MONEY & ME
Episode #13: Carmel’s story
Money & relationships: rebuilding financial trust after a partner leaves you in serious debt
In this episode, Caroline talks to Carmel Dickinson about being left £20,000 in debt when her fiancé at the time defaulted on his loans. And how it made her much more determined to talk about money in her relationships.
Welcome to Money and Me, the podcast where we talk honestly about money, how it makes us feel, and how it shapes our lives and the decisions we make.
In this episode, Caroline talks to Carmel Dickinson about being left £20,000 in debt when her fiance at the time defaulted on his loans, and how it made her much more determined to talk about money in her future relationships.
Hi, everyone. My guest today is Carmel who runs her own consulting business Worthy empowering women founders and individuals to get properly rewarded for their hard work. We talk about how getting financially screwed over by an ex fiance, made Carmel better with money, and more confident having financial conversations with her partner. Hi, Carmel. How are you doing today?
I’m good, Caroline. How are you?
Yeah, alright, thanks. Thanks for coming on. We’ve been talking about this for ages. And we finally got around to it. Money and relationships is a theme that I’ve noticed has come up a lot in this season of the podcast, we’ve talked about money and work and money and family. And today with you, I would love to explore money in a couple relationship. Because I know that you had some financial issues from a previous relationship that you were in. So do you want to tell us a bit about that?
I’m excited. It’s quite an emotional story. So back in the memory bank, so this was back in my 20s, and so people know I’m 42 now. So this is back in my 20s, I met a guy, fell head over heels in love. And we started renting a home together. Then not long after we started renting, the landlord had to sell due to inheritance reasons. And we had no money, no savings, I think we were both earning about 18 grand each then, I was sort of just starting my career in London, he was sort of doing various sort of roles. But then a lot of people at that time, this is sort of 2006 I think, a lot of people at the time were saying, well, you should just buy it, just buy the house, you should just buy it. And I was like well, we haven’t got any savings. I’m in debt, I had some credit card debts from uni, my student debt, he had credit card debts and a loan or something, I think. So like we can’t do that.
No yeah you can just go to- you know, someone recommended us a mortgage advisor. Then there it was, this 110% mortgages that you hear about, you know, I feel sorry for millennials listening to this going, what?! And basically, what you could do is you could borrow the full amount of the house and then the borrow the money on top to pay off your debts and suck it all into the mortgage. And then also any money that you needed for stamp duty or for solicitors fees, they would add that in, they basically gave you the money to buy the house. And can I also say that my partner, his job was cash in hand. And they were just, literally the mortgage advisor was like, it’s fine, just get them to write something down for me and that’ll be enough. So it was kind of you know, people just used to self certify, I think is the word, you could just set out your earnings as well.
So anyway, we just managed to buy this house with no money and this 110% mortgage, dreamy, didn’t have to move out bought it off the landlord really easy, too easy, really. And then things go on quite nicely. We’re getting on great, you know, everything’s fine.
He asked me to marry him, all of our friends are getting married seems like a natural step. I said yes, of course. We’re engaged to be married. But there was a little bit of a sign there that that wasn’t what he wanted, where all his friends and family were like, come on you two next, you two next, the way this happened.
I wasn’t very good with money. And neither was he and my income started to go up. And I started to actually work funnily enough for a financial magazine, so I was learning more about money. But his financial situation wasn’t really changing very much. He sort of left school early, etc, etc. didn’t really bother me at all, actually. But he did like the finer things in life. He liked designer clothing. He liked good cars, nice, you know, nice cars and things. Obviously we bought a house but we have no money, we had to do lots of borrowing and bits and pieces to furnish the house. But I was starting to earn money and I was starting to learn about saving and getting better with our debts. And I was- the red flag first of all was I was paying for everything for the wedding. And I was saving everything, all of the money for the wedding and he wasn’t really doing that at all. But I was just like so gung ho with the wedding.
Then things started to happen in terms of, I started to notice he said I haven’t got any money to give you for the wedding, but he was buying designer clothes. And then I said to him, because I started to get savvy about money and being better with money. I said to him, well, how are you doing this? What’s going on? We’d never talked about money before, apart from when we bought the house. And he had credit cards. And I said, and I looked at the credit cards, and I sort of said, well, you know, the interest rate on these is really high and I’m really worried about them and he said, Well, I could get a naught percent balance transfer, but he got declined. His finances was such a mess and obviously, he was getting paid cash in hand. So I transferred them into a card in my name.
