Blue Monday. The day when the Christmas spends come home to roost and bills land at a time when your salary looks ever decreasing when compared with your output.
I ran away from my screen on Blue Monday. Hands over ears, muting the money with excessively loud 30 Seconds to Mars. Hiding from the stench of responsibility wafting piously from breakfast television where people on salaries with six figures attempted to empathise with those of us scratching our butt through worn out jeans.
But even superheroes get the money blues. In a fictional world overpopulated by billionaires, there is the occasional have-not where money is concerned. And Season 6 finds Buffy at the bottom of the money tree. Resurrection does not pay the rent.
We see Buffy with a stack of bills wailing for Giles to take care of them. She’s down with kicking demon butt. Big with the vampire stakes. But give her an energy bill and she panics. College drop out, dead for six months, no job and a sulky thief of a teenager to manage while social services scrutinise her lifestyle – her financial horizons are grim.
We don’t all have a Giles. Someone to sit us down and remind us that with adulthood comes fiscal responsibility. What we do have is constant advertisement bombarding us with STUFF. And MORE STUFF. And then smiley happy adverts about credit. The ones where the APR is scrolled across the screen so rapidly you don’t clock the stonkingly great penalties for taking instant credit.
And it is so easy to fall prey to. In a world of instant gratification, where pleasure can be bought with the swipe of a finger, we don’t see the bigger picture of cash depletion that’s running on busily behind the scenes. Payments here, payments there, payments everywhere. The essentials: of heat, travel, light and shelter. The basic cost of raising a child must be terrifying. Augmented by those little pleasures that we give ourselves to make it worthwhile.
I’m quite a cheap date. Since scaling down work I’ve realised I don’t need much on a day-to-day basis. I do have a big coffee habit though. I justify it as a social outing in a working week where the only other person I may make eye contact with is the postman. Then there are the books that breed. On my Kindle app, on my bookshelves, under the desk. You get the picture. The cost all adds up, even at a pound a pop.
Last year I was noodling along making very little money and being ill but still maintaining a nice lifestyle. Then my husband lost his job. Totally out of the blue (and absolutely not his fault). And it was a WTF moment. Once the shock subsided and we were able to step back and assess the situation it became clear that we had to be More Giles and take a good long hard look at where we were financially. What we could afford right then in the now, and for how long before our secure little world crashed down around us.
No so secure after all.
It could have been a lot worse. We had savings and a timescale during which we knew we could cover our obligations without any additional income. We had a disaster plan in place for when this period ran dry. And we were very fortunate not to have any personal debt.
Many people don’t have that safety net. During a very long three months of no income we reviewed our payments, our contracts and what was essential and what was for pleasure.
Below are some links below for you to use if you want to do the same. I’m not going to bore you with the specifics – but I will say that being forced to confront reality has in the longer term saved us money. The energy bills are down a whopping £50 a month after review with our existing energy company – and I got a year’s free Amazon Prime as an unexpected bonus. Paying insurance policies upfront saves on the hidden costs of the APR they charge for monthly payments. Haggling with policy providers isn’t pleasant but it does carve chunks out of costs. Why line shareholders’ pockets when you can give yourself some credit?
Today I’m being your Giles. If you are struggling with finances be honest with yourself. Allow yourself the WTF moment – but then get with the Buffster and take control. Look at your bank statements, your outgoings. Create spreadsheets. See the worst and make a plan. It might not be a pretty plan and it may involve some humble begging to creditors but even Buffy – despite averting the apocalypse at least twice – had to work in the Double Meat Palace to pay her bills.
Most of all I implore you to take care of yourself and your wellbeing – and this includes your finances. It can be overwhelming to be in debt. As we watched our savings drain last year we knew we could lose our home and our security. Thank Giles it didn’t come to that – but that fear is constant and debilitating. Relieve the pressure where you can. And accept help where it is offered. There is no shame in taking care of you and yours.
Thanks, as always for reading.
The following resources may help you review your financial position. Wherever possible take the advice of experts in the finance field and keep an open dialogue with your credit providers and banks. Note – none of these sites should ask you to pay for their services at any stage:
Money Saving Expert – the official Martin Lewis money site. Here you can find information on a comprehensive range of financial services, including price comparisons, a benefits check list to see if you are missing out on entitlements, plus a free service to check your credit rating and advice on boosting your rating.
Married person tax credit – this made a surprising difference to my husband’s income when we claimed it – and we also were credited with the previous year’s allowance. This links directly to the government website where you can check your eligibility.
Citizens Advice Bureau – can help you with a range of services including debt support, legal advice, housing advice. The website helps give an overview of services and there are many centres across the UK where you can visit and receive personal support and advocacy where appropriate.
Credit Unions – if you are unable to use a high street bank for either savings or loans consider a Credit Union. There is a network of these across the UK – this link will help you find your nearest and gives an over view of their purpose and services.
Please add any further suggestions of support to the comments.