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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

Get your shit together with money

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December 2019

Four ways to feel better about the annual holiday shitshow

Remember those columns in women’s magazines with a list of ‘better’ food options? Swap this delicious-but-fattening food for that not-at-all-delicious-but-low-cal food!

Sorry New Weekly, but yogurt with carrot sticks is in no way equivalent to a creamy blue cheese on crackers. Pfft.

But could we apply the same approach to our thoughts?

Holidays are an absolute shitshow for our finances and our mental states. It starts with buying Christmas party outfits, bounces along through gift-buying, and blows out on family-holiday type activities.

Then we review the year just gone and what we’ve achieved – or not.

Nothing like a little end-of-year navel-gazing to make us feel like a failure. (Maybe there should be some sort of Men in Black-type device that wipes our January memories, and makes us forget all those new year resolutions we made).

But honestly, a lot of the negative emotions we battle during this period are a massive waste of energy. We’d do far more good by being a little kinder and gentler to ourselves.

And so I propose my own list of ‘Feel this, not that‘, holiday-season style.

  • Swap ‘Feeling Guilty’ for ‘Feeling Grateful’.

Things I would like to feel guilty for right now include: everything I’ve eaten for the last six weeks, not having an actual job, not having written enough content, putting my gym membership on hold, and spending vast sums on cocktails in New York recently.

For me, guilt itself is a guilty pleasure; I thrive on it. So, I have to work really hard on reframing those things.

Things I might feel grateful for include: delicious food shared with friends and family, having some freelance income, creating time to think of new content, taking time off to reset my fitness goals, and having an awesome opportunity to make the most of New York.

It’s not my default setting to think like this, but it is in fact possible. If you are piling up the guilty ‘shoulds’ of your life right now, maybe give this thought experiment a go.

Martinis and oysters in New York. No regrets.
  • Swap ‘Feeling Obligated’ for ‘Setting Boundaries’.

This time of year is particularly full of opportunities to feel obligated. You should attend this work event, go to that family thing, buy that person an expensive gift, make an effort to see that group of people.

This can stretch us even thinner at a time when we’re all so tiiiired. And it generally costs money too. Every time you buy a stupid secret santa gift, or attend a social event you don’t really want to, it’s a withdrawal from both of our bank accounts: time and money.

So perhaps, instead of agreeing to stuff because you ‘should’, consider saying no.

Like, setting boundaries around your time and attention. Accepting you can’t go everywhere and do everything and that in fact, nobody actually minds that much when you decline.

As a woman, flexing the ‘no’ muscle is one of the most difficult – and liberating – things we can do. So go on, give it a go! (Only if you want to, no pressure, guilt or obligation).

  • Swap ‘Fear of Not Being Perfect’ for ‘Celebrating Not Being Perfect’.

My hunch is that the two points above are related to this one. Everyone wants to do their best – as an employee, a mum, a wife, a daughter – or whatever the multiple hats we wear. (I should know – being a consistently cool aunty requires a lot of keeping up with the latest music, TV and memes).

Then why do so many of us constantly feel like we aren’t doing a good enough job? Why do we get so down on ourselves?

I think the long answer is a complex one, bound up in layers of expectation about our value and role in a patriarchal system.

But social media plays a role too. For example, I find this time of year bittersweet, watching everyone’s kids graduate and mark milestones. Most of the time I feel fine about not being a mother, but now and then I feel conscious that I have failed in some sense.

And everyone has their own insecurities. It’s so easy to forget that we are seeing other people’s highlights reels.

My friend Rosie Fiore is an internationally published novelist, just staged a play in London and recently completed a Masters degree. She is legitimately one of the funniest, smartest and most accomplished women I know.

And this week she said, “As I look back over the last two years, they seem characterised by failure, rejection and indifference. My self-confidence has been battered and it has been extraordinarily hard at times to keep going … But you know what? None of that shows on social media. What we see of each other, by and large, is smiling group photos and graduation pics. I am reminded of the maxim that we should not compare our insides to other people’s outsides.”

Girl, whaaaaat? Failure? No way!

But she’s right about one thing. We only see the outside. We are terrified of people seeing us fail and fall and falter.

But hey, we all do it, right? A lot of the time, many of us are just barely keeping it together.

Or not keeping it together at all! And then we have people who love us, and are there to hug us, and hold space for us, and help us till we can get back up again.

So why do we fear this failure, this imperfection so much? What if we just lean into it? What if we were all a bit more Celeste Barber, laughing at our own imperfections?

If you don’t love @celestebarber on Instagram are you even alive?
  • Swap Anger for Empathy.

This year I’ve watched several people I love be hurt by people they love.

It’s true that ‘hurt people hurt people’. And there is nothing more enraging than watching someone you love be abused or manipulated by another person. To see the toxic energy they are serving up to their so-called ‘loved one’, in service of their own demons and insecurities.

The easiest thing in the world is to be angry at these antagonists. To swear them off, ignore their calls and generally talk shit about them to anyone who will listen. I’ll be honest, I’ve done my share of those things.

But anger is like a difficult house-guest. It can quickly outstay its welcome, hanging around with its feet on the coffee table, serving no purpose and just making you feel icky.

I think it’s Brene Brown who asks whether we believe everyone is doing their best. I believe they are.

