Home Lifestyle I was financially comfortable. Now, debt means I don’t leave my house

I was financially comfortable. Now, debt means I don’t leave my house

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I curled up into the foetal position and stayed there for the rest of the day (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)

Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! 

The vibration of my phone on my bedside table had woken me up. 

Cracking an eye open, I reached over to see what the potential early morning emergency could be. 

‘Your Santander account has entered an un-arranged overdraft’. I froze, both eyes fully open.

Desperate, I tried to work out what had taken me past my overdraft. Phone bill? Website costs? Credit card repayments?

I curled up into the foetal position and stayed there for the rest of the day. ‘You’ll always be in debt,’ a voice whispered in my head.  

That used to be my instinctive reaction to money worries: to ignore it, to try to pretend it wasn’t happening, to bury my head in the sand, or my pillows. 

I live a fairly good life. I live with my partner, own nice clothes and eat well. I don’t treat myself often, I share streaming services with my partner, and as a vegetarian Indian, my food shop mostly consists of pulses, vegetables and spices. Nothing breaks the bank. 

The problem is, I have even less coming in. 

Before Covid-19 hit, I had regular work as a writer or speaker, which meant regular income. I went out often, enjoying restaurants and pub quizzes, and while I have never had lots of money, I was comfortable.

Then, somewhere between the pandemic, fewer available jobs, a chaotic relationship ending and my mental health spiralling downward, I found myself in regular debt. 

Sharan in more relaxed times (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)

I stopped seeing friends. I treated myself even less. I didn’t eat well – something my disordered eating relished. I would make excuses – ‘I have a deadline!’ – as friends made restaurant plans in group texts. 

But I still didn’t tell anyone I was concerned about money because there’s a lot of shame in having financial issues.

My parents, who were immigrants, worked hard and saved to give me a good life, and made me aware of the value of money from a young age. 

The fact that I struggle with money feels… embarrassing. The good Indian girl in me feels like a disappointment to them. And my financial situation is not just affecting my mental health but my physical health, too.

I put off getting an eye test for three years because I was so worried about the cost. When I was squinting badly, I made an appointment and sure enough, I needed glasses.   

I found two pairs I loved, but as I tapped in my PIN, I panicked. ‘You’ll always be in debt,’ the voice in my head reminded me. 

Stepping away from the till, I checked my account. I was past my overdraft by £2 – enough to make my palms sweat, and for my bank to send me charges (between £40 – £60), putting me in further debt.

Debt impacted Sharan both physically and mentally (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)

‘Can I return these?’ I asked the optician. ‘I don’t need two – how silly of me!’ 

In the days that followed, I refused to leave the house. I was terrified I would go further into my un-arranged overdraft from bus fees, to getting a drink, to buying a Greggs vegan sausage roll

As a freelancer, occasional jobs have continued to trickle in, and I work contractually as an editor – but I also run community projects that don’t see an income. 

This year is my ninth year running my South Asian identity magazine, Burnt Roti, and I also founded Middlesex Pride, a pride event in an immigrant-heavy area of far West London.  

I have been running the magazine at a loss, funding the print issues and associate events and campaigns myself. I rarely receive sponsorship or grants and when I do, the money gets swallowed up by outgoing costs and collaborator fees.

Last year I had to donate my wages to help cover extra costs for Middlesex Pride.

I am on the brink. Without enough coming in, I can’t support these projects and after nine years, I’m closing down my magazine. It’s devastating, but it means I can concentrate on Middlesex Pride, building my life with my partner, and looking for more secure work. 

I’m open to full-time, and even part-time, jobs. But after working for years on community projects that I have created, I haven’t gained, in some people’s eyes, experience for the jobs they’re advertising. 

Sharan is determined to be more vocal about debt (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)

A rejection email from a job I applied for said they wanted at least five years of experience. ‘I’ve had nine years,’ I replied, confused. 

The first time I saw a message like that I cried myself to sleep – my self-esteem was destroyed. 

I have started making changes, however. In 2024, I’ve already managed to reduce my phone bill and cut down on website costs for all the projects I run.

I want to have a healthy relationship with my partner, so I have told them everything, and the first thing they did was help me budget. We then looked at my bank account and figured out where I could make savings.

And importantly, I have become more vocal about finances.

There shouldn’t be shame in talking about money, but we’re always taught to keep it to ourselves. I want this to change. Many of us aren’t living comfortably, and most don’t have luxury.

It’s one of the reasons the wage gap has continued to grow between genders, disability and race.  

I’m still in debt with my overdraft and overdue tax bills. I still get scared when my phone buzzes. I still sometimes allow my health to suffer because of costs of medication.

But I’ve started to accept that although money is scary, it’s even more frightening to hide silently in debt.

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