Really feel your feelings to help change your gambling

11 Jul 17
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Learning how to feel our feelings is a skill that we aren’t generally taught in school or by our parents, but is essential for good mental health.

When we gamble, we are usually responding to a feeling which has been triggered by a thought; it could be you want to reward yourself “I deserve a flutter I’ve worked hard all week”. Or it could be because you have a feeling of sadness that is very painful that you want to avoid feeling or thinking about. This could be due to the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup. The thought here might be something like “I deserve some happiness for all I’ve been through” along with other thoughts such as “just $20 won’t hurt” or “what have I got to lose”.

Sometimes we go on autopilot, so we aren’t aware of what we are thinking or feeling before gambling and feel like we aren’t even in control of ourselves.

Why do we do this?

The brain likes to make things easy for us (imagine trying to think how to drive every time you want to go somewhere), and most of the time this is a good thing.

When we are trying to change a habitual behaviour like gambling or drinking where there has been a reward attached to it like excitement, it can be harder than we think to stop even if it is causing problems in our life like draining our finances and causing us to lie to our loved ones.

An example

I recently received a call from a man who had been playing the pokies, betting on his phone and putting a lot of money on Tattslotto and Powerball. He had been on a trip to Vegas (which he had abstained from gambling to save up for) and after his gambling spree, found it very difficult to rein it back in.

This was causing him to lie to his wife about his activities, and he was worried that when he receives a large sum of money next year, that he will gamble it all away. When I spoke to him about the thoughts he had the last time he gambled it was “I saved $1,000 by painting the room myself, so I deserve to gamble with it”.

This made him have the feeling that it was ok to gamble even though it was causing problems with his wife, leading to him possibly getting divorced. When he discovered the connection between his thoughts and his feelings and the resultant gambling behaviour, he was able to have some compassion for himself and decide how he wanted to think about gambling and whether he wanted it to be a reward for doing his painting.

A learning process

Learning to make this thought, feeling, action connection requires skill and practice just like learning how to drive a car. That is why it is important not to get too angry with yourself if you find yourself gambling when you hadn’t planned to.

Think about what you were thinking and feeling beforehand and maybe you will discover why it happened. Similarly, feeling the sadness that we might feel when someone we love dies rather than avoiding or resisting it is also a skill.

Sometimes we have avoided all negative feeling so much that we think that if we feel the feeling, then we will get sucked into a hole that we won’t be able to come out of it. This is never the case, and when we start to allow our feelings to be there, they become less scary. Urges to gamble can be like that too. This is also a feeling that we can accept and explore rather than avoid or resist as if it will kill us.

When we have an urge to gamble, what is the thought? Maybe write it down as well as any other thoughts that are going on so you can examine them better. Have curiosity rather than beat yourself up for even having the thought.

Thoughts and feelings drive our actions and knowing what they are can help us to choose what we want to think and to feel our feelings better.

Take a few deep breaths and observe what comes up in your mind. Allow the thought to be there and explore it more. You might not like your thoughts but that is ok. It is still better to shine a light on them than be unconsciously ruled by them.

If you need a hand we are here to help; you can chat to one of our counsellors or call the helpline on 1800 858 858 to discuss your thoughts and feelings more. This is what we are here for.

Young people and gambling

13 Jun 17
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.

Youth gambling is a concern for many parents especially with the increasing presence of gambling in sports and online. There may be one person suffering from gambling in every high school class.

Ideally young people won’t gamble at all, if they do sometimes it can become a serious issue which may result in depression, missing school or dropping out, undermined friendships, family disruption and criminal behaviour.

Young people can be vulnerable to problem gambling because they:

  • can be impulsive
  • might not understand the risks
  • can be influenced by media and advertising
  • are inquisitive and think they can win
  • are digitally savvy using smart phones, tablets, apps and the internet 24/7. In doing so they may try and get around legal barriers to online gaming or gambling sites.

What signs should I be looking for?

  • If you are experiencing some of the following signs from a young person that you are concerned about you may want to speak to one of our counsellors about ways to access some support:short of money all the time and spending less on other things like clothes, movies and music
  • struggling at school or work, have they had a drop in their grades or are consistently getting in trouble
  • displaying changes in mood, perhaps they are withdrawing from friends, social activities or events
  • sleeping differently,  have their patterns changed or are they more tired than usual
  • irritable when they are away from gambling activities
  • being secretive about gambling, and denying that there’s a problem, or
  • talking about sports and other events only in terms of the odds.

