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Learning essential skills through financial counselling

Sophia* had been in a financially abusive relationship and was slipping ever more deeply into debt. She was referred to The Salvation Army’s Moneycare, and through that connection, was encouraged to speak out and seek support for her family. She also gained new money-management skills. This Anti-Poverty Week 2021, The Salvation Army is urging everyone in need, like Sophia, to seek support and develop the skills needed for financial security and stability.

Sophia shares:

I was in a seven-year domestic violent relationship with two kids. My partner was very, very controlling. He would say ‘you control the money, you know what you’re doing’, but then he would go and spend irrationally. He had mental health issues, and part of his condition was excessive spending.

Together, we earned very good money, and I would do everything I could to pay the bills on time. But, as we didn’t have any savings, we were always behind and struggling financially. When I would question my partner I would get verbally abused, or hit.

I finally had the courage to leave and was living with a family member, but my ex still contacted me from time to time. He would say ‘I need money, give it to me’. I was approved for a $6,000 credit card and he would make me take out cash advances. He even made me get a payday lender loan because he got rejected.

At one stage, my daughter’s school referred me to an agency because she was starting to play up. They asked the question ‘was there domestic violence in the home’ and I thought there’s no point in lying, because we want to get the best help we can.

Contacting Moneycare

Soon after, Family and Community Services called and I thought I was going to be in trouble, but instead they gave me referrals to give my kids and I as much help as possible. One of these was to Salvos Moneycare [free financial counselling service]. I was embarrassed, but totally honest with Elyse*, my financial counsellor.

Elyse worked out all my outgoing expenses. She showed me the benefits of multiple ‘buckets’ and taking into consideration the ‘big picture’ in my budgeting.

In the past, I used to pay bills on a fortnightly basis, but she provided guidance around putting money aside for car insurance, and other things in the future.

We had fortnightly sessions and worked out a personal money plan and her help gave me knowledge and strategies I now use every day.

Because there was no way to prove financial abuse to the financial institutions, we applied to have the debts waived, or some moved into my partners’ name. However, in the end, I had to accept all responsibility.

Elyse encouraged me to open up to those around me with my story, so I decided to talk to my dad. After we spoke, my dad decided to get a personal loan to pay out all my debts. I was then able to repay him at a much lower interest rate.

I also needed to move interstate to get away from abuse and keep working. Elyse then told me about Salvos Loans which offers interest free loans for women moving out of abusive situations.

A turnaround

For me, if I didn’t seek that help for my daughter, and if I wasn’t brutally honest with Elyse about what had gone on in my life with my ex-partner, I don’t know where I would be today. I really don’t think I would’ve gotten the assistance I so desperately needed.

I now have the tools and insight to manage my finances.

It works best for me if I have a number of accounts and they’re all for different things – for example, one’s for my car rego and car maintenance, one’s for water and electricity, one’s for leisure, and other things. I now understand so much more about money.

I also often use the MoneySmart website Elyse referred me to [moneysmart.gov.au]. There’s a spreadsheet on there to calculate income and outgoings. Now, financially, I definitely don’t bite off more than I can chew and am more conscious of what costs I take on-board.

So, just because I may have the money now, in my fortnightly pay, I know I need to put some away for my car and big bills and maybe even a holiday for the kids.

Recently, my ex-partner dropped totally out of contact and all child support stopped, so I have had to re-do my budget, but I’m lucky enough that I have the tools to do that.

What I learnt from Elyse and the Salvos program was invaluable and I also now understand there is help out there if you need it.

I would say to anyone in a similar position, don’t let your pride hold you back. If you know someone’s in the position to support you, have the courage to reach out and say you need help!

*This is a true story with names and some details changed to protect privacy

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