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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.

Fear, failure, shame: are there red flags in your relationship with money?

Money is never just money.

Money is feelings.

Money is fear or worry or failure or shame. It’s hope or excitement or success or freedom.

It’s a currency that we use to communicate things.

How much you spend on a gift reflects how much you love someone.

How much you spend on a wedding reflects your standing in the world.

How much you spend on a car reflects how successful you think you are.

It shouldn’t, but it can.

Money is never just money.

It’s wrapped up with how you feel about yourself and your worth and your future and your past.

I wonder if that’s why women have a complex relationship with it. We are often in our feelings.

It’s why opening our banking app is rarely a neutral experience. It’s not like checking the bus timetable. We open that app and we feel things.

We hope there’s enough money in there. Or we feel happy there’s more than expected. Or we feel satisfied with our savings. Or we feel disappointed with our spending habits. Or we feel ashamed that we aren’t where we think we should be.

How did you feel last time you thought about money?

Was it this morning, when your inbox had a bunch of emails about the new season collections from a bunch of stores? Did you feel desire? FOMO? Annoyance?

Was it last night, when you had to pay some bills for super boring stuff? Did you feel annoyed about the pain of adulting?

Was it yesterday, when your kid’s school told you about the next thing you have to pay for (excursions, costumes, sports, devices)? Did you feel exhausted?

I think it’s useful for all of us to identify and unpack some of the emotions behind our finances. My hunch is that many of them are negative. And is there any better way to turn your emotions around than to feel them, speak about them, hold them up to the light?

How about I tell you some of my feelings, and you can think about yours. 

If I had to pick two words that I associate with money it would be: fear and safety.

The fear is about not having enough to do the things I want, to live the way I want. I don’t really know where it comes from. Maybe my family. My dad was a successful lawyer with a tendency towards impostor syndrome. He was always looking at the downside and planning for it. (What if he lost his job etc.)

Maybe I picked up some of this; maybe I was just born with it. Either way, I’m scared of not having money, but on the other side of fear is safety, and that’s what I aim for.

I would much prefer to have money in the bank and a good income, so I can plan against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. My ex used to accuse me of being obsessed with insurance; I’d argue there are worse thing to be obsessed with. But he’s not wrong.

I’m not saying this is the only feeling I have about money, but it’s kind of the bedrock to everything else. I prefer not to buy expensive things for the sake of it, because that money could be better used to shore up my safety barrier. It also means I experience guilt when I do spend, because I feel like I’m chipping away at that barrier.  Guilt is a default setting with me though, so it’s not that big of a deal, and I do still spend money on shit (hello new Mecca palette!).

Overall, this emotional relationship to money has worked well for me. I was able to leave a marriage and land on my feet, financially, because of the decisions I’d made. I have a manageable mortgage and an old car, because I have distaste for debt. It means I can take some career and income risks at this stage, because I’m not a slave to a giant black hole of home loan and car debt.

Sit down and check in

I encourage you to think about how you feel towards money. I see a lot of people, especially women, feel shame about it.

They’re ashamed because they don’t feel in control, think they spend too much, or don’t know enough about it. They think it’s somehow their fault – when in fact society has done literally everything possible to make them feel like this – from not socialising us to discuss money, through to telling us we are ugly and fat if we don’t buy products to fix ourselves.

So please, sit down in a quiet moment and list your emotions about money.

See if you can unpack them a little. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Are they serving you well? Or are they holding you back?

The good thing about feelings is we aren’t just stuck with them. We can always change them, with some work. Time to have a long chat with money … and show it who’s boss.

 

3 things to remember for smashing the patriarchy

I was sitting under a tree at my holiday house recently, next to my older and wiser cousin Jenny. I asked her, kind of out of the blue, “Do you ever wonder if you’re doing enough to smash the patriarchy?”.

“No”, she said. “Never crosses my mind”.

However, she is a bad-arse woman who gets shit done all the time. She is a certified Fierce Girl-level budgeter. She empowers her 14-yo daughter every day. So Jenny is actually helping with the smashing-the-patriarchy job all the time, whether or not she thinks about it.

And we can all do that. We don’t need an International Women’s Day to be empowered, awesome, independent or feminist. We slay all day, erry day.

However, since we are allocated one day a year to step this up, I feel compelled to celebrate it. So, today, I give you some fiercely held beliefs that underpin the Fierce Girl Finance universe.

  1. You are way better at money than you think. Yep, you’re a financial guru in the making. Ever watched a make-up contouring tutorial on YouTube? Ever done the mental math on how many tops in your wardrobe go with the skirt you’re wearing in the change room? Ever done some sneaky calorie calculations to work out whether you should drink this glass of wine?

    I thought so. Fact is, we are always learning, researching, calculating and rationalising in our everyday lives. And these are all the skills required to get in control of our money. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you that you’re ‘just not good with money’. Women are fucking great at it, when we give ourselves permission to be.

  2. Nobody cares about your money as much as you. Not your husband, boyfriend or father. Not your bank manager, fund manager or financial adviser. The best person to look out for your interests is YOU.