Risk factors for youth gambling

A young person may be more at risk if they:

  • Have a large gambling win, especially early on
  • Are experiencing stress – this may relate to things like family pressure, personal problems, relationship issues or school conflict
  • Have poor support, coping skills or problem solving skills
  • Have significant people in their life who gamble

Do not despair!

There is lots of support available and there are some proactive things you can try to minimise the possibility of gambling becoming a problem. This could include encouraging a close social network who do not gamble and getting them to engage in recreational interests such as sports, art, movies or outdoor activities

Also try to build a strong support network for them and make sure they understand that people are there to help them. This can include people such as family, friends, teachers, community or religious leaders, school counsellors or even your local GP.

Remember that kids are always watching and observing. Young people are more likely to gamble if they observe their family members gambling, or they hear their family members talking excitedly about gambling.  Think about how you talk about gambling.

Concerned – what can I do?

If you are concerned about a young person’s gambling you can seek professional help through NSW Gambling Help services, face to face, by phone or online. These are free services that are available nation-wide phone: 1800 858 858 –  24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Some things that you can consider trying if you are concerned about a young person’s gambling:

  • Limit pocket money. Where possible use vouchers or even pre buy tickets to things so that they attend activities.
  • Restrict credit card access; keep them somewhere you can keep an eye on.
  • Talk to other parents or your local GP.
  • Have a discussion about how gambling works, try to emphasise that it is a form of entertainment and not a good way to make money. Talk about some of the risks of gambling.

You may also like to read the booklet for parents dealing with their gambling (3.4MB PDF).

From oblivion to prosperity

30 May 17
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This story was originally put together by the Chinese Peer Support Program at EACH in Victoria and has been republished with full permission.

Gambling started at a very early age for me, you could almost go back as saying it started when I was a 6 or 7 years old, trying to win the best marbles of the kids at school. 

As a young teen, 12 years old I started playing cards with my cousins for money on a regular basis, as this was quite a tradition in Chinese households, though it did start getting alarming when we playing every spare bit of time we got, on trains waiting for buses, at home, anywhere and everywhere, as long as we had a deck of cards. It was best explained as “playing” not gambling, so it never felt as though it was that much of an issue.

Then into my later teens, 16 years of age I started to take a keen interest in horse racing, a friend took me along to watch the Melbourne Cup, and it became an annual event. I started off by having a bet on just the Melbourne Cup every year, then in coming years, it became I was betting on every race on that race card, and then after it was races in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, it had gotten obsessive.

I started to buy form guides, and do the form for the Saturday races every Friday; it became second nature to me. I had a fake keypass, obtained from a friend so I could bet when I was asked for an ID. I was off to the races you could say! This was a weekly occurrence, betting on a Saturday, and school during the week that was my weekly planner. The adrenaline of the win was all I was after.

Once I did hit the legal age of 18, gambling became even more frequent, I was able to get into the casino, so now there was more product to gamble on, and it became an even bigger obsession. From gambling once a week on a Saturday, it became almost a daily occurrence, if it wasn’t gambling at the TAB, it was the casino. This obsession continued for a long time, forcing me to run away from places I lived, moved interstate and then overseas.

Thinking that the obsession couldn’t get any worse, well it did, I found more forms of gambling, card games, mah-jong, casino’s, sports betting, horse racing, online poker, I was gambling on almost anything.

Again running away and returning home, I found myself in a situation where I had access to a very large amount of money, low and behold that money went in a twinkling of an eye. It had basically left me with nothing, money, family, and friends had I felt deserted me. Though the obsession never went away, I still got my hands on money and still, all I wanted to do was gamble, money for anything was spent on gambling. The obsession had gotten worse, not better.

You could call it fate; you could call it right place at the right time. I stumbled across a person that introduced me to gamblers anonymous, I thought I didn’t have much left to lose, why not give it a go. Well, what an absolute gift that was, it stopped me from gambling for a period of time, it was like a miracle!