Because you know, we were getting married, and also he said, yeah let’s get a credit card. And then if you put it in your name, because you’ll get accepted, because you earn more money, and you’ve got savings, you haven’t got any debts anymore. Obviously, credit was easier to get back then as well. And I just said yes. So I got this credit card, I think he had about three grands worth of debt by this point. And then we put it on a credit card and I think we had like a five grand limit. And I was like, oh, there’s two grand just in case you need any bits for the wedding. Not a problem, didn’t think about it. And this is how easy credit is is to get into.
Then his car broke down. And he wanted a new car. And then he came to me and he said, I don’t want to just keep buying rubbish cars, I really want to buy this. And at the time, I don’t know if you remember back in that time, there was these massive gas guzzling trucks and he wanted one of those. And he said to me, so I’m going to get a loan, and it’s better to get it secured against the property, to get this truck. And it made sense to me, because I was like, well, you know, this car is gonna last for like 10/15 years. And he was trying to train for a skill, so he would have needed the truck for his equipment and tools and stuff. So I was like, yeah fine.
So he bought me the paperwork, because it’s secured against the property and you both are on the mortgage, I also had to sign for it. So I signed for it, the mortgage was in both our names. He then came back to me shortly after and said that the paperwork, he’d mucked it up. His mum had mucked it up as a witness, she’d signed the wrong thing. Can I just sign this new one? Yeah. Didn’t even notice, didn’t even look at it properly, signed it. Because you trust this person, we’re getting married.
But also there was other stuff going on in our relationship. So cut then to about six months later, things between us are really quite bad, I could tell that his behaviour was quite different. And this isn’t a podcast about affairs but there’s some tics that you notice when people are having affairs, I found out he was having an affair. He had no intention of really marrying me, I don’t think it was ever something he ever wanted to do. And yeah, he was having an affair, and he wanted to leave me for this other person, other woman. And obviously, I was devastated, you know, he left me. But he’d left me with this house. And luckily, I was earning quite good money. And I was earning bonuses, I had the money I’d saved for the wedding. So I thought okay, well, that’s fine, I can do that. Then there was the credit card, which he was paying me for monthly.
And after he left that direct debit stopped coming into my account. Then shortly after that, some Bailiff letters and some loan phone calls started. So the loan company that he borrowed the money secured against the property to buy his new car, were ringing me to say your payment has been missed. He obviously had to give both our phone numbers. And the letters were coming through the door. And normally I wouldn’t have opened his mail, but now there’s no trust there whatsoever. So I started opening his mail, and he wasn’t paying his loan payments. And not only was there one loan payment, there was two, so he’d borrowed twice the amount. So he’d borrowed the money for the truck, and then he’d borrowed the same amount again for himself.
So that paperwork that he’d asked you to sign, did he get you to sign- so where he said that that was a mistake, actually, that was a whole new loan?
Yeah, whole new loan. And I didn’t check and I totally trusted him and I totally believed him. So now secured against the property was around I think, let’s just ballpark it at like 20K or 15K. And then also the credit card debt as well that still existed that he’d stopped paying. All secured against the house. So all secured against me, my name attached to them. So if he didn’t pay them, I had to pay them. It was all of my credit being affected at the same time. So panic started to set in, anxiety started to set in. And then we went to see a solicitor and the solicitor basically said to me, you haven’t got a leg to stand on because you’re not married, because you’ve signed the paperwork. It’s not fraud, he didn’t fake your signature. You agreed to all of these things verbally with him. So the next step was to sell the house and then 2008 happened, and for those of you that don’t really get what that means, I’m sure that you will do because I see so many podcasts, you know, the markets crashed, especially the property market because that’s where all of this crazy 110% lending had happened.
And I had a Northern Rock mortgage and the Northern Rock were closing and shutting down and people were losing money left, right and centre. And I obviously was very aware of this because I was working for a financial title. and this was all sort of going on around me. So, you know, I was just sort of cleaning myself up, thinking about what my next steps were, trying to pay these debts off and keep the bailiffs at the door. And that was fine because I was earning money.
