For Mental Health Awareness week, we asked Alex Holder, author of Open Up: The Power Of Talking About Money, to explain why she feels being a Starling customer helps her to feel less anxious about money.

I’m freelance and an emotional shopper. This is not a good combination. I shop when stressed, I shop when I get writer’s block or as a reward when I’ve completed a hard task.

Money mysteries

For years I genuinely couldn’t tell you where I spent my money, I frittered (a far more appropriate word than spent) my cash on ’who knows what’.

I used to do the same sums in my head over and over again. No matter how many times I did them, I never got the answer I was looking for. There was pencil scrawling on the corners of my note-book totting up what I’d earned vs what was going out, but those sums never quite added up. My own finances, what I was earning and what I was spending, was a mystery to me.

When I did look at my bank statements it was like surveying someone else’s. I’d google postcodes of random business’s where I’d spent £55 on a Saturday night convinced my card had been cloned. My amateur detective skills would eventually uncover the fact that I’d filled up with petrol on an A road while passing through Nottinghamshire - a purchase that had completely gone from my mind. And I can see why, keeping a track of everything we do in our lives isn’t as easy as remembering. How many hours sleep did you get last night? What did you eat last Tuesday? How often do you have sex?

On top of our memory not being reliable it’s been made really easy for us to distance ourselves from the numbers of our own everyday spending: we have Apple Pay, ’contactless’, one-click checkouts, and Amazon’s Alexa means even passing thoughts can become purchases in seconds. And with our personal finances still being a conversation taboo we rarely confront what we spend and how.

Alex Holder, author of Open Up: The Power Of Talking About Money

Anxiety and money

Yet, money is the greatest source of anxiety. Study after study turns up data that shows that money is the most common cause of stress for every generation and all genders. A twenty-two-country survey by GfK conducted with 27,000 consumers found that money is the main cause of stress for 29 per cent of people. Research psychologist Dr Galen Buckwalter found that 23 per cent of adults and 36 per cent of millennials experience financial stress at levels that qualify as a diagnosis of PTSD.

We have apps that track everything from menstrual cycles to our sodium intake and their effects on our mood and well-being. But, we’ve been very good at avoiding the thing that causes us the most stress – our money. There was a time when I knew exactly how many steps I’d walked in a day but had no idea how much I’d spent.

And then I started banking digitally. My Starling account allows me to see how much I spent on Uber last month, a direct debit that comes out of my account each and every month no longer ’surprises’ me. I can’t deny how much of my money I give to the Tesco Metro at the end of my street (14% of what I earn!). And honestly - now that I can see my bank balance month to month and where the hell I’m spending my money - I feel less insane.

We know that mental health issues can make managing money harder and that worrying about money makes mental health worse. And you might think that if we didn’t make money such a thing, if we thought about it less, if we put it out of mind then it might not affect our mental health, but money is one of those things that is hard to ignore – it dictates too much of our life to side step.

Knowledge is power

I’ve found the knowledge I get from looking at my bank balance every day (rather than closing my eyes at a cashpoint once a month) empowering. I’ve started to notice what my spending triggers are and how much my location affects what I spend my money on. When I spent a month freelancing next door to a Crush, I developed an £8 a day green juice habit. Now I know this sounds so obvious but seeing it add up, knowing that £40 a week was being spent on a juice that I was only buying as an excuse to leave my desk for five minutes meant I couldn’t deny what it was costing me. I would much rather a pair of boots from Zara than a green juice habit. I would much rather have a cleaner for two hours a week than a Wednesday night Deliveroo.

Banking digitally makes me feel like I have more money because I’m better able to connect it to the things I really want. When I see myself falling into an unhealthy spending spiral, I have the data to action change. Being in debt impinges on my mental health, it stops me thinking creatively and sends me into panic mode particularly around work. The negative emotions that come with overspending are rarely worth the short-lived joy of buying something. I no longer buy fancy cocktails, protein balls, or high-end supermarket prawns, because they don’t make me that happy, they’re quite literally not worth it. Seeing my money, noticing what I regret and what, to quote someone else, ’sparks joy’, means I have learnt more about myself, my emotions and how best to make myself happy. Having clarity around the thing that dictates where I live, where I holiday and what jobs I can afford to say no to is for me self-care. Like a long hot bath, a quick look at my bank account is something I do for my mental health. And I no longer have to do any mental addition, which in itself is a holiday.

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