As time passed and I started to gather a period of abstinence, I thought I would delve more into getting help from other areas of therapy, so I seek out a gambling counsellor, a financial counsellor so that I could get my life back on track. It felt so simple in the aftermath, but it did take a process, though the outcome has been very fruitful.

I still continue to this day to seek these resources as I still believe that I am a work in progress, though it has opened up a lot of doors in my life. Which leads me to being involved in the Chinese peer connection group, which was introduced to me. I grabbed the chance with both hands, as I believe I can be a beneficiary to the team.

The reason I was so keen to take on this role is that I have taken so much from many others, doing this I believe I can slowly give back a little, with my knowledge and understanding from my gambling. It is a challenge and exciting one at that, now it’s time to try helping and guiding others who are going through this tough addictive obsession. Let’s hope we can make a difference in other people life.

If you are from a culturally or linguistically diverse background and want to access a local service like EACH - check out the services available in your state or take a look at the options we have for non-english speakers.

Chinese Peer Connection

Chinese Peer Connection Program could not exist without the invaluable and tireless work of their Volunteers. If you have similar experience and are in Victoria, they would welcome you to become a volunteer on their program. For more detail, please contact them.

Connecting with an online counsellor – a great first step

23 May 17
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Online CounsellorIt can be hard taking a step forward and chatting to a counsellor for the first time, you are not alone if you are feeling this way.

If you have been exploring the different options on our site you may notice we often encourage people to link to one of our counsellors.

Why try online counselling?

Online counselling is an ideal option for people taking the first step as its completely anonymous and confidential, also you can access it anywhere and anytime all you need is an internet enabled device.

We know this is a big step and often takes a lot of courage. Being here and reading this article on our site shows you are contemplating making a change, which is a step in the right direction so well done!

Who will I be chatting to?

Our trained counsellors are here to help you. They have a range of qualifications in health sciences, including Psychology, Social Work, Nursing, Psychiatric Nursing and Welfare Studies. They are never judgemental, they work through where you are at and help you to find the best way forward.

Where do I begin?

Sometimes people tell our counsellors that not knowing what to say or how to say made it difficult to begin the conversation. That it took them some time to work up to it, but once they were there they were glad they had.

Even if you have some reservations once you are chatting to them it becomes surprisingly easy to say what is troubling you, potentially gaining insight into is going on and what to do next.

Get Started

So why not get started and chat to one of our counsellors today.

Not sure if you are ready still? Read a bit more about the advantages and disadvantage of online counselling.

The conversation - talking to a family member or significant other who is gambling

16 May 17
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.

Partners, family members and friends often ring the Gambling Helpline (1800 858 858) wanting advice about how to talk to their loved ones about their gambling. Many times they want to talk about how to begin the conversation.

Other times the family member or significant other admits gambling has been an ongoing discussion topic that, from the caller’s point of view, goes nowhere.

Some of the common issues for the callers who have had several attempts at a conversation are:

The person who is gambling blocks the conversation:

‘As soon as I start talking about his gambling, he shuts down and won’t talk to me. I never get anywhere’.

The person who is the gambler gets angry:

‘We are all too scared to talk to her about her gambling because she goes ballistic whenever we mention it. We’ve learned just to accept it and not say anything’.

There may be good reasons for this kind of reaction, and it is all about the feelings that come up for a person who is having a gambling problem. Often when they are approached about gambling, they will have intense feelings of shame, embarrassment and frustration, which then cause them to either internalise (shut down and refuse to talk about it) or externalise (start becoming angry and aggressive).

Both of these communication styles are understandable ways of responding to something which is the source of such strong emotions, especially if they result in people leaving them alone afterwards and not raising the issue again. However, they also result in the issue not getting discussed. The person is often so overwhelmed with these emotions that they never have a conversation about their gambling, and nothing changes. As a loved one, you may not want to upset them further and may even be afraid about getting the same response next time.

When a person with gambling problems has a realisation about the magnitude of the impacts of their gambling on themselves and those around them they can become distressed. This distress is often fuelled by shame, guilt and frustration at not being able to stop gambling.

People are much less likely to have an open conversation when they are feeling cornered and ashamed – they will be overwhelmed and likely not be able to take anything in and think clearly about their need to begin to acknowledge their gambling problems.

