile. Well done on taking action against your own debt issues – facing up to them and taking action is the hardest part so I commend you. Well done 🙂

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The World of Deej January 20, 2012 at 21:46

Great story! Your story is all too common, and I too had a bout with debt. Glad to hear yours at least has a happy ending, and I look forward to tagging along on your adventure with Lee…

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Hannah January 20, 2012 at 23:43

Yes, sadly it is an issue far too many people are struggling with, and more people will continue to do so unless banks make changes to their credit system. Not much chance of that happening, so I can only hope that other people might learn from my mistakes rather than making the same ones themselves. Happy to have you along for the ride – I will be following along on your adventures too 🙂

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Lauren January 21, 2012 at 09:39

I love this post…like many others, I can relate, from the credit cards to overspending to meeting a boy who eventually led to change. I was so humiliated about my debt, but now that it’s in the past, it’s much easier to talk about. Congratulations on breaking old habits and getting on the path you want to be on!

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Hannah January 22, 2012 at 16:57

Hi Lauren, thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it. Congratulations on coming through you own debt problems, that’s amazing. I have just been reading your blog and it certainly seems like you have emerged on the other side all the better for it. I’m really excited to read more about your adventures 🙂

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Sarahsomewhere January 21, 2012 at 14:46

Bravo Hannah! Your honesty and humility is truly inspiring. You are clearly helping others with your openness and I have even more admiration for you because of your willingness to overcome the challenges life has thrown you.

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Hannah January 22, 2012 at 16:55

Thank you so much Sarah, I really appreciate your kind words and ever present support xxx

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Jeremy or IHeartTravel January 22, 2012 at 17:51

Kudos to you Hannah! Your story is simply amazing, its human and easy to relate to. We all have our problems and those strong enough to share something so difficult, and confront it head on, can only be commended in the highest regard.
Your story has inspired me since I came across it, and your blog continues to be such an inspiration!
I look forward to all the adventures and personal triumphs you share!

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Hannah January 22, 2012 at 18:19

Thank you for your lovely comment Jeremy, I really appreciate it 🙂

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Savvy Scotsman January 26, 2012 at 10:16

Hannah – what a great story you have!
If banks would advertise journeys like yours instead of 0% APR deals, the economy would be a in a much better state of affairs – good luck with your travels!!

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Hannah January 28, 2012 at 18:03

Thank you, and you are so right about the banks – they have a lot to answer for! I have just been reading your blog – it’s nice to meet a fellow newbie on the scene! Good luck with everything 🙂

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Toni January 31, 2012 at 21:13

Great post Hannah. Lovely to hear how you turned it around and that you and Lee are stronger than ever…big cheers to that 🙂

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Hannah February 2, 2012 at 18:19

Thanks Toni and big cheers to you too for doing such an amazing job yourself. Your story is a huge inspiration 🙂

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Runaway Brit February 8, 2012 at 23:48

Congratulations for paying off your debt and respect to you for sharing the story. Debt is such a terrible burden to carry around you and the shame of it can lead to the lies and deceit that you talk about. It must be such a relief to finally be rid of all that – I hope you have an anniversary date that you can celebrate every year (I do!!) I also so pleased to hear that your boyfriend came back – a fairytale ending 🙂

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Hannah February 9, 2012 at 19:15

Thank you for your comment. You are so right, debt is a terrible burden, and one I am so happy to be free of. I don’t actually have an anniversary date, but my RTW adventure will start a year after I became debt free, so I guess that is a pretty good way to mark the occasion 🙂

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Vacay Girl March 2, 2012 at 13:04

Good for you to get rid of your debt. For even thinking that you it’s a priority for you to get rid of. Some people think if they’re in deep debt there’s nothing they can do. It’s not easy becoming debt free but it’s not easy living with it either. Good job for doing so. I too felt the pressure of being almost $20,000 in debt. It’s always just been me and I thought I’d never get rid of it. I went to school and ended up making enough to where I was able to knock it all out in a year and a half. While everyone else was redecorating their homes and spending money on frivolous things I was putting my pennies to what would make me happier than shopping. Lots of people go through it. And for most there is a way out of it. We’re very fortunate.

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Hannah March 11, 2012 at 20:47

Thank you so much for your comment – I’m so glad you were also able to free yourself from debt. That’s amazing that you managed to pay off so much in such a short space of time – congratulations 🙂

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Alex March 26, 2012 at 02:56

Ahhh, I didn’t realize Lee was Scottish! My boyfriend Mark is a Scotsman as well 🙂 And yes, he has a gift for saving and budgeting unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It keeps me honest and most of the time, I love it. When I don’t love it is when I want to spend more than the minimum on something for a reason like “this one is prettier…” and Mark will have none of it!

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jenjenk April 7, 2012 at 15:59

Hannah – Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! and Congratulations to you for getting yourself out of that pit!! I know I get myself into the need for instant gratification throughout the year and it’s a constant battle for me to keep myself from going overboard. 🙁

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Marc Sandor Woolf December 11, 2012 at 16:27

Fantastic story Hannah!! Congratulations for having the courage to look in life’s full length mirror and acknowledging your feelings, which ultimately drove your spending habits. I would love to interview you for my blog!
Marc

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Hannah December 12, 2012 at 12:13

Thank you Marc, I would love to be interviewed for your blog. Please feel free to email at furtherbound@gmail.com 🙂

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Michelle January 10, 2013 at 01:19

Hi! Just stumbled upon your website and I’m truly inspired by how upfront you are about previous hard issues. I’m also guilty of spending horribly when I’m feeling under the weather and then pushing the guilt away for not being able to save.
Thanks for sharing!

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Hannah January 10, 2013 at 04:28

Hi Michelle, thank you so much for your kind words. I have just checked out your blog and am really impressed with what you are doing. Good luck with everything 🙂

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