Sunday, May 6

Gem's Guide to Debt

I have masses of debt and have only just started dealing with it properly. I am a dunce. If I'd forced myself to do this 2 years ago, instead of sticking my head in the sand/underneath the duvets covers I wouldn't be in the mess I am now. So I strongly advise anyone who reads this blog, and is in debt that they cannot really get on top of, to have a butchers at the list.

1. Open a bank statement (Yes. Painful. But necessary). Add up how much you are paying to various cards/loans every month. Add rent/mortgage expenses. Add any insurance or travel costs. Add AT LEAST another £250 for food, prescriptions, everything else.
2. If this is more than your monthly wage (as it was in mine) follow the instructions below.
3. Dig out all hire purchase agreements/loan agreements/credit card agreements. Put in one file together.
4. Write to all companies from above file requesting an up-to-date balance.
5. Add balances together. Do not be alarmed by sum total. Anything below £20,000 is manageable. Anything below £30,000 is fixable.
6. Contact Payplan. Tell advisor sum total of debt. Advisor will call back within a week. Grab folder and tell them all accounts/balances. Advisor will tell you about available options.
7. If you have an overdraft open a basic bank account with a new bank. Cancel all DDs from old bank account.
8. A Debt Management Plan is the most advisable initial course of action. This is where Payplan work out how much you can afford to give towards your debts each month. You then make this payment to Payplan by DD every month. They work out what proportions of it they will give to which creditor. Some creditors accept, some do not. Offer a bit more, squeeze your budget.
9. If creditors do not accept they will eventually pass your debt onto a debt collection agency. Payplan work with these too. They are usually much easier to get to agree to debt management plans. So do not be afraid of letters threatening you with these.
10. Open all letters that come through your door. Every single stinking one. Force yourself if necessary. I do.
11. Be honest. Tell people you are in debt. Tell them how much if you want to. Do not keep it to yourself.

Money saving tips
1. If you live in London and own a car sell it immediately. Public transport is cheaper and much less stressful. Look into travelcards.
2. Join the library.
3. Do a fortnightly 'meat shop'. Buy all the 2 for £5 offers you can. Freeze.
4. Give up smoking.
5. Buy 6 packs of water bottles and take them to work. It comes to less than 25p each.
6. Always take a packed lunch.
7. Spend one lunchtime a week searching the internet for restaurant/shopping vouchers. Wagamama are usually quite good...
8. Only shop for everyday clothes in Primark.
9. Make shopping lists. Plan the meals in advance.
10. Beg old magazines from friends, being one month behind hardly makes any difference.

I usually end up with about £250 a month for food, clothes, prescriptions etc. This is ok if spent WISELY.

So how did I get in all this mess? Foolishness with spending and borrowing. Paying off debts with other debts. Buying too many clothes/shoes. Being bipolar has exacerbated the debt problem, but it's not entirely to blame. Most of my major purchases/financial decisions were made whilst euphoric, but I still accept 100% responsibility for them. Sometimes I feel I'm going to collapse from the weight of it all. I won't though. I'll just take it very slowly and very carefully.

And I'll be debt-free by the time I'm 30. Just in time to get a mortgage...

Feelings, nothing more than feelings...

Why do boys find it so difficult to feel anything? This is not just a generalised sexist statement. It's simply bourne out of past experiences. When I am down/up/sideways it is the actual sensation of the aforementioned affliction that affects me. I work out why I'm feeling that way and do my best to deal with it. I feel sad. Boo. I feel sad because I have no money. Boo. Get over it Gemma, move on. Boo. I don't want to. Well have some chocolate then, and read Grazia.

With boys it is totally different. If a boy feels very down, for whatever reason, he uses a totally different strategy. To begin with he doesn't try to work out why he feels the way he does. He is sad. He does not know why. He retreats into a corner or attempts to bury feeling with alcohol, sport or literature. The next phase I like to call Meltdown. This is when the male brain, amazed at the change in pace and sudden awareness of feeling, shuts down and refuses to do anything except flash the following sentence in his conscious mind 'OH MY GOD. I AM HAVING AN ACTUAL FEELING'.

Panic follows Meltdown. Man is confused. Man is in unchartered territory. Man continues to panic until reassured by woman or close male friend who admits to going through similar just days before. Man is pacified. Reason is found for him. Man goes back to feeling (no longer in bold) without realising and soon forgets it ever happened.

My theory is this - Men feel exactly as women do, but generally they don't notice it. Unless they have a really strong feeling like love, or depression or severe anxiety they can happily go about their daily business none the wiser. It is only when faced with a challenge that causes them to feel intensely that they suddenly become aware of their mind's capacity to make them experience feelings. Then they panic. They suddenly become aware of feeling intensely and become irate when womenfolk deign to mention that that is actually how they function most days of the week.

So ladies, next time your man dramatically anounces that he is stressed or down, do not panic. He is no more stressed or panicked than you have ever been. He is simply finding his feet in a world of conscious feelings and is frightened by the unknown. Pacify him, reassure him, and then leave him to whatever method he uses best to get himself back on the straight and narrow.

Saturday, May 5


I've been accepted to university next year for a one-year postgraduate teaching degree. My LEA have calculated my student finance.

Next year Haringey council are giving me:
£3000 fee loan
£2765 grant
£5485 maintenance loan

My uni are giving me:
£9000 bursary

Wipe out the fee loan, and I'm left with £17250 (how much I'm being paid to work as a teacher at College now...). Tax free.

Divide that by the ten months I'll be training for and it's £1725 take home every month.

That's obviously ample to live off, so here is my dilemma, what to do with the excess cash?

Option 1
Live off the grant and bursary (£1176 pmth) and use the loan to pay off my two highest interest debts (credit cards). I currently live off £1050 per month, so that's more than I'm getting at the moment.

Option 2
Live off the grant and bursary (1176 pmth), take out a savings account and invest the student loan. Student loans are charged at lower interest than your average savings account, so no money would be lost.

Option 3
Live off all three (£1725 pmth) and increase my payment to Payplan (debt management charity who are helping me sort out my debts) to a whopping amount per month.

FYI - Student loans are only paid back when you are in employment and earning over £15,000 a year. If you do not earn that you do not have to pay them back. Repayments are linked to your earnings, whether you owe £1000 or £20,000 you make the same monthly repayments. If you have not paid them off in 25 years they are written off.

Which option is best guys? Which would you do? (I have one in mind but I want to see if you lot agree with me first!) Email me or leave a message on my myspack.


Do Google searches and that...