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The best of times, the worst of times
By Tammy Barton

Girl with lasoo 750 - Gettin on top of Debt[1]In all my years of experience helping people get on top of their finances, I’ve come to understand that no two situations are ever exactly the same, which is why there are no one-size-fits-all financial solutions. I’ve also learned that most financial problems are triggered by sudden changes in life or bad money management habits that accumulate over time—sometimes a combination of both.

This success story is about Alysa, a MyBudget client in Melbourne. If you talk to Alysa today, you’ll encounter a vibrant, cheerful, energetic 31 year old. Her life is overflowing with purpose and direction. As well as working fulltime, she now works after-hours as a life coach, is studying financial counselling and is about to start teaching meditation and yoga. She talks about her plans for the future with infectious enthusiasm.

Twelve months ago, however, it was a different story. “I’ve always been bad with money,” Alysa tells me, “And I met someone who was equally as bad with money. I already had my own mortgage, but we started putting some money aside to buy a house together.” Then, without warning, Alysa’s job as a receptionist and accounts assistant was made redundant. In Alysa’s words, it sparked a chain reaction. She and her boyfriend started fighting, especially about money. They broke up, got back together and eventually broke up once and for all.

Alysa describes how devastating the breakup was to her self-esteem, “My relationship breakup was nearly the end of me because I didn’t know how to fix it. This was the man I had intended to marry and have a family with. I lost myself. I started spiralling out of control. I found another job, but I was so depressed that I couldn’t actually do it. I couldn’t even talk to people—I couldn’t make connections.”

While still in the depths of depression, Alysa eventually found a job which she says involved working in a back office where she didn’t have to speak with anybody. By this time, her mortgage was seriously in arrears and the bank was threatening foreclosure. She was also behind in payments on a line of credit, a personal loan, a study loan and a Centrelink debt. All of Alysa’s bills were overdue and she owed $20,000 to her parents. Her credit card was also behind and maxed out. “I felt like the biggest failure,” Alysa tells me.

One of Alysa’s work colleagues took the time, however, to talk to Alysa about her financial problems. She urged Alysa to contact MyBudget. I asked Alysa to tell me how her initial contact with MyBudget felt. “Everybody was so nice,” Alysa begins. “They listen and they really care. For example, one of the financial analysts, Mandy, she saved my bacon on so many occasions. I don’t think I could have gotten through it otherwise. We never met, but we spoke regularly. Having that support there—even just knowing that it was okay to burst into tears—I felt really safe and that someone really cared.”

To pay down her debt as quickly as possible, Alysa elected to embrace a drastic change in budget and lifestyle. She took on a second job, so she was working seven days a week. She also committed to a weekly living allowance of only $70. I asked her how she made it work. “I ate a lot of dinners at my parents’ house,” says Alysa cheerily, “And I bought mainly home brand groceries. By the way, I noticed no difference in quality or taste. Why pay $5 for a box of pasta when you can pay $1.50? I also ate lots of fruit and vegetables.”

Alysa admits that joining MyBudget didn’t lift her depression immediately. She was still stuck in a dead end job and craving work that was meaningful. Alysa explains her thought process, “I asked myself ‘what am I good at?’ Well, I’m not good with money, but I like talking about it, so I started applying for finance jobs.” That was when Alysa also started studying financial counselling.

After only 12 months, Alysa “graduated” from MyBudget. In that short amount of time, she was able to pay down her debts and rectify her payments history so that she would qualify for mortgage refinancing. In the process, Alysa is saving $700 a month in interest charges and she’s been able to increase her weekly living allowance to $150. She has savings in the bank, so she no longer relies on credit. In fact, her credit card account has been closed and the card chopped into pieces. Alysa no longer has a line of credit against her mortgage. These days, she keeps all of her savings and emergency funds in a mortgage offset account which is saving her hundreds a year in interest charges and reducing the duration of her home loan. She has plans to buy an investment property.

Alysa is extremely philosophical about her experience. She perceives that the challenges which manifested as money problems were symptomatic of a flawed belief system about her own self-worth and capabilities as an individual. “It was the best and worst year of my life, but in the process I’ve learnt that my beliefs about money were inaccurate. My belief was ‘I’m not a good money manager. I can’t do it myself.’ And when you believe something, you look for evidence to prove that your belief is right. So, I’ve left MyBudget with a heavy heart, but I have to prove to myself that I can do it on my own. With MyBudget’s help, I’ve learnt discipline and how to save, and now I’d like to help other people. And I know I can always go back to MyBudget if I ever need to.”

Alysa is always welcome to become a MyBudget client again, but I doubt that will ever happen. It’s an odd sentiment for a business owner to express, but some of my proudest moments are when clients leave us because they have the confidence and skills to succeed on their own.

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