A collection of stories about indebtedness and deleveraging.
The first day I walked into a bookmaker, I felt a surge of excitement in my body. An hour later I was Â£ 60 less. But despite a start riddled with shame, I couldn’t forget the exhilarating experience of the bookmakers. From that point on, I was constantly looking for my next gaming solution.
I was brought up in a middle class family and never did without. But as the months went by and the game continued, the debt piled up. Looking back, I could have made a fortune and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
My vice was horses. I started the day with single bets on horses to win individual races, then on accumulators (AKA high odds bets with big payouts), often with the dream of getting back the money I had lost. On countless occasions, I sent every penny I had on a bet slip – even though it meant there was nothing I could do until the next payday, I was obsessed with winning.
When the money ran out, payday loans came into the picture. Getting one was extremely easy, and after my first – for Â£ 100 – I took more. Looking back, I sometimes took out multiple loans a day, ranging from Â£ 100 to over Â£ 500. I would always try to lend as much as possible. I got to a point where I forgot most of the loans and just waited for them to be taken from my account and then immediately re-loaned the same amount or more if I could.
I knew deep down that I had a problem, but I never realized how much my addiction had pushed me. When I took out payday loans, I didn’t even look at the exorbitant interest, which exceeded the 1000 percent APR in most cases. I was working every possible hour to keep track of loan company payments. Sometimes I won, but that only made me keep betting more. No amount would please me. I always wanted more.
I have had a few substantial wins over the years. I could have paid for a cruise around the world, or put a down payment on a house. The thing is, I couldn’t focus on anything unless I had a live bet. I checked the betting days immediately every day, whether it was horses, football or tennis. It got to a point where I was betting on tiny aspects of the game in football matches, like the number of times a corner kick was taken by both teams in a game.
I would bet on single serve matches in tennis and then bet more on the next game to recoup my losses. There was one occasion where I put Â£ 200 on Roger Federer to win his serve game and he broke. I then put the same amount on his opponent to keep the serve and Federer broke him. I was continually looking for losses. I was always late for social engagements because I was in the bookies.
When my family found out about the financial mess I was in, we calculated how much I owed the loan companies and credit cards. This came to around Â£ 30,000. I was 31 at the time and had been playing since I was 25. Being ashamed of my family to find out shocked me – but as I started paying back small amounts, I continued to lie and gamble more.
So what has changed? Shame began to weigh more heavily on me than before. I didn’t want to see the disappointing looks of my family members – I wanted to have a life again. I had given up my life to play and had to make a change or I never would. The next morning I decided to go ahead.
First of all, I called a debt management charity called Stepchange. I spoke to an advisor and he explained a realistic repayment plan to me. I then decided to explain directly to the debtors how I got into this mess. Most debtors have been very accommodating with my situation. I have mentioned to every debtor that I consider bankruptcy as a viable option.
After weeks of calling debtors, I negotiated settlement rates on all of my debts (about 75% of what I owed), which helped ease some of the pressure.
Following the settlement agreements I negotiated with my debtors, I established a monthly budget. This prioritized the most important bills I needed to take care of: rent, food, phone bill, and car insurance were all crucial payments that I overlooked at different times. I finally felt like I was making progress.
During the darker days of my gambling, I slept in my car and skipped meals for money to play. Sitting down and creating some order in my life has had a substantially positive impact. It is important to make sacrifices until you are more financially comfortable. Bills like Netflix, gym, and other subscriptions should be canceled if possible, or at least reduced to give you some breathing space.
As soon as I had sorted out my essential bills, I knew what I would have left each month. Once I understood all of this it was a real wake-up call to know how far I had fallen. During this period, I received a job offer that involved moving to Portugal. Despite the lower wages, the cost of living would be significantly lower and I would receive an apartment with work. Considering all of this, I decided to take the plunge.
Debt repayments started when I was 31 and in October 2020, at the age of 35, I completed my last settlement repayment and was officially debt free. A large portion of my salary still went towards my repayments. I also sold personal items online, which allowed me to pay off my debts faster. Being declared debt free was something I never thought I would experience.
Getting out of debt was a proud moment. It is important to remember that there is no quick fix: you will have to have sensitive discussions with your debtors. It is also important to make sacrifices for financial security. But making the decision to get out of debt is the first step. There will be tough times along the way, but careful planning and self-control and the desire for a better life will lead to a more financially stable future.
When I look back on those times, I have mixed feelings. I feel deep shame and regret that I wasted over seven years of my life sitting in betting shops glued to betting apps on my phone. I have missed a lot of things in my life in these years of playing. But now that I’m out of the financial hole I was in, I can breathe. I am finally in a place in my life where my dreams of owning a home are now realistic, rather than a pipe dream.