Why we need a money positivity movement

Money is emotional.

Find a fiver in an old coat and you’re elated. Realise payday is after the bank holiday and there’s that all-too-familiar sinking feeling.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve written (and spoken) about how money is emotional and why that’s the case.

Hell, so many people have written that sentence, it’s beginning to sound meaningless.

But that doesn’t change the fact that money remains a touchy, tricksy, taboo topic.

Almost everyone I know has a complex relationship with their money. I’ve seen the memes. I’ve used the gifs. I’ve heard people explain ‘it’s not polite conversation’, seen strangers getting angry or bitter about splitting bills, and – refreshingly – had friends join in with enthusiasm because they ‘just don’t get to talk about money like this’.

I’ve also heard so many apologies about money. People are sorry for being good with money, being bad with money, for having boring money habits, for being a spend thrift or splurge-happy, for having parents help out, for not knowing enough about it, for wanting to know more, for being paid more, for being paid less.

Why?

Because more often than not – even though we logically know that our personal value does not correlate to our bank balance – we’re still acting and reacting like it does.

And no matter how many times we say ‘money is emotional’, nothing changes.

Financial success is something we’re taught to aspire to – we’re taught to want more, to seek the next pay rise, to invest in that capsule wardrobe, to save our way onto the property ladder, to spend spend spend on exotic holidays.

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.

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. We’re taught to hide, to withdraw, to beat ourselves up for our apparent failure.

No wonder so many of us hate checking our bank balance. No wonder we’re all so stressed and guilty and uneasy about talking about money.

 

We need a money positivity movement.

According to MoneySuperMarket, around 14 million people in the UK spend every day stressed about their finances – a stat that isn’t restricted to people on the lowest incomes. In 2016, YouGov showed that a third of middle-class people would struggle to cover a surprise £500 bill, whilst around 10% of ABC1 earners would have to borrow money if hit with an unexpected £100 bill. Moreover, one in six people who have experienced money problems have experienced suicidal thoughts as a result, according to research by the charity Mental Health UK.

When the body positive movement started it aimed to empower people of all different body types and to encourage society as a whole to become more accepting and inclusive of body diversity. Our worth as people isn’t in our looks, they argued, and beauty is more than a pale, size 4, teenaged girl with doe eyes and a disenchanted stare.

If we want to encourage money positivity, we similarly have to change the narrative from one that suggests we are only valuable when we fit the accepted ‘successful’ model. Instead, we need to start recognising the huge impact of money on our mental health. That there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to spending, saving, earning or borrowing.

The more we understand our financial health – the more spending habits we recognise, the more we recognise where our money is going, how it flows in as well as out – the more likely we are to develop a strong self-image that isn’t dependent on the process of earning, spending, or saving. It’s not going to rid you of stress if you’re worried about paying rent or food or bills, but it may combat the stigma about asking for help when it comes to money.

Because, let’s be honest, even people who look like they’re crushing it struggle with the same problems – rent, taxes, compromises on where they go, how often they buy new things.

Suggesting a money positive movement is not to say any of us should stop wanting to be better off. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more money. Only let’s make a conscious effort to acknowledge that not being loaded, doesn’t make us lesser. Or vice versa.

In our heads, I’m sure we all know our bank balance doesn’t determine our worth as a person. If we’re in the red this month (or every month), we’re still valuable and important and deserving. Just the same as if your thighs kiss or your bum is bumpy or if you struggle with a mental illness.

We’re on the right track.

If you look at the technology being built – apps like Yolt and Emma and Loqbox, the mobile banks like Starling and Monzo – it’s clear a huge amount of change is on it’s way. We’re now able to take control of our money, see our money, and understand our money. We have an opportunity.

But to make sure we don’t miss it, to ensure we build a money positive future, we must shuck the taboo around talking about money. We’re seeing this happen more and more – from magazines like Stylist and Refinery 29, to podcasts like Bad With Money and Mentally Yours, and of course all the books.

In Emma Gannon’s The Multi-Hyphen Method, there’s a (wonderful) chapter dedicate to money. She’s also spoken frequently over the last year about her relationship with her finances, the pressures of looking successful as a freelancer, and supported initiatives such as the #MakeMoneyEqual campaign to change the way we talk about money to men and women so that we can close the gender wealth gap.

Also helpful: Laura Whateley’s recently released Money: A Users Guide – a jargon-free book on personal finance (look out for the excellently designed Monzo-coral cover). New releases like Betches’ When’s Happy Hour?, and Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené. Also not so new releases like Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book, Cait Flander’s Year of Less and Iona Bain’s Spare Change (or in fact all the books on this list from Jenna Farmer). Plus there’s Alex Holder’s upcoming debut, The Money Book, out in Spring 2019, which promises to ‘address our troubled relationship with our finances, showing how we can practise mindful spending and offering practical tips and advice to change the way we approach our finances for good.’

Updated: Also, we should all be keeping an eye out for Otegha Uwagba’s ‘money memoir’ as well – due out in 2020 and promising to elevate the conversation around money, particularly for us women. Read more here.

There’s clearly an appetite for more honest conversations about personal finance – mostly being driven by amazing women. Because there’s no reason why we should feel any more awkward talking about money than about our weight, mental health, or sex. 

So let’s stop with the apologies. Let’s stop with the shame and blame.

Millions of us struggle with money. It’s not unusual. It’s not a matter of personal failure.

Let’s accept each other’s differences and diversities.

Let’s allow ourselves to be money confident, money positive.

To respect ourselves and know that we’re not bad people just because we’re not rich (yet).

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