Boom to bailout: Family survival 10 years on

Exactly 10 years on from the bailout, Miriam and Terry O’Brien’s story could be any of ours.

Boom to  bailout: Family survival 10 years on

By Joyce Fegan

Exactly 10 years on from the bailout, Miriam and Terry O’Brien’s story could be any of ours.

They met in the heady days of the Noughties, bought their two-bed starter home at the height of the boom, and married on the cusp of the bailout in 2008.

Ten years later, they reflect on the before and after, from boom to bust and back again, with low points and turning points, telling not only their story, but many of ours.

“We would have gone for dinner all the time, to town, to the local pubs, and to the cinema where we’d get the whole shebang — popcorn, the drink, you know all the extra stuff,” says Miriam, of life up until 2008.

“We went on staycations to nice spots around Ireland, to Galway and Mayo, because we could. They were the good times. Then the crash came,” says Terry.

But just before the crash, the couple, like so many others, bought a house in a frenzied bidding war — a house that was meant just as a starter home.

“We went for a 100% mortgage and bought a two-bed house in Lucan for stupid money. It was on the market at €280,000 and after a bidding war, we got it for €315,000. We thought it would be a stepping-stone house, but we’re here forever now.”

Two years later, on 08/08/08, Terry and Miriam married, buying the engagement ring, the wedding bands, and dress in Las Vegas, and honeymooning in the Caribbean.

Just a few years later, they would find themselves cancelling TV packages, forgoing the carwash and keeping a special envelope that contained enough cash for “necessities”.

“I don’t think it was a shock. It was more gradual, just every day you’d hear something on the radio, something to do with the banks, job losses, or housing and you just sucked it up and got on with it,” says Miriam, who initially felt the full effects of the economic crash in her workplace.

“In work, it was quite negative. It went from such a flourishing company to one with cuts happening left, right, and centre, where the recovery seemed so far away.

“And you could bring that low morale home with you, but we had a baby and that made you forget about it,” she adds.

Miriam became pregnant in 2010 and her baby girl Emily, now 7, came along in 2011. In Terry’s workplace the experience was similar, and just like Miriam, he found respite from the misery in his first-born child.

“I worked for an American multinational and for four or five years there were no pay rises. Your boss would bring you in for your end-of-year review and tell you how brilliant you were, but there was no bonus to show for it.

“I thought about getting out of it but I stuck it through. We never got the big pay rises and it was tough but, every evening, we had the little joy (Emily) to come home to,” he says.

When it came to children, this is where Miriam noticed how their approach to money had changed.

“We weren’t as flash with the cash. We got hand-me-down equipment and clothes for the baby, whereas before we would have bought everything brand new,” she says.

“We also got an envelope, for the little things, to put money away to make sure there was money there for the necessities. It was something we didn’t have to do before. It made us re-evaluate our outgoings. We now had a budget and we’d go through it with a fine tooth comb,” explains Terry.

To make changes, Terry cancelled his Sky Sports for two years, swapped out the €10 carwash to do it himself, went for “a longer spin to Crumlin” to get cheaper fuel and did the weekly shop in Lidl or Aldi where “you get more bang for your buck”.

Miriam went about changing every household service provider, from the bins to the electricity.

Then a turning point came. They changed their mortgage plan. The couple did a deal whereby they got a fixed rate for two years, which set their monthly repayments at €1,400. But not only this, they would “default to a tracker” after the two years.

“That part didn’t even mean anything to us at the time,” says Miriam.

“But it was our saving grace,” says Terry, “and when we got the extra money back we’d go down and get the Superquinn sausages on a Saturday instead of the cheap ones.”

From the big things like trips to Vegas to the small things like the Superquinn sausages, the crash gave Miriam and Terry not only perspective but lots to be grateful for, and in 2016, they welcomed their second child into the world, Luke, who is now aged two.

And while they won’t be moving out of their starter home as originally planned, exciting plans are still afoot.

“We’re just trying to make it bigger, so we’re renovating the house. Living in Lucan is great because our daughter is in a great school and we have family nearby. That means the most,” says Miriam.

“It’s exciting times again because we’re changing things around,” adds Terry.

Overall, Miriam feels the crash provided her with a “life lesson”.

“It’s not a bad thing to have experienced as a life lesson and, thankfully, we didn’t lose our jobs. It’s also good not to be living in a bubble. It was great to get that reality check,” she says.

For Terry, it is all about perspective and humour.

“Our parents had stew and soup every day for years, and for our generation, we were so poor we had to give up Sky Sports for a year.”

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