But two things. Then, because I worked in the financial sector, and a lot of our clients were mortgage clients, all of our bonuses stopped, we just weren’t earning enough money to hit our targets and bonuses stopped and my salary greatly reduced. Secondly, there was like a pay freeze, so I couldn’t get a pay rise. So my financial incomings were going down, and then I was finding that I was increasingly in debt. So then it was really like, I definitely need to sell the house. So the estate agents come round, and they value the house. Obviously, it’s a really difficult property market, the property is worth a tiny bit more of what we got the mortgage for. But remember, I had 110% mortgage. So I had borrowed about six or seven K on top of what it was worth. I think that we bought the house for 126 grand, and it was now worth 132. And the mortgage was worth around 132. So I literally was like, okay well, if I sell the house I can pay off the mortgage. And then it was like, but what about the loans? And then what about the money I need to pay to do the little bits and pieces around the house to get it sold? And what about the money for solicitors? And what about the percentage that the estate agent takes, and this and that and this and that. So suddenly, I was in what is called sort of negative equity. Because the amount of money that the house was worth, all the debt that was secured against it was more than the house was worth.
So I was just stuck. And my dad is a real bricks and mortar guy and he said do not let that house go, just don’t let it go. Like it will be worth something eventually, let’s just stick it out. And luckily my parents were very supportive, they paid half the mortgage for me, I stayed in the house, I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to be there to be honest with you. You know, he was never to be seen again. And then a few years later, I managed to make him pay off one of the loans, but I still had to pay off the majority of the debt. So I was left paying off someone else’s debt, left paying a mortgage on a house I didn’t really want but I knew it was the sensible thing to do in the long run. And not really earning any bonus to help me. So it was I was in a real, sort of, difficult sticky financial situation. And all because I trusted someone. Just a complete financial mess, basically, and all because I fell in love with someone and trusted them completely. And we never talked about money apart from when we just needed it. And it was like, should we do this to get money?
There is a lot to unpack in that. I mean, you’ve described it really, really matter of factly, which is probably because you’ve now got the benefit of a long time ago. And you can kind of look back on it and see it with that perspective that it’s a long time since it happened.
Just hearing it, like my stress levels, like every new thing that you said that happened. It was a little bit like watching one of those dramas on TV where you can kind of see things happening almost in slow motion. And you’re saying to the characters “don’t do it!”
Can I just say, it’s funny you say that, a friend of mine was a journalist at the time for News of the World. And he had a friend that worked for I think it’s like Take a Break. You know, those magazines that have those real relationship horror stories in. And they wanted to interview me and do a story on it. But I was just so- I didn’t do it. But at the time, I thought I should do this because they were offering to pay me money and obviously I needed the money. But then I just thought I don’t wanna look back at myself and remember that time I was on the front of Take a Break! But it’s funny, it is this weird story that- well, it’s just like a perfect storm of all these bad things with the economy and him and what he did. And yeah, it is weird, it is crazy.
But the emotion that you must have had through that time, like the amount of stress because you’re young. This is somebody that you’ve trusted. Like you say you’ve never really talked through the money situation, but I think for a lot of people going into relationships, as Brits we don’t really talk about stuff. You’re supposed to be getting married and you’ve got all of that hope and excitement and everything. You’re just getting your first home together. Like it’s there’s a lot wrapped up in it and you don’t expect that they’re going to completely screw you over quite systematically.
So how did it actually feel like, you must have gone through all of the, probably all of the stages of grief, didn’t you?
Yeah. Yeah. Every single grief because there was, obviously there’s all the hurt, you know, the heartache, the heartache that you know, someone I loved and I’d lost them and the wedding was only like six months away. There was, you know, all of the stuff just having to cancel the wedding, which is just embarrassing and shameful. And yeah, feeling sorry for myself. Then there was like, anger, total anger at what he’d done. And the biggest emotion I think, was shame. I just felt so embarrassed, especially as I worked in finance. I mean, I didn’t really work in finance, I sold ads in a financial paper. But, you know, I was surrounded by these conversations about investing and saving. And, you know, I was surrounded by financial advisors, they were the readers of the magazine. So I was like, God, I should know this stuff. I should know, you know, but you don’t! You don’t know this stuff. But I was so embarrassed, so shameful. And just frustrated. There was you know, when I went see the solicitor, for instance, and when some people I talked to they sort of treat you a bit like, oh, you silly little girl. Patronising stuff like that and I would just get really frustrated with it all, and just really annoyed that people were sort of almost blaming me for being so stupid.
