You may already know a little about how I came to start the My Frugal Year Instagram account and The FW Forum, or you may have just stumbled across this page, looking for some answers, and not have a clue who I am. So, I’ll take it from the beginning.
In March 2019, I had over £27,000 of personal debt, spread across seven credit cards and an overdraft, the latter of which I’d been up to the hilt of since I was a student. I had never learned how to manage my finances, and my relationship with money was more than flawed; it was completely broken.
I had spent years believing that financial security was just a pay rise or bonus away, with very little understanding of how far beyond my means I was living, and of the toll that it was taking on my mental health, my sense of self-worth and my relationships. I spent months, if not years, fielding bounced direct debits, transferring small amounts of money from one account to another, trying to plug the growing gaps in our budget. Breaking into a cold sweat every time I had to pay for something with cash or via BACS, because I was living on credit. I knew something needed to change, but I didn’t know how to start.
Then, mid-month, I received a phone call from my bank, telling me that I was in an unarranged overdraft, and asking when I would be able to resolve the situation. For the first time, I had no options left to me. I had to tell the advisor that it wouldn’t be until payday, at the end of the month. When she asked why, it was almost a relief to admit: “There’s just…no money left.”
This moment represented a breaking point, but also a turning point, and I knew that I needed to either grasp the opportunity to change things with both hands, or else face a future of financial difficulty. The problem felt overwhelming – too big for me to hold within my own mind and body – so I, for reasons that now elude me, decided to channel everything into an Instagram account.
As I started to explore my relationship with money, solid lines appeared between my experiences as a child and young adult, and my financial situations as a proper grown-up. I was raised between two households with wildly different attitudes and approaches to money; my dad was cautious and frugal by nature, my mum an emotional spender who was generous to a fault. I had a difficult relationship with my ex-stepfather, and our local shopping centre was my refuge. Spending has been a crutch for me for a very long time.
As I grew older, I struggled to manage my spending more or less consistently, from the overdraft I took out to pay for some essential work on my first car, to the seven credit cards I would eventually max out in pursuit of the perfect life. I knew that I was bright, that I successfully managed responsibilities in other areas of my life, but money was my Achilles heel, and I didn’t know how to change it.
It’s only through almost two years of intense focus on my own financial wellbeing, making those necessary, but sometimes painful, connections and fixing things right at the foundations that I’ve been able to pull things back round. As I write this, in November 2020, I have less than £10,000 left to clear, and the future looks bright. I’m in control of my spending habits and living with a budget for the first time in my life.
It feels really, really good.
If you’d like to read more of my story, my memoir: Real Life Money, is out now.