Out of the debt trap
The McWilliams family looks the picture of success.
Lucy works at the Manukau SuperClinic and Darryl works for HEB Construction. Their sons Jack, 8, and Cody, 5, are healthy and happy attending a local primary school.
But in 2011 the family hit rock bottom and found itself buried in a mountain of debt.
The Papakura couple had racked up $48,000 on hire purchase and credit cards trying to "keep up with the Joneses" .
Rent payments were being missed and they were down to $50 a week for groceries, Lucy says.
They joined a prepaid power scheme but that often ran out and the family would spend nights camping in a dark house eating baked beans.
Friends and family would have been "mortified" had they known the extent of the problem but they told no-one out of embarrassment, she says.
"It's like an addiction, isn't it? The dealers are all there with their sales and you feel good - for a little while."
The desperate couple finally called the Papakura Budgeting Service.
Its out-of-hours budgeter Rob Mitchell does home visits for clients who cannot get to the service during the day, often because they work.
There is a myth that budgeting is only for beneficiaries and that needs to be dispelled, Mr Mitchell says.
In reality many people in Papakura are struggling to make ends meet - from high-income families to businessmen with seven-figure debts.
"I've met so many people with good incomes, good equity in their houses, but they can't manage their funds," he says.
The McWilliams had been "pretty blase" about the size of their problem until the night Mr Mitchell spelled it out, Lucy says. Then and there they cut up their credit cards.
The budgeter met the couple monthly as they went "cold turkey", consolidating their debts and repaying a set amount each fortnight.
Lucy now physically counts out the cash on pay day and has restricted access to online banking to stop her "firing money around".
They moved to Waiuku for cheaper rent but still pay less for petrol after trading their old gas guzzler for a Toyota, she says.
"We still live pay packet to pay packet but there seems to be more food in our cupboards."
And for the first time they have saved enough for Lucy to travel home to her native UK and for a family holiday in Palmerston North. The excitement of big hire purchases has been replaced by the "adrenalin rush" of saving to pay in cash.
"We're not so stressed, therefore we're not angry with the kids," Lucy says.
"You feel like you've let them down. Debt does place a big weight on your shoulders. I would dread to think where we would be if we hadn't made that call."
The McWilliams have officially finished with the budgeting service but they still talk to Mr Mitchell if things are not working.
Lucy says there is no stigma in getting budgeting help.
"It doesn't matter who you are - budgeting's for anyone."
Papakura Budgeting Service is in the Old Central School building at 57 Wood St, Papakura, and is open from 10am till 1pm, Monday to Friday. It offers in-house budgeting and a home-visiting service. Both are free.
For information call 299 6881
- © Fairfax NZ News
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