I also think it was a different time back then, you know, you could just get credit and loans like it was nobody’s business, everybody was doing it. And also, I’ve been at university and I got into a bit of debt from university, as we all do. But please also remember that university, we didn’t have fees back then. So I didn’t- I came away with student debt but it wasn’t anything like what people come out with now. So I didn’t really understand debt and how long it takes and all of that kind of stuff. It was just so readily available. So again, you know, this whole feeling of you should know better. And I just remember thinking, should I? No one taught me this at school. No, at university you’d have all of the banks would be there at the Student Union and freshers week throwing credit cards at you. It was like it was okay to get in to debt. It was good for you to get into debt, because it meant you could borrow more money. So yeah, the frustration I felt at like the lack of help and the lack of support as well was just really probably why I do what I do now. And doing you know, I work and do talks to young women about money, because I just think, you know, people need to just talk about this stuff.
There was also a time when my anxiety started, which still lives with me now. And, you know, was I ever going to get out of this debt situation? Was I ever going to be normal again? Was I ever going to be able to trust anyone again? Was I ever gonna, you know, it was in my- I was sort of turning 30, early 30s. And in a career working in London, and people were buying nice things, and they were going travelling, and I couldn’t because I was paying off my debt. I was pretty sensible with it to be honest with you, I didn’t bury my head in the sand, I did pay off the debt. And I’m glad that I didn’t just ignore the debt and carry on getting into more debt, because I know people do that. But it still was frustrating, because it was my 30s. And I should have been enjoying it. At that point in your life, you should be enjoying your money and what you’re earning. And I couldn’t. And I just felt angry at myself. And yeah,
Yeah, and quite understandably. And you’re absolutely right, because you and I are kind of the same age. And yeah, I didn’t buy a house when all of my friends did in there kind of late 20s because I was too scared to get 100% mortgage or 110% mortgage, or the interest only mortgages that most of my friends got. Most of them had a safety net in terms of bank of Mum and Dad or money. So they felt like even if things went wrong, they would be okay. I didn’t have that. So when I started looking for houses, I only wanted to get a mortgage that was a maximum like three times salary. And back in those days, that got harder and harder because in London house prices just went up and up and up. And so I basically took myself out of the property market because I wasn’t comfortable getting a five or six time mortgage or 110% and stuff.
But my friends who did it, have since made a lot of money doing it, it got them on the property ladder. And they rode it out whilst you know, when the crash happened. And it was the thing that allowed them then to go on and buy another house and another house. And so in some ways I look back and say if I had done what most people were doing, I would have got on the property ladder sooner, I would have made more money. But I was too scared.
But most people did it and I think it is really weird now looking back on it, because so many people did take those deals. You could self certify, if you were self employed. Now, it’s really hard for self employed people to get mortgages. You know, 10, 12, 15 years ago, all you had to do was just tell the bank, oh, here’s how much money I make, you didn’t have to prove anything.
You know, I still own that property now, you know, I’m a landlord to that property now, and it is worth way more than it was. And basically, that’s a nice deposit for me to buy my next house, it’s just sitting there happy, you know, it’s quite a significant amount of money. So I have gained out of it, I have made all of that money back. So thank God my dad convinced me to stick with it and keep it and go through that process. But money is always like this “should, could of, should of” sort of situation. And you’ll always, as natural humans you’ll always go, oh I wish I’d done that, or I wish we’d maybe sort of got the bigger mortgage and bought the bigger property because we would have made the bigger money, and you’re always sort of looking about what you could have had or could have done.
But going back to that relatively early experience in your life, right, adult life really at that kind of key- I think of those years, as the key time really where we’re trying to get ahead in our careers. We’re really like trying to establish like our adult identity. And you had such a difficult experience, like such a huge breach of trust. Did it makes things difficult for you going into new relationships, did you carry a lot of that fear and anxiety and lack of trust, particularly around money, into new relationships?
