The first day I walked into a bookmaker, I felt a rush of excitement tingle through my body. An hour later, I was £60 down. But despite walking out riddled with shame, I couldn’t forget the exhilarating experience of the bookies. From then on, I constantly looked for my next gambling fix.
I was raised in a middle-class family and never went without. But as the months went on and the gambling continued, the debt piled up. Looking back, I could have won a fortune and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
My vice was horses. I would start the day with single bets on horses to win individual races, then accumulators (AKA high odds bets with big wins), often with the dream of claiming back the money I had lost. On countless occasions, I sent every penny I had onto a betting slip – even if it meant I couldn’t do anything until the next payday, I was obsessed with winning.
When the money ran out, payday loans entered the picture. Getting one was extremely easy, and after my first – for £100 – I took out more. Looking back, I sometimes took out multiple loans per day, ranging from £100 to over £500. I would always try to lend the maximum. It got to a point where I forgot most of the loans and just used to wait until they were taken from my account, then immediately re-loan the same amount or more if I could.
I knew deep down I had a problem, but I never realised how deep my addiction had taken me. When I was taking out payday loans, I wasn’t even looking at the exorbitant interest, which was over 1,000 percent APR on most occasions. I was working all hours possible to keep up with the loan companies payments. Sometimes I won, but that only made me continue betting more. No amount would make me happy. I always wanted more.
I had some substantial wins over the years. I could have paid for a round the world cruise, or put a deposit on a house. The thing is: I couldn’t concentrate on anything unless I had a live bet. I checked the days betting immediately every day, whether it was horses, football or tennis. It got to a point where I was betting on minuscule aspects of play in football matches, like how many times a corner kick was taken by both teams in a game.
I would bet on single service games in tennis, then put more on the next game to get back my losses. There was one occasion I put £200 on Roger Federer to win his service game and he got broke. I then put the same amount on his opponent to keep service and Federer broke him. I was continually chasing losses. I was always late to social engagements because I was in the bookies.
When my family found out the financial mess I was in, we calculated what I owed to loan companies and credit cards. This came to around £30,000. I was 31 at this point, and had been gambling since I was 25. Having the shame of my family finding out shocked some sense into me – but while I began paying small amounts back, I continued to lie and gambled more.
So, what changed? The shame began to weigh heavier on me than before. I didn’t want to see the disappointing looks from family members – I wanted to have a life again. I had given up my life to gamble and I had to make a change or I never would. The next morning, I decided to move forward.
First, I called a debt management charity called Stepchange. I spoke to an advisor, and he talked me through a realistic repayment plan. I then decided to explain to the debtors directly how I had got myself into this mess. Most debtors were very accommodating of my situation. I mentioned to every debtor I was considering bankruptcy as a viable option.
After weeks of calling debtors, I negotiated settlement rates on all my debts (around 75 percent of what I owed), which helped alleviate some pressure.
Following the settlement agreements I negotiated with my debtors, I set up a monthly budget. This prioritised the most important bills I needed to take care of: Rent, food, phone bill, and car insurance were all crucial payments I neglected at different times. It finally felt like I was making some progress.
During the darkest days of my gambling, I slept in my car and skipped meals to have money to gamble. Sitting down and creating some order in my life had a substantially positive impact. It’s important to make sacrifices until you’re more financially comfortable. Bills such as Netflix, the gym and other subscriptions should be cancelled if possible, or at least scaled back to give you some breathing space.
As soon as I had arranged my essential bills, I knew what I would have left each month. Once I worked this all out, it was a real wake-up call of 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 less, and I would receive an apartment with the job. Taking all this into account, I decided to take the leap.
Repayments on the debt started when I was 31, and in October 2020, at the age of 35, I finished my last settlement repayment, and I was officially free from debt. A large proportion of my wages always went towards my repayments. I also sold some personal items online, which contributed to me paying off my debts at a faster pace. Being declared debt-free was something I never thought I would experience.
Getting out of debt was a proud moment. It’s important to remember there is no miracle cure: You will need to have awkward discussions with your debtors. It’s also important to make sacrifices to obtain financial security. But making the decision you want to get out of debt is the first step. There will be tough times along the way, but careful planning and self-control and a want 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 more than seven years of my life sitting in betting shops, glued to betting apps on my phone. I missed out on a lot in my life in those years I spent gambling. But now I am 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 house are now realistic, rather than a pipe dream.
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