Alex Holder is an award-winning freelance journalist, who recently wrote "Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money". Here, she explains why she believes we're ready for financial positivity.
Are you ready for financial positivity?
Do you ever think ‘if only I earned more?’ Do you scroll through Instagram wishing you could stay in that hotel or afford those trainers? Have you found yourself jealous of a friend’s car, or just the effortlessness with which they seem to spend?
When it comes to money, many of us believe we don’t have enough. A YouGov study found that just 4% of British people think of themselves as rich. An American study found that only 13% of American millionaires considered themselves wealthy. What hope is there for the rest of us, when even millionaires don’t think they’re rich? Most of us think negatively about our finances, yet this constant want for more, this incessant comparison and ‘if I had…’ thinking isn’t just exhausting, it’s affecting our mental health.
Comparison is an innate human emotion, and while it can be a helpful one – it’s motivating - the proliferation of TV, news and social media mean we no longer just compare ourselves to those around us, we’re now pitting our weddings against a celebrity who lives on a different continent. What am I going to gain from assessing my bowl of Shreddies against a rainbow breakfast smoothie made by a fitness blogger? Comparison is no longer helpful, it’s damaging. Research by The Economic Journal found that out of the 19,000 people they studied, three quarters of them compared their earning to others, they also found that those who did so tended to be less happy and less content than those who didn’t.
Harriet Allner, one of Women in Finance Power List, first coined the phrase Financial Positivity because ‘we’re taught that there’s a certain lifestyle we should all chase – slim, fashionable and perfectly Instagrammable – regardless of the price tag. Regardless of whether that’s even what we’d aspire to if it we didn’t have certain preconceived notions of self, wealth and success.’ Harriet says, ‘We’re taught that lower salaries are for the less ambitious. That when we can’t afford to go out with our friends one Thursday or need to scrape the bottom of our backpacks for change one lunch time, we should be ashamed.’
Like body positivity, where every body is celebrated and appreciated, this is a movement that champions people owning their financial situation no matter how much or how little they have. Just as the health industry makes us feel bad about our bodies, every industry makes us feel bad about our bank balance. Dr Brad Klontz, a leading financial psychologist and founder of Mental Wealth, says that one of the most damaging ‘money lies’ we tell ourselves is that ‘our self-worth equals our net worth.’
We are being sold to all of the time and are constantly trying to keep up with unrealistic lifestyle standards. Unsecured debt in the UK is the highest it’s ever been in comparison to household earnings, meaning the average household now owes an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders.
Debt is affecting everyone from students to pensioners; one in four people retiring this year will still have a mortgage or other unsecured debts to pay off. Chances are, if you’re feeling bad about money, your friends are too, yet because we don’t talk about money we often believe we’re the only ones struggling.
Despite what we’re fed online, there is no perfect amount to earn, no right amount to have in savings, no wrong amount of debt. Alex Steadman, who founded the hugely successful platform The Frugality which champions affordable fashion and sustainability, started it because she ‘wanted to take away the stigma of not having tons of money.’ Imagine if rather than comparing ourselves to others and presuming everyone else has a ‘perfect’ bank balance, we focused on making our own money work for us?
Just as body positivity is forged from treating yourself with respect and regular self-care, financial positivity takes some work too.
The first thing we all need to do is to be aware of our triggers – feeling confident about your mid-forties muffin top isn’t going to come easy if you only follow Bondi beach surfers, just as the acquaintance who is seemingly always eating out isn’t going to make you feel great about your bank balance. Ask yourself, what’s making you want more stuff? Why do you link your self-worth to your salary? If you’ve bought into the idea that success equals a high salary, I’d like you to close your eyes and think of the richest person you personally know. Most likely they work long hours. Do they answer emails on holiday? Do they see their friends or children much?
It’s easier to feel richer by changing your spending habits rather than earning more. We all need to channel mindful spending and conscious consuming. Let’s stop chastising ourselves for every bad money decision we’ve ever made and look to the positive changes we can make to feel good about the money we earn and spend. Let’s stop wishing our lives looked more like others’ and instead own our situations. Let’s show ourselves a bit of financial #selfcare.
5 ways you can feel happier about your money
Instead of dreading the weekend before pay-day, write a list of everything you can do that makes you feel good but doesn’t cost (much) money – baths, walks, simple DIY, baking or starting a new boxset.
Don’t compare your birthday party to Kanye’s. Instagram will always be full of people whose lives look more extravagant than your own – don’t forget, it’s just a highlights reel. Unfollow people who make you feel like you can’t afford stuff, and if it’s your best friend who you don’t want to offend, mute them. What other people do with their money doesn’t need to affect you.
Take control. Look at your bank account, always know what is going on in there - good or bad.
Practice mindful spending. Ask yourself – ‘Why am I buying this – will it make me happy?’, ‘What could I spend the money on instead?’, ‘Do I have something similar already?’
Be kind to yourself. If you mess up, acknowledge it and move on. Don’t use self-loathing language and don’t label yourself ‘bad with money’ – a trap women especially fall into all too often.
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