Mum’s the word
Television starlet and former model Gail Porter has opened up about the financial struggles she’s faced as a parent ahead of Mother’s Day.
The 48-year-old Creditfix ambassador, who was declared bankrupt in 2017, has shared her experiences of raising a family through financial difficulty after new figures reveal that single mums are often the ones worst hit – typically owing £14,336 in unsecured debt.
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we caught up with Gail to talk things all things family money matters and how she’ll be celebrating the special day with daughter Honey.
You’ve been declared bankrupt after living on just £200 per month. Tell us a little bit about your experience.
Understandably being made bankrupt wasn’t the best time in my life but Creditfix and Carrington Dean helped pull me out of that hole – I’m getting there and it’s good to be able to help other people.
My hair fell out and because I didn’t look like how people wanted me to job offers stopped coming in – that’s when the real issues began. I’d also gone through a big divorce so that on top of no work coming in but the bills still coming in was stressful to say the least.
My reaction to that was to put the bills under the bed because in my head at the time I thought that was a great idea, but of course it’s not. Understandably the bills began to pile up and all I kept thinking was I don’t want to lose my flat, but I can’t pay my bills – and living in London it’s not cheap so it was just one thing after another.
Bills were going under the bed, the curtains were closed, the buzzer was ringing and I didn’t answer in case it was the bailiffs – instead of asking for help I just thought it was going to go away. Of course, looking back, it was a stupid thing to do but burying my head in the sand and waiting for the magic fairy to come and help felt like my only option.
How did life change for you and your daughter Honey?
It was an incredibly difficult time in our lives. My daughter’s dad lives in Sussex and I live in London, so I need to travel backwards and forward to drop her off and pick her up – because he doesn’t come to me – so that has been hard.
Weekends were tricky too. If Honey wanted to go to the cinema, I’d know deep down I couldn’t afford it which was embarrassing. I’d always try to think of ways around it, like going to Iceland to buy a cheap pizza and making it something fun for us. It was difficult, but I was very honest with her and made sure she was aware that mum was going through a really bad time and there’s nothing more to say and be honest– because I didn’t want to lie. She was quite cool with it and we had a few weekends sitting on the floor, watching old DVDs – when we had electricity – and we got through it.
What was day-to-day life like for you both?
It was hard in the fact that I was so aware of how little money I had. When you live in London you need to get the tube, you could walk but that could take two hours and you don’t want to do that with a child, so that’s £8.90 for me and around £5 for Honey every single day on top of everything else – it was relentless. We just tried to do fun things on our own, so we’d stay at home and play board games, listen to CDs – anything old school. As long as we were dancing and having fun, that’s all that mattered. I just tried to make the most of it but in my head, I was thinking ‘this is a nightmare.’
It’s amazing you had such a positive outlook on it all for Honey…
I think that when you have a child you have to think she’s the main focus. I always thought I can deal with the days I’m not with her – I don’t mind not eating, it’s not a problem – but when I’ve got my daughter, I made sure to keep whatever I had.
I never signed on, I never asked for help, because I was embarrassed if I’m honest. I’d worked since I was 15-years-old then suddenly I had nothing and couldn’t pay my bills, but we got through it and I think keeping positive was the most important thing. After everything I’ve been through in my life this is another thing, I can tick off the list – I’m still here, I’m not dead yet.
What’s life like now you’ve found help?
Life is brilliant. Creditfix literally saved my life because I’ve always said to my friends if I didn’t have Honey I wouldn’t be here now. When I first got in touch with Creditfix I met a guy who was suicidal because of finances and he just said how his life turned around because someone was there to talk to him and say we can get you through this. I don’t think people realise, unless you’re in that position, how amazing it is for someone to put their hand out and say, ‘we’re here.’ I’m not going to cry but seriously it was so nice to know someone was there because I just thought there’s no way my bed is big enough to fit any more bills under. I was trying to get under there, I was trying to get the bills under there – it was tough, but I’ve survived it, been there and got the t-shirt.
What do you think the current attitude is towards women, particularly single mothers, in debt?
I don’t think there’s a bad attitude towards them. Hopefully, there’s a lot of people who are compassionate towards them because it’s not easy. A lot of people think mums should go to work, but how can you go to work and send your child to school when you might not be able to pick them up and you need to get childcare but can’t afford it? Unless they’ve got family around them who can pick the child, not everyone lives in that ideal situation, I think it must be hard for single mothers – they’re juggling everything, aren’t they? They’re juggling childcare, shopping, looking after the house, picking up the child and can’t get a job because by the time they do they might need to get a nanny who is going to cost more than a job is going to pay them. It’s a double-edged sword, really.
What financial struggles and hardships do you think single mothers face? How can you relate to this?
Single mothers often rent or have a mortgage depending on where they’re living which can be difficult to manage, then there’s childcare and of course everyday household payments. If you’re on your own and you have to look after a wee one all by yourself, from clothing to feeding them, it’s not easy.
I’m very fortunate that I get on well with my ex-husband but for me it’s the travel that can be a struggle because we live in different places. Trains are never easy, but I think that’s the worst thing I have to deal with. Touch wood I’m lucky enough that I’m working now and can look after myself and my daughter.
Do you have advice for mothers in financial hardship?
I’d say to anyone who is struggling, especially mums, to contact Creditfix or Carrington Dean. Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of advice I got from them and how much it helped. I thought I was a lost cause, that no one was going to help me and that it was game over, so don’t be embarrassed to ask for help and don’t be embarrassed to talk to your friends.
Don’t be afraid to say sorry I haven’t called but I’ve not had credit in my phone for four weeks because I can’t afford it. That’s what I did and it’s tiny things like that which start to build up – saying things like sorry you can’t come to watch a DVD at my house because my TV is broken when the reality is you can’t afford the bill, or I tried to call you but the reality is I couldn’t because I didn’t pay the bill.
Be honest, it’s not the worst thing in the world, you can get through it and remember there’s always someone to help you.
How will you be spending Mother’s Day, Gail?
Mother’s Day is all about the little things. My favourite thing is pitta bread and Marmite so last year Honey made me that and put two candles in it which was amazing. For me, that’s the best thing ever.
This year we’ll probably go to the park, we have a lovely friend who has a dog, so we’ll walk the dog and do boring stuff but perfect for me. Hopefully I’m going to be in my pyjamas for most of the day, that’s the best Moher’s Day really, isn’t it? No work, no anything – just pyjamas and chilling out!