    Educate yourself, go with your gut, ask difficult questions and generally be a pushy bitch when it comes to managing your money. The only person you can always rely on to have your interests at heart is yourself, so you may as well give yourself the education and knowledge to kick arse at finance.

  3. You have more hurdles to overcome, so you’d better ‘work bitch’.  As with so many life events, Britney said it best. You’ better work, bitch, because as a woman, you start behind the 8-ball.

    We get paid less, for complex reasons (including structural workforce issues and not asking enough). We have lots of time out of the workforce to care for kids and elderly parents. And we end up in lower-paid sectors that someone (maaaybe men) have decided are worth less.

    Regardless of all the complex reasons, there is just one solution: work and save hard. We have to (as usual) do even more to get ahead. We need to add more to super early on, before we have kids. We have to take charge of our cashflow and budgets to make sure we save for the future. And we have to make sure we have money set aside for disasters (aka a Fuck-off fund).

So,  for IWD2018 this year, I say what I say 364 other days of the year: money is power. If you  take charge of it, you take charge of your life.

Please ladies: go forth and be fierce. 

 

Are these 4 spending traps blowing your budget?

There’s a curious thing about modern, middle-class life. We can afford things. We have money to spend. But we’re not very good at it.

Sure, we have to cover the boring bills and housing costs. But someone with a decent income has a bit of flex left in their budget. The dilemma is deciding what to do with it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. How do we know if we can afford something?

Or more accurately, how do we decide what we can afford?

It’s more complicated than it sounds. Humans are notoriously bad with delayed gratification. So, when we’re deciding how to allocate our money, we often choose what’s right in front of us.

Shiny things, fun things, easy things!

In a perfect world of financial responsibility, we wouldn’t go shopping or to the pub until we’d put extra money into our savings,  our mortgage, or investments. But life is not perfect, nor are we.

But I have a theory that the key to building wealth is saying, “I know I can afford this, but should I?”.

There are some common spending traps that we should be conscious of in life. We would do well to notice, pause and reflect on these … before we get out our wallets.

Emotional spending

Maybe most spending is emotional. We have a vision of our lives that we’re trying to fulfill. To look a certain way, present a certain way, create a certain story about ourselves.

But there is also a particular type of emotional spending that’s a response to a situation. It’s called retail therapy, and it’s bullshit.

Therapy is a positive process that makes you face your feelings and deal with them. Shopping is just avoiding those feelings.

Spending to soothe your pain – or at least delay it – is a trap.

(I’m not saying I haven’t done it, but I will say I have I ended up with poorly fitting outfits.)

Solution? Process your emotions, rather than avoiding them. Call a friend, go for a run, hit the gym (my personal favourite). Maybe even go to real therapy (seriously – it’s great – I wrote about it here).

Mindless/lazy spending

This is my hobby horse, so get ready for a rant.

If you’re spending fifty bucks a week buying lunch, because you can’t haul your arse into a supermarket, then it’s time to reassess your life choices.

It’s not about having time, it’s about having priorities.  I’m not saying you need to spend hours in the kitchen every night. Commit a short period of time to even the most half-hearted food prep, and you’ll thank yourself. (I gotchu fam – tips here and here).

Same goes for spending too much at the pub/cocktail bar, because it’s a habit and your friends do it and you can’t think of anything else to do that’s cheaper or more satisfying.

Look, everyone likes a night out, but if it’s your default, then maybe have think about the habits you’re forming.

Solution: Work out where your downfall is, and how much time or effort you need to fix it. It may be less than you think.

Routine spending

It’s easy to think something is necessary because you do it a lot. But it just means you’ve set your baseline at a particular level: regular salon sessions, eyelash extensions, getting your hair done every six weeks, or whatever recurring cost has become part of your routine.

I was convinced that one-on-one coaching every week was definitely necessary and justified. But having stopped it this year, it turns out, it’s not. I love my coach, but do I have other financial priorities right now? Yes. (Am I a good enough powerlifter to justify the cost of coaching? No)

Solution: I’m not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself. I’m saying to think about what you have normalised in your life, and whether it’s serving you well.

Social-pressure spending

The social pressure of money is a real thing.

People don’t like to say ‘I can’t afford that’. There’s a perceived shame in noting the lofty financial expectations people place on others.

So you either find money for things, or whack it on credit cards.

Hen’s weekend that’s gonna cost 300 bucks? Suck it up and pay.

Friday night drinks that cost $50 a round? Deal with it.

Group birthday present for $100 each? Sign me up.

And before you know it, the budget is blown.

Solution: Generosity is good, but you don’t have to get on board the crazy-cost-train every time you’re asked. If you have a financial goal you’re working to, make it known. “Sorry, I’ve got some aggressive savings goals for my house deposit. Can we look at some other options, or I will do my own thing”.

Real friends will be chill about that. Shallow friends can eat a bag of dicks.

Set yourself up for success

Look, I know this stuff isn’t always easy. The first step is being clear on your goals – it’s easier to say no if you know the reason. I highly recommend working on your goals (here) and mindful spending manifesto (here).

Then you’ll be set up for success when it comes to saying no, or not today, or not ever.

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