There was a relationship that I got in shortly just after. And yes, definitely, I was very anxious about money. I would talk about money a lot, and ask a lot of questions about money. And, then also just trust, like I just struggled to get close to people, I just struggled, you know, with the relationships that I got into just after. But funnily enough, a lot of people say to me that they can’t believe that I went through that the people that know me now they’re like, but you’re really ballsy, and you just don’t have a problem talking about money and I can’t believe that that was you. And I’m like, sometimes things they either kill you or they make you stronger and it definitely made me stronger.
But then when I started dating again, it just seemed crazy to me, that you will sit there and you’ll have a talk sexually with someone you haven’t even met. But then I wasn’t allowed to ask him what he earned. Like that, to me was like, nah, I’m not having that! And so it was like, if you’re gonna see me naked, I need to know whether you’ve got any debts and what you’re like with money, you’re good with money. And then it was like, when I was moving in with him, it was like, well, you’re gonna see all my dirty habits. So I need to know how much money you earn. And when when you move in together, you have to talk about that. So it made me better at talking about money, and I say it to people all the time, like, I don’t understand how you can get close to someone and not talk about money. To me, it just seems ludicrous. But I know that it’s not because I did it.
But I’m like this whole different person. I’ve got that hindsight and experience. So now me and my partner are very open about money and talk about money a lot. And I think it’s really important. I know it’s helped him because again, my partner now he’s self employed, he went through a difficult time with money. During our relationship, he was in a job and the guy just disappeared. And suddenly he went from earning quite a lot of money, and he had no money. So now he’s doing really well, he’s got his own business, but starting the business was tough. So I was the chief wage earner, or whatever you say, and he wasn’t. And that’s kind of- you’re at different levels with money. But we’ve just worked our way through it consistently and talked about it. And, I just think, I just don’t see how you can’t. I just think everybody should because I just think it makes life a little bit easier.
Yeah, I completely agree. And now aside from buying a house, the other massive life moment where people where couples are kind of forced to talk about money is when you decide to start a family. And that’s the stage, excitingly, your at now, isn’t it? So what have those conversations been like?
Madness! I got pregnant this year, during the pandemic and the recession and I got pregnant with my boyfriend, because he’s an electrician he wasn’t working, he couldn’t go into people’s houses, so he couldn’t work. And then I also decided to leave my job and start my own self employed life. So the conversations have been nothing but money. Like how we can afford- we’ve always wanted a baby, we’ve been trying for two years. So there’s absolutely no reason why we’re not going to go ahead and have this baby. How we will afford it is obviously quite angst ridden. Because we’ve now both self employed, there’s a pandemic, it affects our income. I’m very, very lucky at this time to have done great, I’ve picked up some amazing clients, and I’m doing well, the business, my sort of consultancy businesses and self employed life is doing really well. So that’s comforting. His business is sort of fluctuating, but we’re, we’re learning what we need. We’re figuring out what our outgoings are, and we’re looking at it. And people are offering us baby stuff, and baby stuff is expensive, and we’re just saying yes, and we’re buying it.
And at the end of the day, we’ve both got parents that really love us and care about us. And if everything went wrong, we would just move in with our parents, or I’m lucky to have that house, still, I’d have to ask my tenant to leave. And we don’t want to live in the area that the house is, but we would go there because it’s cheaper. We will just- I think there’s things that you just figure it out. So there’s also that feeling that we have together. And we’ve just sort of said that to each other, we’ll just make it work. Pregnancy and babies is a huge financial conversation. I think unfortunately, having a child is such an emotional thing that you kind of just completely forget about the finances, but nursery fees, maternity is rubbish. If you’re self employed, you get statutory maternity, from the government, if you’ve been paying your national insurance and your tax, I think it’s 500 pounds a month. That doesn’t even cover my rent, doesn’t even buy a buggy. And then you know, nappies and things like that. I mean, at first, I don’t think kids cost you that much. And you obviously, you’re not spending money on going out or going out to dinner and things like that. So it kind of balances. But also one of you is not working, there is a period where I will not be working to bring up the child. And I have to think about that. And I’ve had to talk to my clients about that. And I’ve had to work out how I then pay the rent and how I pay the bills that don’t go away just because I’ve had a baby.