Sometimes they do it hobbled by pain or mental anguish or personality disorders.

But I have to believe it, because we are all human and we are all weak and we all just want to be loved. So I try to swap anger for empathy every time I can.

Turns out, this post wasn’t really about money, but also it was. Because our headspace is so tied to our behaviours. And if we can believe that we are doing our best, that it’s ok to be imperfect, and that we don’t need to feel guilty, then hey, we’re basically unstoppable, right?

And with that, let me and Frosty wish you a gloriously messy holiday season.

Want to get rich in 2020? Start here…

“How do I get rich?”

This was the question posed to me by Mike the chef and impresario at B&H Deli, East Village, New York City.

Yes, I am in New York. Please allow me one smug mention of the fact.

So, Mike is part chef, part performer and part host. He welcomed me back since my last visit (a few years ago) as though I’d only been away for a quick holiday.

He asked me what I’m doing now (good question, Mike – what am I doing?) and I told him I write about money.

Which leads back to his question. How does one get rich?

I countered with my own question: how do you make the perfect omelette?

His answer? Love.

Mike and I – just chilling in NYC

Unfortunately I have no such heart-warming answers for the rich question.

No secrets, hacks or shortcuts.

But isn’t that great? There is literally no secret to getting rich.

All the information is out there. It’s in books, on blogs, in newspapers. It’s as simple – and as difficult – as this:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Invest the rest

What does ‘rich’ mean anyway?

Now, let’s take a moment to interrogate the word ‘rich’. It’s a very slippery one. Does it mean spending summers on private yachts in Europe? Buying the fancy moisturiser instead of the cheap one? Sending your kids to private school? Having a gun that shoots dollar bills like Cardi B?

Or does it mean having the ability to leave a situation – a relationship, a job, a home – that is no longer good for you?

Obviously it could be all of these things. I don’t really like the word myself. I think we can be rich in blessings, friends, family, opportunities and the like. But rich with money seems a little superior – too much hubris.

I prefer to talk about wealth. It speaks to resources – having the things you need to lead the life you want. To make decisions that make you happy. To have a safety net if things go wrong. That’s way more important than the ability to buy ‘stuff’.

Don’t get me wrong, I like stuff, I just don’t think it’s the most important part of the money conversation.

Anyway, back to the two steps to wealth. The Dickens fans among us* will know the famous Micawber principle. Back when being in debt got you arrested (true story), Mr Micawber was always in and out of debtors’ jail.

He would tell young David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

The thing is, Mr Micawber knew how it worked. He was aware of the perils of spending more money than you earn. And yet he did it anyway. He seemed constitutionally unable to live within his means, causing all sorts of trouble for him and his family.

If you have a touch of Micawber in you, you’ll know it can be hard to match intention with behaviour.

If you have bought one more thing because you could just Afterpay it; if you have maxed out a credit card without quite knowing how; if you have come back from holiday with a credit card hangover; you’re not alone.

There are sophisticated companies out there, doing everything they can to part us from our money. They have algorithms and data and shiny sales and targeted campaigns and behavioural tracking and a whole bunch of dark arts to make us do exactly what Mr Micawber warned us against.

The Tricky Part

I wish I could tell you there’s an easy way to fight this. But there’s not.

It’s the hard stuff – inner work stuff.

Finding out what emotions, fears or insecurities make you spend more than you plan to.

Identifying your bad habits, spending traps and weak points.

Staying close to your bank statements so you see where money is going out the door.

It’s another mental load, I’m sorry to say. Part of the hundreds or micro-decisions we make every day.

I see a lot of parallels between money and food. We live in a world where delicious, calorie-dense food and drink is all around us, all the time. It’s quick, cheap and easy. And so much harder to shop, cook and clean up in the kitchen. It’s so much mental energy to say ‘no’ to yummy food all the time.

But it’s a muscle. It responds to repetition. It gets better when you practise.

And it needs a reason to stay on track – a goal that is clear and specific enough for you to say ‘put that donut down’ or ‘abandon that shopping cart’.

If you’re interested in goal setting, and want an impassioned reason why it matters, check out  this post.

If you’re thinking about some of the emotional stuff underlying your relationship to money, read this one.

If you are totally fine with your money mindset and just want the 411 on how to invest, go straight here!

I want to explore these issues more going forward, because I think it’s really important to educate women about how to invest, but it’s also critical to examine our relationship with money.

In the meantime, as we get ready for a new year and a new decade (WTF), I’d encourage you to spend a bit of time thinking about how you want to evolve your relationship with money. And guess what, I’ll be here to help!

 

*Side story for Dickens tragics: I went to trivia in Louisville, Kentucky recently, and one of the questions asked about an American novel published in serialised form in the mid-18th century. I was lost, because my American literature knowledge is patchy at best. Finally, they read out the answer and it’s David Copperfield! WTAF? Americans, stealing Dickens from Great Britain! Obviously some of us protested to the quiz master, but he seemed unmoved.

So I approached him and explained it could have been a mistake since Dickens was very popular in the US and used to go on reading tours here. Old mate was totally not listening to me because he was on Wikipedia, scrolling through the Dickens page, TO CHECK IF DICKENS WAS AMERICAN! Ok I have already ranted about this throughout this great land of America, but I’m glad to have another chance here.

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