How to support someone who is in debt without giving them money

How to support someone who is in debt without giving them money

November 3, 2019

If someone you love is struggling financially, your first instinct might be to offer them money.

But getting yourself into debt isn’t going to help anyone.

There are lots of things you can do to support someone who is debt without giving them any cash.

As well as the issue of not putting yourself under financial pressure, sometimes helping them deal with the debt and change how they ended up there in the first place is much more beneficial.

Jonny* is currently in the process of paying back a debt which was £20,000 at the highest.

He explains that although accepting money would mean he could pay the debt off faster, the process is also about learning how to handle money better in the future.

He tells ‘I feel like I’ve gotten myself into this and I want to get myself out of it. It is a problem I have caused.

‘If someone handed me the money, I would feel I hadn’t earned it and I’d be more likely to fall into it again.’

How to spot if someone is in debt

If your partner, family member or friend has been open about their debt, you can offer emotional support and ensure that you are sensitive about the issue.

But if they aren’t talking about it but you’ve noticed something is wrong, you could be the first step in getting them to understand they need to get help.

According to the government-backed Money Advice Service, there are some signs to watch out for if you are concerned someone is in debt:

  • They have been in debt in the past.
  • They have had a recent life event, such as an event that has resulted in a loss of income or higher spending, for example, having a baby, being made redundant, illness, divorce or a death in the family.
  • They are living beyond their means or overspending, for example, they always seem to have new clothes or gadgets or they buy drinks for everyone at the pub.
  • They seem anxious, withdrawn or depressed.
  • They may seem more secretive and avoid talking about finances.
  • They have changed their spending habits – either reducing spending (e.g. going on fewer holidays or eating out less) or overspending (spending without a plan for repayment, for example, putting luxury items on credit).
  • They seem tired or are having trouble sleeping.
  • Their weight has changed suddenly.

How can you help someone who is in debt

Just listen to what they have to say

There is a lot of shame around debt and having someone just to talk to can be a huge help. Talking about what has happened is the first step in tackling debt.

Encourage them to talk to a professional

Although they might start by opening up to you, debt can be complicated and difficult to deal with. It’s important to get them to understand that they need professional support.

This could be from the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Money Advice Service or a debt charity. Help them search online for what works for them, read through and discuss what is available. If they are going along to a meeting about their debt, ask if they want you to come with them for support.

Help them write out a budget

You can create a plan with them and help them stick to it. While nagging constantly might not be useful, gentle reminders of what they can and can’t afford can help to keep them on track.

Jonny* adds that chatting about what he’s spending money on has helped him work through his debt.

He said: ‘My girlfriend gently dissuading me from spending on things has helped. She’ll ask “do you really want this?” or “do you need this right now?”.

‘It’s made me realise that I have poor impulse control when it comes to spending and helped me keep that in check.’

Think about their budget when you are making plans

If you’ve written out a budget, with them and you know they only have £20 a week for socialising, it’s not a good idea to ask them to come with you to an expensive bar for cocktails.

Look up things that you can do together for free or at a low cost. If you’re planning to go out for dinner, look for offers that mean they can enjoy themselves without ignoring their budget.

Don’t leave them out of things just because you know they don’t have much money. It’s important they don’t feel isolated.

Jennifer’s* boyfriend is currently paying off £15,000 of debt and although it can be difficult, she’s been able to help him throughout the process.

‘It can be upsetting because we can’t do things like go on holiday all the time but we have adapted,’ she says. ‘We do lots of nice nights in, instead of spending a little more on some nice food we can cook at home.

‘I also look for two for one dinner deals so I can pay and he gets it for free or we split the cost and it’s much cheaper. We do two-for-one days out with vouchers too or find free museums.

‘I know that if he cuts back now, he will pay off his debt in the next year or two and then we have the rest of our lives for fancy restaurants. I would rather that than have this hanging over us for longer.’

Be sensitive

If your loved one doesn’t want everyone to know about the debt, make sure you respect that. Try not to rub expensive new purchases in their face or make them feel like they have missed out on something they can’t afford.

*Names have been changed.

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