I lost my job, was £50k in debt & my brother had to buy my baby nappies – here's how I turned my life around
A MUM has revealed how she became £50,000 in debt after losing her job while pregnant, leaving her reliant on family to buy nappies and food for her family.
Hannah Fenwick, 34, and husband Dean, 38, from Hull, always had a comfortable life and treated themselves with nice cars, TVs and meals out.
But behind the scenes, their debts were racking up – and things came to a head when Hannah was made redundant from her job as a home carer in summer 2015.
"That's when everything started to spiral out of control," she tells Fabulous. "It was awful.
"I didn't get a penny of redundancy money because I'd worked with them for less than a year, so I wasn't entitled to anything.
"I gave birth just two months later in August. My son Winston, now five, came six weeks early because of the stress of everything."
Hannah and Dean, a yard manager, who has two kids aged 20 and 17 from a previous relationship, never worried about money before she fell pregnant.
She says: "Back then we both worked full-time and we didn’t have a child, so we lived quite a comfortable life.
"We felt like we had the money and could enjoy our lifestyle.
"We had two cars, an Audi and a Toyota, a Bugatti motorbike and a hot tub, life was good.
"But then I found out I was pregnant and got made redundant, meaning we were suddenly living off one income.
"I dislocated my knee on honeymoon in Morocco by slipping on a wet floor which prevented me from getting a new job as I couldn’t drive.
"We were really on a sinking ship."
We felt like we had the money and could enjoy our lifestyle. But then I found out I was pregnant and got made redundant, meaning we were suddenly living off one income
In addition to the mortgage on their three-bed house, which the couple have always paid along with their bills, the couple had six debts which they were struggling to pay off.
These included Hannah's £700 overdraft with LLoyds, Dean's £1,500 overdraft with Halifax, a sofa bought on finance, money owed to HMRC for a miscommunication when Dean's older kids stopped living with them and personal loans.
They took out a £25,000 loan from Tesco to cover some small personal debts, as well as pay for an extension or to move house, but ended up spending the cash instead of using it on a home upgrade.
Hannah says: "We frivelled a lot of the money away. We always said 'we'll put that back next month', but it never happened.
"My husband bought the new PS4, a 3D TV and he wanted to be able to treat his children.
"We’d have nice days out or meals out, it wasn't flash holidays, it was just bits and bobs which seemed to add up.
"Dean was paying off his overdraft two to three times over, he'd have to pay £100 minimum every month just in bank charges.
"Our Tesco loan came with a 12% interest rate. We borrowed £25,000 but have to repay £42,000."
In addition, the pair owed money to Hannah's parents and to two family members, after borrowing cash when they did eventually moved house.
She says: "When you move into an old house and the boiler breaks, you end up having to borrow money because you can’t afford to replace the whole heating system.
"That was another £3,000, it all adds up and you think ‘that’s fine I’ll be going back to work soon’ but it never happened. I was out of work for two or three years."
When Hannah first lost her job, they got by until Christmas 2015, by "pulling in our belts on unnecessary spending on takeaways and holidays".
But by the New Year, she knew things were out of hand.
My brother had to purchase nappies for us. My mum and dad would come round with dinner to put food on the table. It was horrendous
Hannah says: "I remember it was a hot summer but I kept the doors and curtains shut because I thought ‘these debt collectors are going to be coming round to my door’.
"There was letter after letter, when you’ve got a new baby it was just horrendous.
"My brother had to purchase nappies for us. My mum and dad would come round with dinner to put food on the table.
"We didn’t get haircuts, the heating very rarely went on.
"It was an absolute mental battle to keep carrying on, knowing you’re sinking in quicksand.
"We were told we should be selling our home to clear the debts, I had to fight to stay in this house.
"I don’t ever want to be at that point again."
In 2016, feeling overwhelmed by her situation, Hannah saw money-saving expert Martin Lewis recommend StepChange on This Morning – and rang up to beg them for help.
The charity work out your income and outgoings, right down to your food allowance, bus fare, cost of cleaning products and toiliteries.
They also act as a middle man, taking the stress away from overwhelmed Brits, and put a pause on interest rates racking up – telling your debtors exactly how much you can afford to pay.
Hannah says: "We could only afford to pay £1 a month that first year.
"That slowly crept up when we changed our broadband and telephone contracts, things like that.
"Every extra pound we saved went to StepChange so they could divvy out the money.
"They give a larger portion to your biggest debort, so one company could be getting £10 and another £2.50 a month.
"If you have an overdraft, they make you move bank, so we're both with HSBC now.
"StepChange deal with everything, they stop those horrible letters coming.
"You do a direct debit to them every month and they sort it all. They took it out of my hands, which was amazing."
I don't want people to bury their heads in the sand. Some people end their lives over debt but there is a way out, it just takes hard graft and a bit of time
Hannah and Dean sold their cars and the motorbike, getting a "cheap runaround" Picasso from a friend who works in a garage.
She says: "I walked to the shops daily to get food because we lived on a daily budget in the end.
"StepChange helped us really look at our spending. We realised you don’t need a brand new phone contract costing £50 a month; you don’t need Amazon, Netflix and Sky, you can live without them.
"Even now, I stick to an £100 a week food budget, which is a test sometimes to come up with meals. But it's all about looking at what's a luxury and what you need to get by."
At first, Hannah and Dean were making very minimal repayments as they struggled to keep things afloat with their new baby and reduced income.
But in the last two years, they have paid off £22,000 and five of their six loans.
They still owe £28,000 to Tesco but are hopeful they'll make a big dent in this soon, as they now have just one debt to focus on.
Happily, Hannah is also back in work as an admin assistant in a care home, since 2019.
The impact of coronavirus on debt
2.5 million Brits are facing a financial crisis due to the impact of coronavirus, according to research by StepChange.
The number of Brits who have borrowed to make ends meet increased from 4.6 to 5.6 million during the first six months of the pandemic.
StepChange estimate this adds up to £10.3 billion of coronavirus related debt.
17% of people who's income has been negatively affected by coronavirus are going without meals or rationing basic utilities as a result.
She says: "We still owe a considerable amount but we've paid off five companies as well as family, that was hard going.
"The debt is still a burden but it feels so good knowing we only have one loan to concentrate on now.
"I'm speaking out because I don't want people to bury their heads in the sand.
"Some people end their lives over debt but there is a way out, it just takes hard graft and a bit of time.
"The biggest thing is about getting it off your chest, as soon as you realise ‘I’m out of control with my spending’, you need to be speaking to someone.
"People want to be seen as having a great job, social media has so much to blame, it’s like ‘look at me I’ve got the perfect life and I’m going on this holiday’.
"That’s not reality, there are so many of us who work a minimum wage job, come home and cook the same tea every night.
"You can’t even go to work and function when you have debts.
"It’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing when you try to go to sleep at night. When you’ve got debt on your head, it’s always there.
"It might seem easy to get money from banks, but people need to realise you have to pay it back.
"I will never buy anything on finance ever again. It’s so easy to get it and it’s crippling young people before they’ve even got a house or a mortgage."
If you need help dealing with debt, StepChange can help. You can find out more about the services they provide here.
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