When you tell people you have a Wonga loan, their first reaction is to call you stupid, or tell you to be better with money. This is a crappy reaction. Until you know the full story of a person, you have no right to judge (& often still not even then!). When I came to university, I owed Wonga around £500. I didn’t get this money for a car, a new wardrobe or a drug habit. I got it to be able to afford to eat, and to stop myself being thrown on to the streets. Without going into too many details, without these loans, I would have been totally homeless – as it was I was working around 20 hours a few days a week and eating only every few days. The loans were less of a choice, more of a necessity and the money I borrowed went to feeding and paying the bills of two of us, whereas the repayments were entirely my problem. Getting out of debt is not as simple as juts ‘spending less’ or working more. The more I had to pay back, the worse the problem became, & I was having to borrow money to pay back money. A complete mess.
I ended up getting myself out of that toxic situation and moving in with my lovely Nanna. Working a normal amount and not having to pay bills (that didn’t exist…). I still had this debt hanging above my head, but I was surviving. When everyone else got their student loan later that year, they spent it on jager bombs and vodka shots. My student loan was delayed, so my situation was as bad as ever and I was surviving on £20 that my Nanna sent me every week, and generosity of my brand new friends. Don’t get me wring, I managed it just fine. I didn’t ever get to buy ‘real’ meat, drinks in bars (predrinks are a skint students’ best friend!) or new clothes but I was happy.
No matter who I went to with my debt problems refused to help. The uni service couldn’t help because it was a problem I had before I got to university and the Citizen’s Advice wouldn’t help because I was a student with a casual job (I have never not worked. Ever. Often juggling a few jobs at once. This makes people weirdly reluctant to help you…). The accommodation office were a little more helpful, let me delay my halls payments and explained that I would probably have to pay some of it off over summer.
However! When I received my student loan, I paid off my halls fees, leaving me with barely anything but a determination to get myself on track. I worked casual hours around my studies and didn’t give in to the student temptation of buying things because you can. My debt became a casual joke between our friendship group, however when I was heartbroken, feeling useless and hopeless they would spend hours comforting me, making budgeting plans and feeding me chocolate. I appreciated it so much.
I finally managed to speak to a lovely woman from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service who helped me write a letter to ask the debt companies (there were more than just Wonga…) to stop the interest and help me organise a payment plan. In time I manage to pay the smaller loans off, just £20 at a time. It’s a triumph but I can’t celebrate with the Wonga loan now up to around £1000 and a year overdue to be paid…
Fast forward to second year, a few more part time jobs and the thoughts of debt pushed as far back in my mind as possible. I get a call from Wonga who tell me that they want to help me pay the loan back. If I can make the full payment today they will let me pay just the money I borrowed back. If I do it by the end of the week it will be a little more but still a lot less than then £1000. I don’t have the money that day, but I know that I can juggle my finances and although it will be incredibly tight for a few weeks, I can pay the full thing off by the end of the week. Handing over such a large amount of money is a horrible experience, however, being totally debt free is incredibly liberating – I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted and even my super tight budget couldn’t ruin that feeling.
By third year, I was in the best financial position of my life. I was working a whole load of jobs but I could afford real meat, to buy friends rounds in a bar and even to travel with my own money. Once upon a time, I had had to rely entirely on a boyfriend financially, and here I was, in a relationship where we could both afford to treat each other. It even got to the point where Steven was able to give up a job he hated, to start his own business (www.crawfordandjohn.com) without our lifestyle having to take a hit. We still managed to travel and eat out – don’t get me wrong, we are certainly not rich, but by not going on nights out, or buying expensive clothes, we can spend money we earn on things we love (like craft supplies, weekend breaks and Big Macs!).
My point to this ramble, is that debt is not ‘your own fault’. Of course, for some people it is a bad habit that leads to debt, however this is not something to be scalded, often these people need help, not a lecture. Usually people in debt realise it’s an issue, no one intends to get themselves into money trouble, but these things happen. Help by listening, not judging and encouraging them to get professional support (www.stepchange.org/)