It’s a massive, massive financial conversation, which I don’t think people have until they’re pregnant. Luckily, again, I’m privileged, I work with you and your amazing business. And I know because I can play around with your tools, how much nurseries and things cost, but I don’t think people realise it’s only when they get pregnant, they start looking at it and they go oh crap. Even businesses don’t disclose what their maternity cover is, most of them. If you go on a website, they won’t tell you. And it’s only when you go up to that HR department and a friend of mine recently got stung. She thought the maternity was really, really good. But she got pregnant and she’d been at the company a year and 10 months. And you needed to have been there two years. So she wasn’t eligible. So she got nothing. Absolutely nothing.
But it’s quite an impossible situation for women, isn’t it? Because you cannot go to HR a couple of years before you’re thinking about getting pregnant and be like, Oh, sorry, can I just check what our maternity policies are?
Yeah, yeah, women trying to have a child in business, yeah.
Massive catch 22 situation where you really need to find out and unless you’ve got colleagues who’ve been through it, and can tell you, but you still don’t know if that’s the most up to date policy. Or you have to wait until you’re ready to announce, in which case, you’re just stuck with whatever the policy is at that time.
And it’s you know, and it’s unfair for the- I mean, I’m being quite heteronormative in my discussion today, because I am a heterosexual woman with a male partner, but I think it does- whoever is having the child even in a same sex partnership, if there’s one person who’s going to be the main child carer, then also there’s all that stress on the partner to then suddenly come up with all of this money. And I know that, I’ve seen it. I can see my partner now thinking about how does he just get more work?
You know, if you’re self employed, you do have the luxury, I guess, of being able to go well I’ll start working weekends, and I’ll start upping, you know, and I think there’s also the other pressure on the other person to go, well, they’re going to be off work and they’re going to be looking after the child. So I need to figure this out. And it’s just a huge amount of pressure on both of you really to just suddenly come up with half of your income essentially. Because it’s going to go and at a time when this really slightly expensive thing is happening to you.
Yeah, I think it’s an enormous conversation that just isn’t talked about, and everyone’s supposed to just figure it out individually, which I think is mad. Like you say that is the reason that we built our Childminder tool.
It’s been a theme, hasn’t it, but it’s a shame, you have to start changing your lifestyle quite dramatically. Now, obviously, you’re not going to be going out as much but you might have to downgrade your car. Or you might have to not- you might have been talking about moving house and suddenly you’re like, well, actually we can’t afford to do that now and then, you know, and your friends are going “Oh, I thought you were moving”, no, we’re not going to move, “why not?” Because I can’t. And saying those words, ‘we can’t afford it’. There’s such a stigma and shame around it. But it’s like, actually, what we should be saying is, we’ve made a choice to have- we’ve made a choice to go down this financial path instead of this financial path.
You and I basically became friends and started working together, because we’re both on a mission to make money more inclusive, and more feminist. Talk to me a bit about what that looks like in the business that you’ve just started.
Yeah, I think for many reasons, the system is pitted against women financially, you know, gender pay gaps, and as we’ve just talked about the stuff with taking time off for having kids. But also, I think women generally have been brought up to some degree, I think, I’m glad to see that it’s changing, but to have been brought up to just wait to be rewarded and not go out and ask to be rewarded. So I really want to empower women, to not feel like that anymore, to just feel the same as many men do. And that like, if you’ve got something good, whether it’s your business, or whether it’s your work ethic, or whether it’s your skills or experience, to be able to go out and ask for a certain amount of reward for that and a certain amount of money.
If you are providing an amazing service, or if you are building a business, or if you’re working really hard in your job, you deserve that money for that it’s plain and simple. So the business is called Worthy, helping people achieve their true worth. But I only want to work with female founders or just individuals that want perhaps mentoring or just some one to one on how they can take their business commercially to the next level, or take themselves to the next level.
I’m thrilled that you started this business because the more of us that are talking about these things, the better it gets for the next generation. So they get all of the messaging that we didn’t get. We’re responsible for creating that messaging around what women’s financial lives look like for providing some of that education, for providing some of that opportunity. And this has been a fantastic conversation. Thank you for sharing that. I know some of the topics are not easy, particularly with the pregnancy hormones to revisit! this
I didn’t cry!
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