One way of managing this issue is to try and engage with the person in a way that helps them feel calm and understood.

Here are a few tips about starting the conversation with a loved one who you are concerned about:

Write down some points that you want to discuss beforehand.  That way if you become upset or emotional you can refer back to them to make sure you are getting your point across.

Choose a quiet environment to talk to them about their gambling – somewhere you are unlikely to be disturbed and where they feel comfortable.

Instead of telling them what you think, ask a lot of questions about their gambling. Try to get a sense of what it is like for them and what it is they are getting from gambling.

Acknowledge this conversation may be emotional for both of you.

Avoid criticisms or accusations – your aim is to get your loved one to talk about their gambling and figure out themselves what needs to change.

If you have any questions about this approach or if you would like some further advice or support from a gambling counsellor, please give us a call on 1800 858 858.

Is online gambling affecting you? Help is available

9 May 17
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Increasingly people are reaching out for help because online gambling is adversely affecting their lives. Here are some of the reasons for this and what you can do to try and reduce or stop gambling online.

If you feel that online gambling is affecting your life, you are not alone. Need a hand straight away? You can start chatting to a counsellor right away.

Why are more people gambling online?

Smartphones and other portable internet-enabled devices, plus the proliferation of online gambling websites are making really easy to gamble no matter where you are, and without some of the checks and balances that have existed with traditional gambling outlets.

The companies that set up online gambling sites rely on the fact that they are so easy to access day and night. They use science to make them as addictive as possible, enacting parts of the brain that release feel-good chemicals like dopamine every time you “win’ or have a “near win’, this coupled with the ease of access even when trying to abstain can make it difficult to move away from the temptation.

Debts can easily spiral because of the distance between money and reality, once you have put in your card details it may not feel like you have spent a lot of money until they realise when they look at their bank account. At times the money doesn’t feel real, more like the money in a board game than something they have hard to earn through hard work.

Need a helping hand?

Mike* called for help after a recent relapse triggered by an online advertisement.

I thought it was ok if I gambled with free credits, as I wasn’t really spending anything. I started to win big playing free online casino games and convinced myself that spending a few of my own dollars would be ok!

I soon got hooked back into gambling but this time it was online. I had avoided the hotels for several months and was so pleased with myself. It’s so hard to resist the temptation to gamble when it's on my phone and computer at work and home.

Even though he was already in recovery, he found that reaching out and admitting his relapse was p[particularly difficult as he felt ashamed that he had been drawn back into gambling. But said that once he chatted to one of our counsellors he felt immediate relief.

The counsellor provided him with a few simple steps to reduce his gambling and an appointment to see a free counsellor who specialises in gambling-related issues.

How can I change?

If you are struggling with online gambling here are a few things you can try to curb or stop your online gambling:

  • Self exclusion – check out some of the options for excluding online
  • Keep your money safe – limit your access to cards that could be linked to online gambling sites
  • Opt out, unsubscribe or block email addresses that will send you
  • Avoid the temptation, limit your access to the internet until you feel you can manage
  • Put your phone away or downgrade your phone to one that doesn’t have the internet
  • Find other activities that stimulate and engage you – exercise, sports, craft, socialising, cooking etc. 

Need a hand with making a change to your gambling? You can chat to one of our counsellors anytime - get started.

Creative activities can help you keep on track

11 Apr 17
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Finding creative activities that you enjoy can be an excellent way of keeping on track when you are making a change to your gambling. This is Audrey’s* story, whose renewed love of making things has helped get her back on track.

Some of the creative pieces Audrey has made: Source - Supplied

Background

Audrey had been gambling for just over 15 years on the pokies, and came to see that it was impacting on not only her finances, but her relationship with her family, and also caused her anxiety.

The financial impact of her gambling started to become apparent, a lot of her and her husbands savings had been spent on the on pokies after work.

“Over a period of time it had become a routine to go and gamble after work, on top of the financial impact it had also pulled me away from spending quality time with my son, and hobbies that I used to love.”  says Audrey

Making a change

Once Audrey realised the impact gambling was having on her she sought help. Slowly but surely, Audrey and her counsellor worked at identifying what triggered to gamble, her motivations and how to break the cycle.

