This is my story
Laura and Darren’s money problems started when Darren fell ill a couple of years ago and could only work on and off.
The family was carrying a significant amount of credit card debt and that meant when their income was reduced, at times, to one, their ability to even get close to staying on top of their debts was gone.
“My husband has probably only worked about two and a half months in total this year just because of illness. He has no sick leave left and has dipped into long service leave to take the time off.”
Added to this, Laura and Darren are primary producers. But with four bad droughts over the last few years, most of their income has gone to feeding their livestock.
“We had to utilise credit cards to feed our family and pay our bills, because all our other income was going on trying to keep the bank from repossessing our farm and keeping our animals alive.
“We can’t let our animals suffer so we suffer financially as a result.
“We thought we were starting to get back on track and that our cattle were worth money again, but another drought hit and the whole cycle just continues.
“Luckily, at that stage we weren’t in mortgage debt but still had these credit cards that kept growing. We couldn’t keep up with the interest repayments.
“We were spending $2,600 a week just on grain and $1,000 a month on silage for our cattle and when my husband’s only earning $3,200 a month, it doesn’t get you very far.
“You feel like you’re the worst person in the world because you can’t meet your requirements to pay back your credit card debt, but you needed those funds available at the time.
“You can see yourself spiralling further into a dark hole that you’re not going to be able to get out of.”
Now that Laura and Darren are on a Way Forward debt repayment plan, they can make repayments on one income – Laura’s.
“Those five credit card companies ringing and harassing you; having that pressure off and knowing everything’s taken care of and that all the accounts are closed.
“Knowing that chapter is almost closed is a nice feeling.”
Life on the farm
Laura explains that it is common in the farming community for people to be running at a major loss all the time.
“You could sell everything up. But we like being able to deliver a good quality product for Australians to eat. We’re proud of our product.
“I’ve always worked, and my husband has always worked both on the farm and full time as a plumber.
“However, there’s no way we can both be full time on the farm because the income is not there.
“My husband is a fifth generation cattle farmer, so he doesn’t want to let that go.
“My in-laws live next door, and they are in a very similar situation. At one stage, their overdraft was up to $750,000, they were living was off this.”
Overcoming barriers to asking for help
Laura says that she and Darren needed to put aside their feelings of pride to ask for help.
“You don’t want to admit defeat. But emotionally and for your family’s wellbeing, it gets you down and affects your relationships.
“The biggest thing I would say to people is, don’t feel ashamed about the situation you’ve got yourself in.
“Particularly people from rural communities, we’re quite resilient and we don’t ask for help. We’re stoic, keep our heads down, and keep going.
“We don’t like to admit defeat or put our hand up to ask for help.
“But don’t be afraid to just get information and see what you think, because your situation might be improved.”
Adapting to new circumstances
“At the moment, I’m studying and working so hopefully I can earn a higher income and provide more money for our family. That way, if Darren needs to stop working altogether because of illness, he can.
“Now, I can at least sleep at night, rather than being awake until 3am wondering how I’m going to pay this bill or where I’m going to get that money from or how I can juggle things around.
“With my husband’s health the way it is, I was worried I’d be left with three children trying to raise them and provide for a farm and to do it on one income.
“Now we’ve got this plan in place, I know that we can manage all of that, regardless of if it’s just me working.
“I’m quite confident moving forward, that everything is going to be okay, whether he’s working or not. If we do hit tough times, we would be able to make it work.”