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How I turned my money situation around

I just need to know about:

With money comes stress and with stress comes poor choices, avoidance and anxiety. I know because I’ve been there.

Whether you’re receiving a Government payment or wages from employment, I’ve learnt there are ways and means to make your dollars stretch and to ease the stress that comes with it.

One of the most important things I have learnt from my financial counselling training is the importance of options – we might not necessarily like to hear or consider these suggestions, but they’re available.

As we go through various milestones in our lives, we encounter different situations with our income and it’s really important that we’re feeling confident with managing our money as well as being responsible with it.

Being able to budget effectively is a skill that is learnt over time, usually through trial and error.

How I got into debt

I know for me it took until I was close to my 30s before I really took budgeting seriously. Don’t get me wrong, the intention was there, but I was all about living in the moment and having a good time which always took priority over saving.

By 23, I had multiple credit cards with zero income to repay (pre-Banking Royal Commission which cracked down on some of that behaviour), full reliance on payday loans from one pay cycle to the next and family and friend loans which just grew week by week.

I had a reputation for being crappy with money and I hated it.

I’ve changed my lifestyle since then and now find enjoyment in having financial security and watching my savings grow. However, there have been huge bumps along the way which left me feeling depressed, anxious and thinking that bankruptcy was my only way out.

I had lost all hope and concluded that I was never going to be someone who would have financial freedom.

My credit file was horrendous, and eventually payday lenders closed their doors on me and the banks and debt collectors had started calling. I had to take action – so I bought a one-way ticket to the UK with the hope that it would all go away.

If you can take anything away from this article – don’t run away from your (financial) problems.

It’s not worth it, and believe it or not, the banks are (slowly) becoming a lot more understanding and supportive of their customers situations.

Eventually I had to return to Australia and there was definitely a scenario running in my head of the possibility that Government officials would be waiting for me at the other end, but as we all know, anxiety has a really good way of blowing things way out of proportion.

Seeking help

Fast forward five years and I have just put a deposit on my first home. I am debt free (for now) and am in complete control of my finances.

I achieved my goal of not having to live from pay cycle to pay cycle and all of this has been the result of educating myself about money and the options I had. If you feel as though you don’t know what else to do, then listen up.

Call the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) if you would like to speak with a free, non-judgemental and confidential financial counsellor who can support you to regain control of your money. They are specifically trained in credit and consumer law, Services Australia (Centrelink), fines, bankruptcy (including part 9 agreements) and general money stuff (utilities, rent, budgeting).

Here are some tips that have helped me on my own journey:

  • Create a budget that is realistic and allows you to live within your means. Refer to the Money Smart website for a template.
  • Stay in control by only purchasing items with your own money. Relying on buy now, pay later services can lead you down a very dark path if your circumstances change and fees are applied.
  • Have a back-up plan that means you can cover your expenses for a short period if you lose your job or your car breaks down.
  • Speak to your lender’s hardship team if your situation changes and you can no longer meet your repayments – short term options could include a payment holiday or reduced payment arrangement.
  • Keep on top of your credit file – you can obtain a free copy once every 12 months. Note: There are 3 different credit reporting agencies; Ilion, Experian and Equifax.
  • Know ya stuff – too often I would rely on second, third and fourth hand information from community that would be so incorrect. Part of taking responsibility is also educating yourself about your rights and the consequences of your actions.
  • Speak up! Too often we don’t talk about what’s worrying us because we’re ashamed or embarrassed. Strength comes from being open and honest and sometimes we have to have uncomfortable conversations to create change.

Gabrielle Gunderson is a qualified financial counsellor.

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