One thing that really helped Audrey is her willingness to try and incorporate new activities, and restart old ones that provided a sense of fulfilment that gambling wasn’t giving her.

Furniture that Audrey reupholstered to brighten up the garden: Source - Supplied

Audrey rediscovered her passion in making things, and joined a glass making group and refurbishing furniture.

Within two months of working with a counsellor Audrey has ceased gambling, and has remained abstinent. She says “I feel more in control, and am spending more time with family and friends.”

Interested in finding an creative alternative to gambling? Speak to one of our counselors today.

*name changed

How to deal with peer pressure

18 Feb 17
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Peer pressure can come in many forms and may cause you to engage in behaviour that goes against your wishes, best judgement or plans. For example when a friend, colleague or family member who encourages you to gamble when you have made a promise to yourself that you will not.

Peer pressure can be subtle or not so subtle. It can be a constant niggle “come on, one more bet won’t break the bank” to words that can feel more threatening to your sense of self or to your membership of a group.

Giving in to peer pressure can initially relieve the immediate discomfort of feeling pressured but cause you further problems which are even harder to overcome.

What does it feel like?

Many people call us describing having given in to peer pressure and gambled against their better judgement. One of our counsellors recounted the following experience:

One caller was dismayed that after 10 months of being strong and not gambling he succumbed to peer pressure when he joined his colleagues for a get together after work, which turned into a session of gambling on the races. 

This lapse unfortunately resulted in a period of continued gambling, plus financial and relationship problems. Trying to regain control by himself proved difficult, especially because he wanted to continue to be able to have drink with work colleagues. So he sought help from one of the counsellors at the helpline and he got the help he needed to get back on track.

How to manage

Managing peer pressure can be difficult and it is important to have some strategies to help you not be tempted. These strategies also let the “urgers” know want to maintain your resolutions – to not gamble for instance.

Some strategies you could try: 

  • Recognising it can be difficult to say no to peer pressure especially when in a social situation. If you start to find the pressure to gamble difficult to resist, it may be better to excuse yourself and leave.
  • Learn how to say no, have a plan about how you will respond if people encouraging you to gamble. Responses like “Nah it’s a waste of money” “Not tonight I am a bit short” “Promised the wife/husband I wouldn’t”. Are some good examples. For some more inspiration check out this article about 50 ways to say no
  • Be firm and clear about your decision not to gamble and explain your reasons if you feel able and if this helps support your decision. Most people just want to fit in. Sometimes people put pressure on themselves to fit into their social group. Don’t feel like you must change your mind or feel guilty about doing what is best for you. 
  • Consider if putting yourself in a certain situation is the right thing to do at the moment. If you are constantly feel pressured, maybe you need to consider a new social network with people who have similar values and interests as you if the pressure to gamble does not cease
  • Reading about other peoples experiences and sharing your own experience can really help. You could join an in-person support group or an online community and see how others have managed peer pressure. Why not join our forum find out more
  • Chat or talk to a counsellor, you can chat to one of our counsellors online by signing up or you can speak to someone on the Helpline 1800 858 858.

Gambling and holidays – top tips

23 Dec 16
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.

With the holidays just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to relaxing and taking time off. However, Christmas can be a difficult time for many as it can be expensive and often daunting with many expectations including buying presents, attending social events and meeting family obligations.

If you are struggling with a gambling problem, or are in the early stages of recovery, this could be an extra tricky time for you. We’ve put together a list of tips that may help you to manage things over the Christmas break and start the New Year in a good state of mind.

Problem – financial stress

Many people find over the Christmas period, they are low on money due to buying Christmas presents, having time off work or spending money on holiday festivities.

Financial pressure is a major trigger for gambling. For example, a gambler may often remember the big wins and then convince themselves this is their only solution to the money problem. Unfortunately, when this happens it’s easy to dismiss or forget all those other times money was lost. This irrational decision to gamble could result in more financial hardship impacting further on the demands of Christmas. Here is a quote from Rachel*, a caller to the Gambling Helpline: who tried to win big to give her children their Christmas wishes but resulted in a poor outcome:

‘It was leading up to Christmas and I knew I only had about $200 to spend on presents for my kids. All I could think of was their faces on Christmas when they realised I couldn’t get them the presents they had asked for. I got it into my head that, if I could only double my money on the pokies, I could get them all the things they wanted, and have some left over. Of course, I ended up losing all of it.’

