When was the last time you checked you bank balance? If you’re anything like me, you probably avoid looking at it at all cost. You see, for the past few years I’ve been slowly paying off my overdraft… then suddenly working my way back into it.
Overdrafts are hard to manage. Unlike a loan where you chip away at monthly repayments, overdrafts swallow up any money you earn. It is nothing short of soul destroying when you check your bank balance and see a minus sign starring back at you, even though you’ve just been paid.
Some people are lucky to have parents who simply write off their debt for them, but in today’s financial climate those people are a dying breed. For those less fortunate, it’s a constant battle to stay afloat. I’m so close to closing my overdraft, but I’ve been saying that for months now. I’m a few days shy of my 25th birthday and I’ve run out of 0% interest.
Shit has officially hit the fan.
Navigating your early twenties is a struggle, but doing so in debt is another game entirely. The expectations and FOMO bubble up and you begin to feel trapped. It suddenly becomes normal for friends to get pregnant, people younger than you have put their deposit down on a house and all you want is a holiday to get away from it all – but you’d be lucky to afford a trip to Blackpool.
So, if like me you find yourself in debt in your early twenties, here are some things I want you to know.
Saving tips are for people with money to save
This sounds like an obvious one but please bare with me… Contrary to popular articles, skipping your Starbucks coffee every morning and making lunches for work won’t pay off your entire overdraft. Patronising articles often center around us being silly with our money. However, the truth is we often don’t have money to be silly with in the first place. That’s the problem!
‘Oh you need to save? It’s all those avocados you’ve been buying.’ – No, fuck off Sandra, you probably bought a house for less than £50K and messed up the economy for the rest of us. Sickening.
I want you to know that you cannot measure your saving success based on another person’s experience with debt/poverty. Everyone lives within their own means. Focus on bringing balance to your outgoings/incomings before beating yourself up for not saving anything at the end of the month. If that means considering a cheaper place to rent or side-hustling more money – whatever it means to you personally, you can’t achieve it when you’re experiencing the guilt that saving advice articles create.
Your friends might not stick around
This one is a bitter pill to swallow. There are some people who can afford to go on nights out and last-minute holidays – there are those of us who miss out. Your friends might not stand by you. It’s harsh but true. The ones that do are truly proving that they are worth your time.
Personally I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who completely understand, however it is a game of give and take. My three best friends have been on group holidays a few times without me and whilst it’s gutting to miss out you can’t simply expect your friends to stop their adventures because you can’t tag along.
I want you to know that if you expect your friends to understand that you’re skint, you have to understand that they are more fortunate. Do not expect them to put life on hold for you.
One day you’ll be able to do a big shop
A lot of people will tell you to look after yourself and eat fresh, as if people who are skint secretly binge on KFC every day. I’m sure these people have probably never experienced the speed at which Aldi veg disintegrates. It’s practically furry by the time you get it home. In fact I’d say Aldi veg goes mouldy faster than their best bag packers.
Don’t let the self-care squad belittle you for living within your means. Whilst I’m not advocating unhealthy diets, we need to be realistic and stop shaming people for opting for cheaper frozen/tinned options. Do what you need to do to survive. In a bid to turn my weekly shop into a joke I created a ‘What’s in my ramen’ instagram account, detailing all the different ways I serve up instant noodles. I’m a 25 year old woman living how most imagine a student would. It’s tragic.
If you know anything about drinking instant miso soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole week, I need you to know that you’re not alone. If you can find some healthy & cheap ways to live, great, but don’t shame yourself if you have to reach for the ramen.
Shoppers remorse turns into crippling anxiety
Personally I believe in rewarding good saving habits to keep you on your money saving A game. I’m not talking about a whole blowout, but if you hit a savings goal you should treat yourself.
In fact, I think that saving up for treats keeps you in good financial health. I have a rule: If I want a new pair of trainers or a new piece of tech I have to save double the amount. This makes you less likely to feel as if you’ve ‘lost’ or ‘wasted’ your money, because you’ve already replaced it. This might sound unattainable for you right now, because again you have to balance your incomings and outgoings, but eventually you’ll get there.
I want you to know that if you constantly limit yourself, you’ll lose your joy and go on a mad blow out. Keep chipping away and reward your progress in moderation.
Renting is NOT wasted money
Do you think people can just walk into a fucking house shop and say ‘Yes, one of those please’? You need a D-E-P-O-S-I-T.
Your independence and need to live in an area with career prospects should not be overshadowed by people saying ‘God you rent is more expensive than my mortgage’. Newsflash, their repayments are cheaper because they dropped their life savings (*cough* or donations *cough*) as a deposit.
If you’re sick of hearing the same advice from people fortunate enough to have purchased their own personal pile of bricks, I want you to know that it’s obviously not possible to pull 10k out of your arse. And that’s exactly what you should be telling anyone else that questions your lifestyle.
At this point I would also like to squeeze in a note for the living-at-home-with-parents squad – you’re privileged, this is not an option for everyone. Count your blessings.
Deadlines are a good thing
If you know you’re not going to be able to pay back your overdraft straight away, switch your account to one with a longer 0% interest rate. This will give you a little extra time to pay things off. Whilst deadlines seem daunting, they do give us a kick up the bum and can be motivational. They help you make a plan of how much you need to save each month, which sounds really boring but it definitely helps.
I went through a phase of planning and drawing out a cash budget at the start of the month so that I could manage my money better. There’s something about using your debit card that makes it a lot easier to accidentally overspend. By drawing out a cash budget I found that seeing your physical money deplete was definitely more daunting, making you question any unnecessary purchases.
I want you to know that between now and your deadline, you have options and time to find a saving strategy that works for you.
Look at your bank account right now
If you haven’t got an app that lets you check your finances then you need to install one now. Literally pause reading and download one because I know you’ll forget to do it later. It sucks looking at your bank, but the longer you leave it the worse it gets.
You need to set a budget and you need to look at your account every day. After all, it’s impossible to hit a goal that you can’t see. Being vague about your saving plan isn’t enough.
I know it feels shameful, but being able to confront the issue gets your head in the game to fix it. I want you to know that you are more than capable of paying it all off, but you need to know what you’re up against.
If you’re not in your dream job, you don’t have to settle for a low paying one
If you leave uni and don’t find your dream job, why settle for a job you don’t want that doesn’t pay you enough? This is a controversial one, because I know people can be happy in lower paying roles and as long as you’re in work that’s great! However if you’re not happy and you’re not earning that means it’s time to think out of the box.
There are plenty of graduate rolls in well paying fields such as recruitment that (with a lot of graft) could potentially fast-track you out of your debt. All I’m saying is, you’ve got options and you don’t have to settle for something that doesn’t satisfy you both financially or mentally.
And most importantly…
You CAN pay it off, you are not trapped, it will take time but you’ve got this!