Banking On Christmas Stress

It’s not the lack of money for groceries that gets me in the end because I don’t notice the difference. It’s the stress; the feeling of tightness in my chest when I think about the bills, the weird anxiety when I consider getting the car past the NCT, and the massive gulp when we pay the mortgage every month. Then absolute screaming frustration when another niggly thing crops up that we have to pay for, that I have to fit into the budget. Somedays I feel like I’m wandering around in an empty house, in an empty town, in an empty country, with nobody to talk to about how it feels to be constantly worried about money.

Last week Safe Food announced a new research paper which reckoned that the average family (2 adults, 2 children) need to spend at least €141 but sometimes as much as €160 per week on a shopping basket with enough healthy food for a week. We’re a family of 5. I’m guessing that that figure should be somewhere in the region of €200 per week for our family size. That’s around twice what my food budget is every week.

Earlier this year we exited the MARP (Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process) with Ulster Bank. Up until then we had been in an arrangement to pay less while we got back on our feet after a few rough years financially. While we were in the MARP we got our household bills right down to a very small figure. We cleared the credit card every month, my husband learned how to service the car himself to pay money, we grew our own food, learned to be more energy-efficient, and I managed to get the grocery bill down. That much is no secret. When there were 4 of us living here full-time my budget was around €70 per week for food. I’ve since increased it to €80 for food with another €20 for cleaning materials and other items because there are 5 of us (the teenager now lives here full-time).

We eat very well for that €80 and never go without. There is always plenty of food in the house thanks to a combination of meal planning, budgeting, and me having decent culinary skills. It helps to know how to stretch a roast chicken beyond one main meal or bake my own bread. We do manage takeaway food every now and again on that budget too!

The other €100 per week that we should have to spend on food according to Safe Food we use elsewhere. We try to make it so that the children don’t feel left out when it comes to things like holidays or day trips. You’d be surprised what you can do, and where you can go, on €30 per week over a year, trust me! There’s also stuff like grinds for the Leaving Cert student (I feel old), after school club for the 5-year-old so I can collect the two boys at the same time in the afternoon, long-term savings like back to school, and obviously Christmas.

In the Spring (at the same time we left the arrangement) we received professional advice that our mortgage with Ulster Bank was one of those mortgages that you might have heard in the news last week. One of the mortgages that was being charged at the wrong rate of interest. We wrote to the bank, and have been writing to the bank since. A lot. The mortgage amount we’re paying at the moment is more than half of our net income and this makes life quite difficult as you can imagine.

If we were being charged the right rate of interest however, and the overcharge adjusted to the right level, our mortgage becomes completely affordable again.  As far as we know, the bank will change the interest rate to the correct amount first, then afterwards (many months we think) fix the overcharges which have accrued over the past 7 years. Even changing the interest rate will make a big difference on a weekly basis. Once all the adjustments are made, by my estimation it’ll be the equivalent of receiving a 25% net income increase for us.

In the meantime, I start every morning by checking the bank account, then checking the budget to make sure we’re on track. I follow this up by a keyword search online to see if any other customers have received those magical letters that are due to arrive before Christmas. I check online chat forums, and social media, for keywords and references to the same issues that we have. I wait for the postman everyday and pounce on the letters as they arrive in the hopes that we have some positive news. The radio plays in the background all day and I listen out for any snippet of information that might indicate that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Last Thursday morning, for example, was spent watching the Oireachtas Finance Committee questioning Ulster Bank on an online stream. That led to a glimmer of hope that maybe we might get a letter before Christmas, but no certainty.

Which is why I end up crying for a good bit last Thursday (oh okay tears are shed most days at the moment). And why I didn’t write this blog post last week when I had originally intended to.

The stress is omnipresent. Especially at this time of the year.

BUT

We will not go without. The children will have an amazing Christmas (like always); we will focus on what’s important to us as a family.

I just worry so much for the future at the moment because I have no idea when Ulster Bank will actually get back to us and fix this wrong; make it right. We need to get the car through the NCT in January and at some stage in the next year we need to replace it. There’s a student who will be (hopefully) going to college next year and she will need all of our support for that, even with grant aid. Then another child who will make their First Holy Communion; let’s not even talk about pensions, what are they?  The list goes on. All of this would be far more affordable if we weren’t being hammered by our mortgage every month.

This has not been an easy post to write, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that. My husband and I have discussed at length this year when would be the right time to explain how we are managing. Talking about personal finance is something that Irish people aren’t great at doing. We hope that by sharing our experiences at the moment that the other affected families won’t feel so alone. I say ‘we’ because I couldn’t have written this blog post without the help of my husband. At this stage we are both propping one another up.

I’m very aware of how lucky we are. We still have a home, our bills are paid every month, our children are warm, clean (occasionally, we have boys), well-fed, happy, dressed, and nurtured. This is unlike the estimated 15 families who have lost their homes a result of this mischarge by Ulster Bank, and approximately 51 families who have lost their homes as a result of the industry-wide ‘error’.

30 thoughts on “Banking On Christmas Stress

  1. Such an honest post. Well done. It is unbelievable all you have gone through and to think the banks were charging you incorrectly all the time! you are an inspiration because in all of this you have not lost sight of the important things like family, time spent with small children and healthy eating. You have also shown us what is possible with lots of creativity and hard work. You have done so well. Really hope you get your letter before Christmas. x

    1. Thanks Ciara. I know, completely unbelievable considering all we’ve been through over the past few years. So much of it needlessly now it seems. Thank you so much for your support. x

  2. thanks for writing this. We’re a family of four – two adults -, two kids. Renting. working full time, but totally broke due to high rent, high childcare, petrol costs. Not a day goes by I dont worry about money. I even have to think about whether or not I can afford to spend 3 euro on a take away coffee the day after pay day. Its bloody bloody hard and I hate it.

    1. I’m so sorry it’s like that for you. I wish, hope, pray, that things improve for you soon. That coffee when you can afford it is a luxury and if you’re anything like me one that you feel guilty about too.

  3. Well done you!! It’s been a horrendous time for you and yours, but you’ve faced it down with grace. Here hoping that you get the letter you’re hoping for and that 2017 will be a wonderful year for you!

      1. Thank you for an incredibly open post. Hard to see all the struggles from the outside, when people read and see how resourceful and creative you are, without realising the many circumstances that demand those skills. The things you do for and with your family are, for many, largely forgotten when ‘creative and resourceful’ equates to putting their hands in their pockets for somebody else to come up with a solution. As with everything you post, it’s generous and sharing, and I hope you get as much back as you’ve given in writing it. My total respect to you and your family and I hope your Santa arrives on his An Post bicycle in the coming days.

  4. I understand. Money is tight at the moment. We are on a reduced mortgage with Ulster Bank. its due to go back up next year, we are struggling at the moment how will we be when it goes up.There will always be food on the table, that comes first, we are up to date at the moment with the mortgage. and all the bills are paid, but it’s the extras , Nct due, Twins for confirmation next year, son in college, and CHRISTMAS, I dread it.who ever invented it long ago didn’t have 4 teenagers looking for gadgets ect. I hope to get a Part Time job, I am on carers and it is very hard to get 15 hours.I have an interview in a few weeks, for a sewing job, so hopefully it will work out. I don’t want a fortune, just enough to keep a roof over my head and bills paid
    So you are not alone,
    we will soulder on.
    Can’t think to much about the future as it would get to me. My extended family don’t know our situation.
    Bernie

    1. Bernadette I comopletely understand where you’re coming from. That is incredibly difficult. Thinking of you over Christmas and best of luck with your job interview, I have all my fingers and toes crossed. Cx

  5. Thank you for sharing Caitriona, while it’s not nice to read your tough situation as you say we Irish aren’t great about talking about it and it ends up making you feel very isolated which is how I am feeling. People keep asking what we are up to now we don’t have a wedding to pay for or children to look after yet and the truth is we’re still paying for the wedding. It’s not crippling by any means but that money would go an awful long way elsewhere. I hope you get your letter from the bank with good news soon xx

    1. Nickki I’m so sorry things are stressful at this time of the year for you. I’m sure paying for the wedding is a massive millstone for now especially when you want to start planning for the future. I hope the financial stress eases soon. x

  6. Huge applause for voicing how it feels….great to know you are not alone…that line where you feel alone is so true I had a total melt down last week due to the pressure of always thinking about where the money is going to come from and the the guilt because we are not homeless like others….never ending stress and strain! Well done and thank you ?

  7. thanks for writing this post. very honest it’s so reassuring to know we are not alone xx

  8. Thankyou Catriona for sharing. You are so good to help others with all the tips and advice when you are going through so much. I wish you well x

    1. Quite honestly Laura, it really helps to actually do something rather than feeling so frustrated waiting on a letter. It also helps to know I’m not on my own. Thank you L. xxx

  9. In the same boat with them, though it’s just me but was on as few as 6 hours a week in school and lots of unpaid summers – it’s been absolute hell – have spent the last year fighting them, though significant progress made, still not sorted but hoping to this week.

    1. Thanks Caroline. Much appreciated. Mad to think that I might not have written the book or written the blog on such a budget only for the wrong interest rate!

  10. Well Catriona. No you’re not on your own… I’m here …!! But like you I am dealing with it too. So right in saying it’s hard to talk about such a situation. In a similar situation myself. Here’s how I briefly explain my current life style in a nutshell … When you go for petrol and while sitting AT the petrol pump you log on to your account to check the balance and pray that nothing has been taken out of your account , that the €10 is still there. You run into the garage, PAY FIRST in case that €10 is taken while you squeeze a dribble of fuel into the tank. Oh and checking your account online, on the phone, in the car, is another stressful step in the process. Must remember to turn off mobile data. . Your mind is full of ways to get around every normal everyday task. Always playing a waiting game…. juggling the ‘to do list’ . Constant fire fighting. ….

    Planning Ahead… oh what a luxury that has come to be.

    HAPPY CHRISTMAS .
    Jill

    1. Yes! That’s exactly it Jillian. Planning ahead but hoping you don’t hit a speedbump along the way. Praying that another charge hasn’t been taken out at the bank. I hope you get positive news soon. x

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