Solution – plan ahead

Unfortunately there is no magic wand we can wave to make money problems go away. But when we talk to people who have very few money troubles, it seems that their secret is often to do with planning.

Having a plan for Christmas means that you can reduce your levels of stress during this time. Gamblers Help services offer free financial counselling, which can involve sitting down with an experienced financial counsellor and making a budget and spending plan. Here is Rachel again:

‘I had a great financial counsellor Pam, who took me through what was coming in each week and what I was spending. She helped me to budget for holiday season so my kids did not miss out. Taking away the financial stress meant that I had one less reason to gamble. It was great talking to someone to help me make rational decisions about what I could afford.’

Problem – family stress

The holidays are a time for families, however sometimes this can also be the source of tension and unhappiness. It is not uncommon for people to relapse over the holidays because spending time with their families brings up difficult emotions and unresolved issues.

For other people, they may feel lonely over this time, if they do not have close relatives or friends to spend the time with.

For many people gambling is a way to try to temporarily escape from these issues, but as we know it often makes things worse. Here is a quote from Nick*, a client from Gamblers Help who struggled over the Christmas period but on reflection realises he needs to reach out for support to have a plan to deal with this difficult time:

‘I go and visit my family in Queensland each year, over Christmas. I had never realised but the combination of having free time, and being under the same roof as my parents again, meant that I was gambling almost nonstop. I felt quite low over that time and wanted to have something to take my mind off things. I now realise it’s not the answer and seeking help is important to manage this difficult time.’

Solution – self care

It’s clear Christmas is a risk time when people may use gambling to manage difficult emotions like frustration, anger, or loneliness. However, there are many other ways to do this that don’t involve gambling.

They are called ‘emotional regulation’ strategies and can be great at helping to pick you up when you are feeling anxious or unhappy.

Here are a few simple strategies that might help over this time:

  • Exercise – even a short walk alone, away from company, can provide some time for reflection and relieve stress.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption – have some alcohol-free days and replacing alcoholic drinks with water or juice can help with your mood and not cloud your judgement.
  • Take some time to yourself – schedule a day or two to spend on yourself, whether it be preparing for the New Year or pursuing a hobby. Even writing down some thoughts can be helpful in topping up your emotional resources.
  • Get social – if you are feeling lonely call a friend for a Christmas reunion or contact a local community centre where Christmas activities are provided for local residents to come together and celebrate.

Talking to a trained counsellor during this holiday season can help you to feel more in control and give you a different perspective on things. Call the Helpline on 1800 858 858 for some free and confidential support.

Money tips for the holiday season

20 Dec 16
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We often hear from clients that the most stressful part of Christmas is how to manage their money during this potentially expensive time of year. However there are some ways that you can look after yourself, so that you don’t get caught up in the spending cycle during the holidays.

Being prepared and limiting your access to money may help you keep control of any temptation to gamble and reduces the likelihood of gambling at the spur of the moment.

Try and follow some of these simple tricks to keep you on track these holidays:

  • Track Your spending by creating a budget and revisit it often, to make sure you’re spending within your means over the holidays
  • Think about what you need and what you can afford
  • Make a little extra room for things that may come out of the blue, hold some money in an emergency fund.
  • Make sure you pay all your bills and necessities before you spend extra money on the festive season, this will help you make sure you haven’t overstretched.
  • Before you buy the little treat or “extra” for yourself, be sure it’s really worth the price.  Be careful of holiday sales this can be an opportunity to save money on something you really need, but would you have bought it in the first place? Be a bit careful.

The use of gift vouchers can help provide some independence for you so you go shopping and buy the necessities without the risk of having access to your money and gambling. Sometimes you can even get gift vouchers with a percentage off which gives you a small saving before you have even started your shopping.

If you are concerned about your willpower, you may ask someone you can trust to look after your cash or credit card. Especially if you know you’re going into a high risk situation over the festive season such as Christmas lunch in a gambling venue.

Remember is not about what you spend, but the time you spend together. If you need a hand we are here 24/7, 365 days a year!

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