Many people often describe their experience of finding out that they are pregnant as joyous, wonderful, even exhilarating. I always thought I would feel the same. However, upon finding out that I was pregnant, I distinctly remember feeling fear and acute distress. You see, I had a life plan: I was going to rise up in my career, buy a house AND then I’d consider trying for a baby. It was all planned and all set out perfectly, I could even picture my future white picket fence. However, the reality was that I was pregnant, living with my family and my husband, and I was in thousands of pounds of debt. In fact, that debt was eating up close to 60% – 70% of my salary each month.
It is important to provide some context as to how I came to amass such debt considering I was only in my early 20’s. Both of my parents are of African heritage (West and South) and speaking frankly, are both terrible with money. In fact, when my parents divorced, I was expected to financially contribute when the household was struggling at times. This is not uncommon in immigrant households. Many second generation children are often expected to contribute financially, noting the sacrifices their parents have made over the years. But the personal sacrifices I made began to catch up with me and in turn, my mental health, which had always been up and down, began to spiral. It was a constant battle – helping family, trying to save/maintain my finances, emotionally spending to feel better, struggling to keep up with my payments and repeat. This all came to a head the summer I fell pregnant.
My ‘plan’ was important to me, in fact a lifeline because I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as my parents, and had realised I needed to gain control of my life. Yet every time I took two steps forward, something would happen and I’d take 15 steps back. So fear gripped me as I began to realise that I was going to be financially responsible for another human without any means to do so. Whilst I sat down on the bathroom floor, staring at that pregnancy test, I remember deciding in that moment that something had to change – that I was going to have to be ‘selfish’.
It is not within my nature to be selfish, honestly speaking, I love to give and help those around me. I quite like this quality about myself but it can also be my downfall. Clearly, I had not quite grasped the concept that you cannot operate from an empty cup. Yet it seemed horrendous to even consider not helping my family out, I felt like a bad child and sibling. I felt like I was throwing away my culture and all the guiding principles that came together to form my identity. I felt like a failure.
I struggled with this feeling each step of my first trimester. When I learnt to say no so I could repay for a debt. When I researched the cost of nurseries and saved for a rental deposit. When I had my first ultrasound and felt a fiercely protective feeling in my chest towards the TWO little bodies inside my womb. I was unpicking years of toxic behaviour, reshaping it to fit a mould that allowed me to understand who I am and what I am stand for. Financial wellbeing was a pain in the backside to be honest because for me, it meant confronting a lot of cultural beliefs that made me who I was.
And yet fast forward a few years and I can see that these were the BEST decisions I ever made. We are going to be debt free in 2022 and I feel so close yet so
exhausted I could cry (with joy). I have learnt how to give what I can whilst ensuring I put the needs of myself, and my young family first. I have learnt how to save, how to slowly stop emotional spending (it’s still a process) and first and foremost, I have learnt to look at my debts head on. So the main question here is how did I do it? How did I manage to tackle my debts?
The first step was creating a spreadsheet with my partner to assess how we were going to pay off our debts. This involved a lot of cutbacks, treats in town during the work day, meals out, clothes shopping – the full works. It had to end for a time to ensure we could simply afford to pay for rent and bills once our children arrived. We reviewed our credit ratings and began to rebuild, ensuring our direct debits were paid on time. We cut back on our food shopping ensuring we went to places like Aldi and Lidl, and wrote shopping lists to keep within a budget. This may sound simple to some of you but these are tools that neither I, nor my partner had ever been taught nor utilised. We weren’t taught how to save, manage money nor respect its value and this was a huge challenge that we had to overcome.
The second step was to open up to friends and family, to explain our situation and be honest. Whilst there was some judgement, there was also huge support which came in different forms. From helping us to acquire baby furniture, to frank discussions about budgeting and debt, each and every bit of advice and support was priceless. Debt is often viewed as dirty, something that makes you feel like you’re inept. It does not matter that we earnt quite high salaries for our age, or that we had been ‘reckless’, what mattered is those who helped us see that we are not our debt, there was more to us than its existence. This is a mantra I continue to live by.
As we are on our 12-month countdown to being debt-free, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I know a lot of friends from different ethnic cultures that battle the challenge of financially helping parents. It is okay to put yourself first and it does not mean that you do not love your family. It is okay to want to acquire generational wealth and it is okay to unlearn toxic behavior around money. In short, it is okay to love yourself enough to put your needs first, whilst still being a good person.