Being in debt is something that has been part of my everyday life for as long as I can remember. Since my late teens, throughout my 20s, and into my early 30s, I've been in the red. It all started when I was 18 and I sadly lost both my parents to cancer.
Our family home was rented and, although I was working, I couldn't afford to stay there so I moved into a one-bedroom flat a few miles away and tried moving on with my life. That's when the problems started.
Growing up I didn't have much of a financial education or the first idea of fending for myself – running a house or even cooking simple meals was foreign to me. It was a steep learning curve.
Within six months of living by myself, I'd run up rent arrears, had fallen behind with household bills and was in a right mess. It may sound like an excuse but I really didn't have a clue. I was mourning the loss of my parents and at the same time trying to live.
Over the next few years I really struggled. I was still in a financial mess when I met my now wife and I dragged her down, too. We both worked but our money was gone before it hit our accounts.
Bad financial decisions turned into bad financial habits. We were making minimum payments on credit cards but still overspending. Looking back, I feel ashamed but when you get into a circle of debt, it's hard to break free.
We had never saved, always spending every penny and when I lost my job, and my wife was made redundant a little while after, we had nothing to bounce back on. We ended up borrowing more money and getting more into debt just to survive.
For us, money problems and debt were part of living.
I knew nothing else in life other than buying on credit, scrimping by, avoiding creditors and just keeping my head above water.
Taking back control
The wake-up call finally came 18 months ago. We'd amassed a whopping £40,000 worth of debt and couldn't borrow or struggle any longer without losing everything. Pay day was a week away; we only had a few pounds in the bank and hardly enough food to feed us and the children.
We had a choice: survive or not survive – it really was as black and white as that.
We dragged our heads out of the sand and for the first time started to take back control. Not only did we owe it to ourselves but also to our children. I didn't want them growing up thinking debt was the norm.
Taking those first steps in dealing with debt was the hardest. Making the awkward phone calls to creditors and admitting our situation to friends and family was embarrassing to say the least.
Fast-forward to today and although we are still in debt, we are in control. Having cut our spending and finding ways to increase our income, we have managed to clear around £10,000.
This is not the end of my journey but, I suppose, the beginning. I was naïve, financially uneducated and shrugged problems off thinking that everything would be alright in the end.
The financial mistakes of my past have taught me the hard way and I'm determined not to make them again.
Ricky Willis is an award-winning blogger and author of the Skintdad.co.uk blog.