SHOMOs 2017: Interview with the Money Blogger of the Year

Sara Williams tells us all about her award-winning blog, Debt Camel

The Grand Prix Award of Money Blogger Of The Year was the most hotly anticipated award at the SHOMOs 2017.

The award went to Debt Camel, the amazing blog run by Sara Williams. As lead sponsor of the SHOMOs, we were buzzing to present Sara with her very well deserved award.

But what is Debt Camel? Why is debt such and issue? And where did that name come from? We sat down with Sara to find out.

1. First of all, congratulations! How do you feel?

I have been smiling most of the time since Saturday afternoon! The UK Money Blogger community has got such a wide variety of blogs, I really didn’t expect Debt Camel, which focuses exclusively on topics about debt, to win the main award.

2. For a new reader, how would you describe Debt Camel?

Debt Camel looks at the options people have for tackling their debts. There are a lot of websites that tell people facts, but I wanted to concentrate on trying to answer the questions people have.

So Debt Camel covers a wide range of subjects, from getting your first mortgage to finding out if the default date on a problem debt is correct. And from how to ask for a refund if you were given an “unaffordable” payday loan to trying to decide whether you can afford to pay into a pension if you have a lot of debt.

3. Where did the name Debt Camel come from?

I was finding it very difficult to choose a “sensible” name – they seemed to have all been taken. I didn’t want to make it sound as though there was an easy solution to debt, such as Debt Magic. One afternoon I was buying a card from Moon Pig when I thought that I could use that sort of approach.

My children fancied panda and wombat… but camels are very practical animals, they get things done even in tough conditions. Plus there are some sayings that felt right for my blog – does debt give you the hump? Is this payment the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

The DebtCamel site in all it's award-winning glory!

4. What prompted you to get into blogging?

I’m an adviser at Citizens Advice and I see a lot of people with debt crises – courts, bailiffs etc. I wanted to be able to talk to more people at an earlier stage, when they realise they have too much debt but it’s not yet desperate. The earlier someone looks at their situation, the more options they usually have.

5. Could you sketch out how personal debt affects people in the UK?

Let’s start with the positives. Very few people would be able to buy a house if there weren’t any mortgages. Borrowing is convenient, it allows people to spread the repayment costs of a large purchase over time. I’ve had a mortgage, car finance and a credit card myself. Debt isn’t always evil – there is nothing wrong with debt if you can afford the repayments.

But too many people are struggling with the debts they have. Prices are rising much faster than incomes, credit card repayments never seem to fall, many people have erratic incomes and welfare cuts have affected people with young families badly. So we have over 8 million people with problem debt. There are more than three million people who have had a credit card problem for more than 18 months.

Debt problems can affect your mental health. It’s stressful if you don’t know how you will manage if the car fails its MOT, how to tell your children that Santa won’t be bringing so much this year. They can also be very isolating – we aren’t good at talking about money, it’s not very British! And because we don’t discuss problems easily, it can feel as though you are the only one and that it’s your fault for not managing your money better.

6. Other than the sheer amount of debt we collectively carry it, what are the biggest issues you see that we need to tackle?

I think Universal Credit is proving a disaster. It started off with such good intentions – to give a streamlined system to calculate and pay all benefits instead of having to deal with the DWP, HMRC (for tax credits) and your local council (for housing benefit). But the delays and errors mean that huge numbers of people end up getting into debt, often unable to pay the rent.

The other big problem is that lenders need to allow people a “breathing space” when they have problems. People need to be treated fairly by lenders if something happens in your life – divorce, illness, business failure – that means you get into difficulty. Adding interest and charges if you are struggling to make the normal payments doesn’t make sense.

7. And if you could ensure we all followed just one piece of financial guidance, what would it be? 

Oh, that’s a hard one! I think it would have to be: “Don’t stay loyal – switch and save a fortune!”

If your car insurance or house insurance is ending, don’t just renew with the same firm. Find out how much you could save by switching gas and electricity supplier. If a good savings rate ends, move your money to somewhere else. If your bank charges are high, you can change!

And if you do all those things, check if your parents need a hand – older people are much less likely to shop around, especially if they aren’t online. They can be paying way over the top for basic services.

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