While some people experience consumer debt from quite a young age, with student overdrafts being very common and credit products aimed at younger people growing ever more popular, other people might not find themselves borrowing money until later on in life.
Sometimes we make a conscious choice to borrow money to reach milestones and improve our lives in some way, whereas at other times we might slip into debt due to harmful spending habits, or even be pushed into debt by circumstances outside of our control, such as job loss or illness.
However and whenever we find ourselves in debt for the first time, it can be a stressful and overwhelming experience - but it doesn’t have to be.
By facing your debt head-on, managing your feelings about it and having a plan to pay it off, you can avoid damaging your relationship with money and losing control of your finances.
Here are a few top tips for dealing with debt for the first time:
Despite the fact that so many people experience debt - and indeed make conscious choices to borrow money - there is still a social stigma surrounding debt that can make it really difficult to discuss openly or seek support. It’s important not to let these messages about debt being ‘bad’ or somehow reflecting poorly on your character affect you - because they’re not true. Viewing debt as a problem to be solved, and changing your language from ‘being in debt’ to ‘having debt’ can be helpful.
Another way to reduce any stigma or shame you might feel is by talking about it. You could find an impartial person, such as a charity debt advisor or financial coach to discuss your debt with, or confide in a trusted friend or family member. The more you discuss any financial difficulties you might have, the more accountable, empowered and motivated to solve them you will feel.
Debt can spiral very quickly out of control, especially if you are missing payments or incurring interest and fees. Even if the numbers make you nervous, it’s important to stay engaged with them and not to take your eye off the ball. Some days it might feel easier to pretend that your debt doesn’t exist and to continue spending like normal, but the long-term consequences of this can be damaging - both in terms of your finances and your wellbeing.
Even on days when you don’t feel like thinking about money, try to do a mini financial check-in with yourself - check your account balances and any payments that are due to go out. Once per week or month, you might also find it helpful to review your budget, track your debt balances and ensure that any repayments are set to go out on time.
When taking on debt for the first time, it’s really important to get to grips with the specific terms and conditions of your borrowing, including:
Being clued up on how it all works will enable you to create the best plan for paying off your debt, and will also help you to feel more empowered and in control of your money.
Having debt also means it’s more important than ever to choose a budget that works for you. You need to ensure that you’re able to make your minimum monthly repayments, and calculating any extra cash that you might be able to put towards paying off your debt can be really helpful, too.
Choose a budgeting method that suits the way your brain works, whether that’s on paper, a spreadsheet, or an app, and ensure that all of the information you’re using is thorough and accurate.
There’s no silver bullet or magic method when it comes to budgeting - all you need is an accurate account of your income vs. your outgoings.
Debt - especially if you have built up a significant amount of it - can feel like a bit of a life sentence, but try to remember that this is far from the truth. It may be that your debt will take some time to pay off - years, perhaps - but that time will pass, and if you plan carefully, a debt-free life can be within your reach.
Take some time to map out the next few years and make a financial plan based on how much you can afford to pay off your debt each month. Your circumstances may change in the future, enabling you to pay off your debt more quickly or forcing you to slow down, but having a plan will help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel.