I had to go through quite a bit in my life to get to 38 years old and feel like the most ‘important purchase’ is a contingency plan

This is my story

Joseph’s problems started with gambling and impulse buying.

“When I was young, I started gambling on pokies. I had what they call the ‘phenomenal first win’—bells and whistles go off, and you win dream money for a night. You think that’s going to happen all the time.”

“I was also undiagnosed with ADHD and it played a big part in impulse control.

“When you start trying to gain control over impulse gambling and shopping, it’s almost harder than quitting smoking. It’s not just that you lose control of yourself, but your brain is almost a separate entity. It becomes an enemy.”

Joseph worked for months to put in place ‘accountability’ measures to ensure he stopped gambling.

“I gave my housemate my EFTPOS card and said that the only time I need it is to pay a bill online, and to do that, I’ll need the three digits on the back of my card.

Joseph knew that the only way out of his gambling and impulse buying problems was to make a conscious effort to not have easy access to money.

“I’m more honest now than I’ve ever been in my life. I told everybody because I needed to put a system in place that would guarantee accountability.

“I told my friends and family not to give me cash. And if they do, I provide a receipt.”

When Joseph eventually approached Way Forward for help with his debts, he knew he needed bank statements that showed a track record of no cash withdrawals. He waited several months before asking for assistance.

“You can’t just go to Way Forward and expect to be rescued. It must come from within you.

I didn’t want someone like Deborah [Way Forward hardship advocate] to put an excellent plan in place and then repeatedly fail on my end.”

Buy Now, Pay Later made problem gambling worse

Joseph started using BNPL to purchase everyday items to cover up gambling losses.

“I bought gift cards with Afterpay and Zip, and that accelerated my gambling. Some modern gamblers will be doing things like this.

For example, if you’ve lost $400 gambling, you’ll do a $400 shop, but instead of using savings, you use Zip. The deception is that the shopping is done using debt, and the money that’s been lost gambling is covered up.”

Create a personalised budget

Having a budget planner that Joseph designed himself was also an effective strategy to proactively understand his finances better.

“I have a budget planner, and knowing that I have ADHD, I’ll literally check it eight or nine times a day.”

Focusing on daily progress and thoughtful, intentional spending is helping Joseph get where he hopes to go.

“If I want to get to where I want to be, I’m not going to win money gambling. It has never happened in all these years.

“I had to get out of the mess slowly—dollar by dollar. Everything I’ve done up until this point was chasing a quick win.”

Budgeting has also been critical for Joseph’s financial recovery.

“I’m a data analyst, so I made a spreadsheet for my budgeting. The budget is set up weekly, but then I’ll also be able to look weeks ahead and start prepaying or preplanning for certain bills.

“It’s something that works for me.

“As time goes on, I can change it as I please. It started off with over 35 categories, and over time, you start to narrow it down and know which categories you can merge.

“If I had to stand on stage and talk to a bunch of people who were like me, I’d say that instead of taking someone else’s template, take all of them, copy and paste those random pearls of wisdom that you find that apply to you and make your own cheat sheet.

“A lot of them are unreasonable and don’t address what’s behind the spending.

“I had to go through quite a bit in my life to reach 38 years old and feel like the most ‘important purchase’ is a contingency plan.”

Finding a way out

For a long time, Joseph says he couldn’t see a way out.

“Now, I am very happy, and that is largely thanks to Way Forward. There was a late-night moment of desperation, and I stumbled across your website, and I thought this is my last chance.

“By the next day, I’d already lost that spark of motivation because I thought there’s no way anyone can help. I’m better off just hiding until the world blows over.

“But Deborah kept calling. A few times when I did want to answer but I was stuck in meetings. But she didn’t give up for a solid week. And then she did catch me. She believed she could help.

“She empathised, and there was no judgment, so I felt a bit of positivity after that.

“I told her everything. I might have even spoken too much, but she didn’t seem to be saying that there was nothing they can do.

“I had been turned away from other counselling places before, so I felt sorry for myself and thought, now she’s just going to come back and say that she can’t help.

“But no, she worked magic. There was literally a way forward.

“I was going in circles before. 90 percent of my pay was going to a debt with massive interest, and even in that, I’d be skipping a payment just so that I could have food.”

Lenders kept offering money

“I remember when the bank sent me a letter for the first time saying that I qualify for a credit card with a $10,000 limit. I thought, if the bank thinks I’m good for it, then surely, I am. You’re very frugal with it at first and feel pretty good about yourself, and then you have a big night out and run out of your own money.

“I was surprised that I was approved for some of the loans that eventually put me into hardship. Out of desperation, you look for signs, so when you might receive a text message offering ‘$2,000 today,’ you accept more loans.”

Humility is the Way Forward

“You must humble yourself. The biggest challenge is, how do I tell the people that care about me and only want to see me succeed that I have repeatedly failed to control myself whenever it mattered?

“You start by pushing your ego to the side and go to those people who you not only love but those you are sure love you back and say to them: I don’t want your judgment, but this is what’s going on, so help keep me accountable.

“I have some totems, which are a few purchases that are utterly useless. Like a 3D maze that was $60. It’s a bowl inside the little ball that goes around, and I’ll never solve it. I keep it there as a reminder to not buy things I don’t need.”

Joseph says that the bank he uses, Up, includes features in their products that are incidentally ADHD-friendly.

“There’s a side savings account where you can just put money in. But if I want to take money out, there’s a three-hour delay.

“If you’re out shopping, and you know your weaknesses, you can’t impulsively take that money out. If there is an emergency, you can text a friend who can release it, which is my housemate. He’s my accountability coach.

“If you’re struggling with impulses, and some of us might enjoy having those impulses because it’s rewarding to fulfil them, the challenge is how are you going to put an external measure in place?

“For some people, feeling like a failure or the fear of rejection is a hurdle to seeking help. What if you tell people about your problem, and they can’t help you? Or what if they call you a loser and want nothing to do with you?

“It’s hard to be vulnerable, but that’s a risk you have to take.”

By Rachel Ryan

Rachel is a policy and communications specialist with over a decade of experience working in government, education and not-for-profit organisations. She is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside Way Forward’s clients to assist them in sharing their story on their terms, in a way that is empowering and uplifting.