Over the last year, we’ve been working with the Fawcett Society to dive deep into how couples manage household budgets. From the survey of 500 co-habiting heterosexual couples, we found that women are twice as likely to be responsible for household budgeting.

This responsibility is likely to add to women’s mental load but it could also be a source of financial confidence and knowledge. When asked to rate their confidence in financial knowledge out of 10, 71% of women scored themselves 7 or higher, compared to 69% of men.

While this statistic suggests a marked improvement from previous studies on a lack of financial confidence in women, there continues to be an emotional inequality on spending between women and men: 46% of women under 55 feel guilty when they buy something for themselves, compared to just 27% of men.

Here, we speak to three women about what underpins financial confidence and what steps can be taken to alleviate financial guilt. Clare Seal is the author of Real Life Money: An Honest Guide to Taking Control of Your Finances, a book that began with her Instagram account @myfrugalyear where she is chronicling her journey to repay £27,000 worth of debt.

Catherine Morgan is a qualified financial planner and financial coach who hosts the In Her Financial Shoes podcast and runs courses and events through her website and blog The Money Panel. Bola Sol is an entrepreneur, financial wellbeing blogger and co-host of the podcast The Last Three Digits.

Disconnecting money from self-worth

For many women, self-worth is at the root of both confidence and guilt around money. “Money is a deeply emotional thing and women do themselves a disservice by not acknowledging that,” says Clare, 30. “Debt that feels out of your control is one symptom of a bigger root cause of a broken relationship with money. But the more you talk about it, the more you can disconnect it from your self-worth.”

Clare Seal, author and founder of the Instagram account My Frugal Year

Like Clare, Catherine also got into debt that she later faced and began to clear. “I spent the whole of my twenties living in my overdraft,” says Catherine, 38. “Whenever I received money, I wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible. I saw money as a way to make myself feel better following negative experiences - my parents got divorced, I had an eating disorder and I was bullied at school. I spent £600 a month on clothes and built up a debt of £30k. I connected money to my self-worth.”

Acknowledging your value as a person independently of your debt, savings or bank balance is the first step to building a healthy relationship with money. “Value is bigger than a number,” says Bola, 28. “It has nothing to do with the amount you have in your bank account. That amount is enough. It’s about how you define your value.”

Financial Confidence: Openness + Knowledge

71% of women scored themselves as 7 out of 10 or higher in being confident they can manage their money vs. 67% of men.

When asked about what she thought contributed to financial confidence in women, Clare spoke about the power of honest, online communities; 97% of her 60,000 Instagram followers are women. “Instagram really has become a space where women talk about money, which creates a snowball effect with women feeling more confident to make more positive decisions,” she says. “There are loads of women posting about money - VestPod, GoFundYourself - and giving advice focused around behaviour and emotions.”

For Catherine, looking at your relationship with money, including behaviours and emotions, is the first step towards financial confidence and resilience. “If you have an impulsive and spontaneous relationship with money, you may continue to spend even if you have the knowledge of how to manage your money,” she says. “We need to understand our money blocks, then add on financial education.”

Catherine Morgan, financial planner and financial coach

In line with levels of financial confidence, our report found high numbers of couples talking openly about money; 80% of women and 76% of men say that they’d talk to their partner about money worries. Equally, we saw parity between women and men in their knowledge of financial products; 69% of both women and men understood the benefit of having an ISA. The difference came in their choice of investment product: more women than men had an ISA (40% vs 34%), while more men than women invested in stocks and shares (18% vs 12%).

“Women are natural born starters,” says Bola, referring to the number of women who open an ISA. “But sometimes the question, ‘What’s next?’ can be intimidating.” When it comes to investing directly in stocks and shares, it seems that a lack of confidence could sometimes hold women back.

Bola Sol, entrepreneur, financial wellbeing blogger and podcaster

“There should be more financially positive statistics shared around women being better investors long term,” says Bola. “The way money is presented in the media makes it look like women are shopaholics.” To combat this stereotype within her own online community Rich Girl Chronicles, she asks women to think about their futures and talk about how they can reach long-term financial goals.

Financial Guilt: Saving and spending for yourself

46% of women under 55 feel guilty when they buy something for themselves vs. 27% of men under 55.

“Guilt and money go hand in hand for women,” says Clare. “Women feel guilty about almost everything, something I think relates to diet culture. For decades, women have been told that deprivation equals good, indulgence equals bad.” Last year, a BBC Money Diary went viral when the participant wrote that she felt guilty after spending £1.50 on a tin of tuna for herself.

“The guilt exists because we feel a clash between taking care of everyone else and taking care of ourselves,” says Catherine.

Her solution? “Starling Goals - you give it a name, add a photo and mentally account for that money, which really helps to get rid of guilt and shame around saving for or spending on yourself,” she says. “I often ask women if they’ve got a treat pot for themselves. I created one this month called ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ - I love the book and the film and would love to take myself on a retreat.”

Clare adds: “Get into the habit of allocating an affordable amount to spend on yourself, guilt-free. It’s more than just allowing yourself a treat, allocating some of your budget to spend on yourself is a declaration of how much you value your wellbeing.”

To find out more about the women featured, have a look at Clare’s Instagram account My Frugal Year, Catherine’s website The Money Panel and Bola’s community Refined Currency.

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