When it comes to money, my head is buried so deep in the sand it’s bound to pop up in Australia soon. Hence my six-month-long, bank balance-avoidance strategy. I’m terrified that if I see what’s in there (or not!), the joy will be sapped out of my life. Yet, ironically, not feeling in control results in the kind of anxiety that keeps me awake at night. And as the health and lifestyle director of this magazine, that’s bad news for my wellbeing.
Sadly, more than one in five of us reckons our financial situation has resulted in mental ill health or poor mental wellbeing. And it seems that women are more adversely affected than men, with 61% experiencing this.
Why? ‘Because dealing with money feels overwhelming,’ admits financial journalist and author Laura Whateley. (In fact, a YouGov survey found that 83% of women feel banks don’t make products easy to understand.) And, for lots of us, sorting out our money is another task we don’t have time for and is as fun as plucking out our leg hairs, one by one.
So I decided to take it for the team, face my fear of all things fiscal and share my learnings. Let the mindset makeover begin!
Time to delve into the psychology of why I block my ears and hum ‘la, la, la’ around money talk. I phone Kim Stephenson (a former financial advisor, who retrained as a psychologist) to ask…
I’m terrified of checking my bank balance. Why the paralysis?
Kim: It’s evolutionary – an avoidance of a perceived threat, which results in a fight-or-flight freeze. It’s great for dealing with acute, physical threats, such as avoiding being eaten by a tiger, but it’s pants when you apply it to the type of chronic, social threats we have now.
So how can I stop viewing my finances as the equivalent of a scary tiger?
Kim: Mindfulness meditation can help you take control of your thoughts about money (check out Gelong Thubten’s A Monk’s Guide To Happiness: Meditation In The 21st Century, Yellow Kite). Build up to 30 minutes daily for at least eight weeks. Then introduce it into everyday life by practising being in the moment when you’re, say, brushing your teeth – or checking your bank balance!
I’ve been trying to save money to feel more financially secure – yet my clothes-shopping habit is getting worse. The guilt is crushing me.
Kim: Your emotional side is convinced you need new clothes, but your logical side knows you don’t need them, hence the guilt. Until you know what you want to save money for, it’ll be difficult to stick to a budget.
So, I’m struggling to keep to a savings plan because my ‘I must save for my future’ goal is too vague?
Kim: Yes, you need clear goals. Think about what will genuinely make your life happier. Are you prepared to make some sacrifices? If not, then do you really want it? Think of money as a tool to build a life you want, not to be obsessed over.
I’m trying to be more specific about goals, but it’s a work-in-progress. Until I nail it, I ask Laura, also the author of Money: A User’s Guide (4th Estate), for simple ways to save. ‘It’s about taking advantage of all the new “fintech” out there,’ she says. ‘You’ll feel in control of your money, rather than it controlling you.’
Try an ‘app-based bank’ to track spending. ‘I use the Monzo and Starling banking apps, which make it easy to understand my money. For instance, Monzo automatically puts your purchases into categories, such as “Transport” or “Groceries”, so you can see what you’ve spent on each category every month.’
Be a sneaky saver.
‘The Chip app works out how much you can afford to save each week and moves it into a separate pot for you. Or try the 365-day challenge: for a year, put £1 aside on a Monday, £2 on a Tuesday, £3 on a Wednesday, etc, up to £7 on a Sunday. You’ll have saved nearly £1,500 by the end.’
Go on a ‘money diet’.
‘I do the 5:2 – you can’t buy anything other than absolute essentials two days a week. You could also try a finance detox and spend a month only buying the essentials. It helps you see where you’re wasting money.’
Call out those forgotten direct debits. ‘The Emma app can help you see those “first month free” subscriptions you forgot to cancel.’
Set up separate ‘money pots’. ‘You can do this via a banking app such as Starling. As soon as you get paid, transfer some money into various “pots”, such as Christmas presents, holidays and clothes.’
Years ago, I got a small redundancy payout, which has sat, untouched, in a cash ISA. ‘Well done, me!’ I’ve always thought. But after talking to Holly Mackay (founder and MD of financial advice site Boring Money), I realise I’ve been missing a trick. ‘You don’t earn much interest on savings,’ she says. ‘For money to work harder in the long term, you have to get over your fear of investing. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the stock market and can start with £1!*’ Intriguing.
Ask your employer if they’ll match extra pension contributions. ‘Your pension money is invested, so if you put an extra 1% in and your employer matches it, that’s an extra 2%.’
Consolidate your pensions. ‘You may have lots of different pensions from various jobs. Pensionbee.com can help you find them. You could also use it to start adding extra to your pension privately.’
Try ‘impulse investing’. ‘I use an app called Moneybox, which rounds up my purchases and pays the amount into my stocks and shares ISA. If a coffee cost me £2.70, I can choose to round it up to £3 and put the extra 30p in my ISA. So far, I’ve invested an extra £500 doing this! It offers motivational tips, too, such as letting me know that if I invest an extra £10 a week, it’ll have turned into £22k by 2029.’
I’ve finally looked at my bank balance. Like a bikini wax, it was painful and brought tears to my eyes. But, now that I’ve ‘put a face to the monster’, as Holly calls it, the fear factor and anxiety have actually lessened because I know what I’m dealing with. So instead of catastrophising, I want to begin capitalising – starting with implementing some stealthy saving tips next payday, and investing a small sum. The ‘Money Monster’ is finally losing its power over me.
*Keep in mind investing involves risk – the value will fluctuate over time and you may lose money. Always seek independent financial advice.