Our relationship with our money is complex. We’re raised with certain values and develop certain assumptions. We learn to connect earning money, spending money and saving money with certain emotions — like payday euphoria or that buzz of elation at finding a fiver in an old coat. We end up with triggers too — we might fear looking at our balance after a night out or find it stressful to ask for a pay rise.
Most of all, we’re taught not to talk about it — making it hard for us to know what’s normal, what’s not, when and how to ask for help, or how to deal with the emotions around money.
Here we’ve spoken to six people who have shared stories of the moments when their relationship with money changed — including how they spend, save, and earn — to help shed light on the myriad things that can shake up the way we think and feel about money.
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1. “I focused my goals”
Daisy describes her past self as notoriously “Bad With Money”. She never had savings and always chose to ignore her spending habits and credit card debt, having had no money education at school or from her parents. She also felt a bit directionless — both in terms of her career and savings — leading her to have a mindset where she constantly thought that she was broke and bad with money.
That changed when she settled on a career path and started setting goals.
“For the first time in my life, I actually wanted to keep track of my money. I finally tackled my anxiety over money in general and in particular, my debt and self-destructive spending habits,” Daisy says. “I sat down and put everything into a spreadsheet at age 29. I was genuinely horrified by what I saw! After a big cry, I confessed my financial past to my boyfriend (who is very Good With Money) and put a budget and a plan together.”
She found that using spreadsheets and apps helped enormously. “I’m a very visual person, so watching my debt number drop each month has been very motivating for me. Also, just talking about money has helped a lot. Talking to my boyfriend and my friends, instead of laying awake stressing out by myself which ultimately made everything worse.”
2. “I learnt that saving was possible”
Madhvi has always considered herself to be good with money but personal circumstances, such as trying to save for a deposit to rent a flat in London, left her in debt. Having been financially independent since the age of 18, she has always had multiple income streams in order to support herself and her family.
“I always perceived bank loans and credit cards to be like black holes: once you’ve signed up, there’s no escaping. However, circumstances and a lack of financial education forced me to sign up for a high-interest bank loan and two credit cards, just so that I could pay rent, buy groceries and travel to work,” she explains. “However, after completing some freelance work for a past employer, I was able to pay off the bank loan. This is when I made a vow that I would always have more than two jobs so that I would have enough income to put food on the table for me and my family and never be forced to take a bank loan again.”
However, an important moment came when she realised that she could save at the same time as pay off debts. “I realised that repaying the minimum on everything at once was not worthwhile. A big part of financial wellness is feeling good and for ‘balance-watchers’ like me, the higher that number is, the happier I am,” she says. “There was no reason why I couldn’t save at the same time and I am in control of my money.”
3. “The bailiffs came knocking”
Jake was 26 when bailiffs came knocking on the door of his studio flat in Hackney. His relationship with money at that point was “casual”.
“Kind of ironic,” he says. “But in the early 2000s, it was very easy to get credit. All you had to do was complete a rudimentary form and then a week or so later, you’d get a credit card in the post or some loan money in your bank account. There was no check of your earnings, so if you put on the form (as I did) that you were a musician earning £25k p.a., then they just accepted that. While I was a musician, I have no idea what I was earning as most of it was cash in hand from gigs.”
He says he used debt to fund his life, spiralling up to £30,000 in credit cards and loans. It wasn’t sustainable. “There was no way of getting rid of the debt other than going bankrupt. I already had six defaults on my credit history. I just kept moving house and avoiding the recovery letters. But they caught up to me, and that was the moment.”
From that point, Jake changed his life — starting with his job. He started at a consultancy firm, working hard to become debt-free before 30 and learning to respect money. It wasn’t easy, but these days he’s thriving.
“I have comfortably enough money to do anything I want to. I live in a nice house in one of the nicest parts of a big city,” he says. But he also credits the discipline that he learnt from being in debt for changing his lifestyle. “Everything is paid immediately. I don’t even have a credit card at the moment. There is always enough money either in shares or cash.”
4. “I decided to go freelance”
In 2016, Chi decided to make the leap to go freelance. In her early-thirties, she felt stuck in her job at a technology company. She wanted a new challenge and to be her own boss. She said that though she’d always been good with money, she hadn’t really appreciated how not having a steady income would change her perspective on her money.
“I’ve always been careful with money and saved throughout my life but as I started contracting and freelancing, things became much less constant. There are times where I’ve essentially got four or five jobs at once because I’m contracting a certain number of days a week in one place but also working on several other projects for other companies at the same time. It gets complicated. Other times there will be almost nothing on my plate for a couple weeks. You have to learn to forecast and plan for the slumps in your income because they’re inevitable.
“When I first went freelance it was quite scary and the first time I didn’t have back-to-back jobs I was in a total panic. I thought I’d never get a job again, but of course I did. Over the last few years I’ve managed to find a new rhythm and really enjoy my work but going freelance definitely made me realise how important it is to save for harder times and to never take having money for granted.”
5. “Apps helped me overcome my debts and divorce”
Born in Wales, Alastair was raised on the idea that money and success are inextricably linked. This led to gambling and spending sprees, and later, a consolidation loan of £10,000.
“Coming from a working-class background with disabled parents, I was told that I needed to go to uni and climb the ladder in order to earn more [money]. Our lives were about getting what we could for what little we had,” Alastair explains. “Gambling was rooted in the fact I knew I could survive without that money so why not use it to win more. I genuinely think this is endemic of my background and is definitely not uncommon; it’s why I think a financial education is so important.
“The breakdown of my relationship (not monetarily based) and changes in job situation caused me to default on that loan. I simply couldn’t afford to repay it,” he shares. “Speaking to CAB and having to write letters to creditors was my moment. I’ve only just got over the impact that had on my credit file.”
Fortunately, Alastair found a system of apps and accounts that helped him manage his money better and put him back in control of his finances. He also discovered the 50/20/30 rule (discussed here), which helped him to budget. But he also believes that a good amount of his struggle could have been mitigated with better financial education from a younger age.
“Destigmatising talking about money is definitely something for the future and I will do what I can to pass that on to my kids,” he says, and there’s also something of smile in his words as he adds: “Me and my partner found out Friday that my credit rating is “normal” now and that we are able to commit to a mortgage in Bristol that is about 30% more than what we had budgeted; it’s really nice to know that actually having a financial conscience pays off.”
6. “I started earning more money”
Six years ago, Kara moved to Manchester for a new marketing job and immediately found herself in a rotation of work events, parties, brunches and nights out.
“It was very fun,” she says. “I have some absolutely brilliant memories from those years and some great friends, but I also sometimes just ignored that things had a price tag. I come from a fairly privileged background, so money hadn’t ever been something I needed to worry about until I did. I wouldn’t say I was bad with money exactly, I just didn’t think it was a problem because I’d pay off my overdraft on pay day (ignoring that I’d immediately be back in the red two days later). It was normal. All my friends were the same and we used to laugh about being skint and put everything on our credit cards. It wasn’t very funny really though; we were all so stressed.”
The moment things changed came just after getting a pay rise. Kara paid off her overdraft and cut back her spending. “It felt really good to have one less thing to worry about,” she says. “And I made a resolution to not use it for a bit. After that I never really looked back and started to just be a bit more aware of my spending, particularly on nights out. It’s been really good for my mental health.”
Kara’s relationship with money is now much more positive and she says she recently bought her first property. “At first saving was such a novelty but putting my money into something permanent and mine feels great.”
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