debt stress

Debt, Stress and Madame Bovary

I mentiond in my first post for Money Matters that I think it is an innate part of my personality for me to spend what I have, rather than save.

And this is true. When I have earned a lot I seemed to have little left at the end of the month. Just as when I haven’t had a large income at my disposal I’ve adapted to what I do have. Whatever financial situation I find myself in I manage to live within those means.

Therefore, I am not a great saver. Although this has improved with age and I now can see that tomorrow needs to be provided for as well as today. But living within my financial boundaries also means I have hardly ever been in debt. My first job was in a clearing bank. We were not allowed to go overdrawn at all or we would be reprimanded or even sacked. This taught me well. But I have to confess to having been in debt – just the once!

My Debt Story

There I was – having moved on from the bank job – still merrily only spending what I earned from my new London office job, enjoying being financial stable and having fun too. When one day I looked at my account and it was £500 richer. A deposit had landed in there and I had no idea who or where it was from. Now I am talking late 80’s ish. So that was a lot of money. Still is to me!

There were a few options I had at this point. I could have popped into my branch and asked them if some kind of error had occurred. Or, I could have immediately closed my account and moved the money elsewhere. I didn’t do either of these things. Vic and I went on a holiday and as the months passed by I lived within these new means. So the money got taken up as I carried on living. I wasn’t in debt – yet.

Finally, a month came when at the end of my pay period my account was very light. I wasn’t worried as my salary was due to be paid in the following day. But the £500 was no longer buttressing my bank account. I’d spent it.

Then, without warning of any kind £500 was debited from my bank. This meant about a week later I went into the red. I spoke to the bank and they told me originally the money had inadvertently been credited to my account and now had been deposited into the correct account. The bank didn’t apologise for their error and were not at all concerned about the overdraft they had caused by removing the £500. Instead at the end of each month they just  piled on the bank charges. I went further and further into debt.

To me there didn’t seem a way out. I had cut down on everything possible and Vic was financing me a lot. But one day at work the debt stress became too much when the bank bestowed a load of new charges on my account. My immediate boss asked me what was wrong. He had studied law at University and to this day is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. We went out to lunch, with my bank statements, and I explained it all to him.

Within a week he had crafted me a letter, including various legal terms, to send to the bank telling them I felt they were in the wrong and wanted to meet with the manager to talk about putting an end to my debt. They replied with an appointment and armed with figures and legal talk I nervously attending the meeting with more than one staff member from the bank.

After listening to me, chatting, nods and raised eyebrows the manager asked,

“So what is it you are proposing we do, Ms More?”

Having rehearsed my reply I didn’t need to be asked again.

“I want you to pay me back the £500 plus all the interest and charges I have incurred so far.” I handed them my sums.

And do you know what? They bloody did as I asked! Wiped the debt out and I closed the account.

Debt Stress

In general financial worries are very stressful. I have some of my own at the moment but it is not because of debt. My job has been terminated due to Covid. And I am pleased that I put a little aside each month to pay for the ground rent of our home. But saving that money each month this coming year won’t be easy to achieve in the current climate.

I think help for those with financial problems should be more actively promoted. Be more visible. I recently re-read Madame Bovary and still the ending shocked me. Finding herself in extreme debt and exhausting all possible avenues she finds a very painful way to end her life. I think the shame of the situation pushed her over the edge and I have no doubt debt can kill a spirit.

Debt Stress

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8 thoughts on “Debt, Stress and Madame Bovary”

  1. Debt and I are old friends. I am horrible with my own money which is why my partners get to take care of the finances. I provide the mortgage payment and my motorcycle loan and have some allowance left over for incidentals like comic books and real books. Trying to save for something special is tough. I wish I had your discipline.

  2. I am astonished that the bank paid the 500 back that was not yours to begin with. Well done and good to have such a friend helping you with that letter! I remember my health insurance putting a seizure on my bank account because I supposedly did not pay my premiums. They just merged with another insurer and they had another customer with my name and credited my payments to the other “Paul”. I could prove payment via my bank statements but still it was so easy for them to freeze MY money just because someone insurer said so. I insisted that the bank and insurer write me a letter explaining THEIR mistake because by the time it got cleared up this seizure had already lowered my credit scores. So I sent this letter to all the credit agencies. That was immensely stressful. I only ever got a short apology…

  3. May – this is the kind of thing I dread! I probably would have gone straight to the bank to have the source of the money identified, or I would have ringfenced it not to spend. I am such a worrier about money.

    I’ve definitely had periods in my life where the money was thinly stretched, and thinking back to them makes me very anxious, that’s why I couldn’t finish Mme Bovary! It was triggering all my stress-filled worrying. I admire how she could put her piling debt out of her mind – compartmentalizing, I can do that – but I couldn’t stop fretting about what she would do when it all caught up. It upset me more than how careless she was with her husband and her child’s feelings BUT – how awful to take her life as the only way out! My heart breaks for anyone who even toys with that as an option.

    Thank goodness our era has counselling and debt help lines … although too much easy borrowing is also rife in our modern life – I heard on the radio that this is to be clamped down on soon, which is good news. Great share May.

  4. Thankfully I have never had this kind of error made on my bank account, and I can only imagine the stress it has brought you. Thankfully they solved it, although I think nowadays they won’t solve it in the same way, sadly. I hope your work can pick up again soon, May!
    ~ Marie

  5. I never really considered Madame Bovary in that light, considering everything else in that book; I found her to be an unsympathetic character, glaringly flawed — but perhaps I would feel differently now.

    I’m currently reading the (authorized) biography of Agatha Christie, and one of the letters she received from an early writing mentor advised her to read Flaubert, citing Madame Bovary as a sort of… pinnacle, I guess… to strive to. Christie’s mentor advised that she read it in the original French. No doubt it would be better in its original form.

    I’ve never had an unknown deposit hit my bank account. I have had unexpected withdrawals though — bank errors — that I’ve had to wrangle with managers about. I keep enough of a cushion in my account that it didn’t cause me undue problems, but it’s a pain in the butt to deal with Other People’s Mistakes for sure!

    1. Yes, Madame Bovary is a dis-likable character – i think that’s what compelled me to read the book. A good translation – or as u say the original in French – would be best. I think Flaubert deliberately created her with many of the worst flaws in humans.
      I too have had unexpected withdrawals – and am certainly quick of the mark with them lol
      May x

  6. Oh my! I have had errors from the bank before as well, bit they never turned out in my favor. So glad you have a friend to help with that situation 🙂
    I think covid will affect many long term. A numerous amounts of small businesses have gone under and with that, enemployment is at an all time high. Bankruptcy rates are at all time highs as well. It’s sad to see.

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