To kick off our March Money Management Tips, journalist and consultant Alex Holder, author of a new handbook for talking about money, explains why she believes we need to get better at talking about money if we want to start getting a grip on our finances.

I’m that annoying friend, the one who is happy to tell you what they earn. Not because I’m showing off, I hasten to add, but because I realised how inauthentic some of my chats with friends were since we were constantly skirting around the money bits of the conversation. So I started talking about my own, and realised how liberating it was to chat honestly about a subject that had been verbally out of bounds my whole life.

From sleeping better to stronger friendships to greater mental health, so many good things have happened from talking about money. Now that I’m not scared of money as a topic I feel far more in control of my finances than I ever did before. I look at my bank balance, I track my spending, I’m confident in pay negotiations and I believe all of this has come from facing the subject of money in conversation.

How can you advocate for yourself in a pay review, or talk about mortgage products with the bank or formulate a debt repayment plan if you can’t even chat to your best friend about what you spend? We need to up our vocabulary and understanding of money and I believe talking about it is the first step to being more in control of it.

I have better conversations with friends

In writing my book, Open Up: The power of talking about money, I’ve spoken to financial advisors, financial therapists and financial gurus. I’ve chatted to CEOs, founders of banks and bankers. I’ve had conversations about money with every kind of financial expert, but you know who I’ve learnt the most from? My friends. The most gratifying thing to come out of this new openness is how honest our conversations about life plans have become. A friend can’t truly advise you on whether you can quit your job to go freelance without bringing money, and I mean the meat of the money, into the conversation. We now happily tell each other about an awkward pay review, share details of a redundancy or discuss how to make a break-up fair.

‘I can ask you anything about money now and you have to tell me,’ a friend laughs. It’s true. In preaching that we should talk about it, I’ve become that friend, the one who talks about money. My friends know they can ask me how much to the penny I have in my bank account – they don’t, but they know they could. They’ll ask me what my partner and I spend on childcare for our two-year-old son and then rightly wince when I tell them the answer (£1,248 per month for four days a week, and that’s at the cheaper end in London). The questions my friends have started to ask me aren’t intrusive for the sake of it, or prying. It’s about sharing information and learning from each other about a notoriously difficult subject.

I’m earning more

This wasn’t my intention. I went freelance nearly three years ago and since I started talking about money more openly with friends and colleagues my earnings have gone up considerably. I think it’s because of two reasons - I am much better at negotiating because I am not battling with the embarrassment of chatting about money AND the high stakes nature of any money conversation. Also, I know the market rate for the work I do because I’ve shared rates with other freelancers.

A woman smiles in a cafe, with a teal coffee cup in front of her.

I started paying into a pension

During my life at least ten finance-y people (and my dad) had told me to pay into a pension, and I’d willfully ignored them. But when a friend who doesn’t own a vacuum cleaner and lives in a flatshare where plants go to die told me that he’s recently started paying into a pension and it wasn’t that hard to set up, that the paperwork didn’t kill him and that he doesn’t miss the money, well I knew it was something I could probably do too (so I did).

I’m getting less scared of investing

Too often women think money isn’t a topic for them. We all know about the gender pay gap, but there are other gaps that need to close too. Women often think that they are not as good at investing as men, despite growing evidence to the contrary. There shouldn’t be a gender gap when it comes to understanding investments, so I’m making a concerted effort to get my head around them. By the end of 2019 I will be making money from investments, that’s my goal anyway.

I’m a much better listener

Feeling really listened to, especially when it’s about something that has been playing on your mind, is such a glorious feeling of relief. But we rarely experience that when it’s about something money-related, and often that’s exactly what we’re stressed about.

Redundancy, getting kicked out of a flat, going through a break-up or just feeling low because of Instagram comparison are all things that will crop up within a friendship group. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if your friend felt they could talk to you, and I mean really talk to you, about what they are going through? I now know to not jump in with a judgment or a flippant ‘it’ll be fine’ comment. Instead I listen and let them share because I know talking about money can be hard because we haven’t done it much in the past.

I sleep better

For all the work we’re doing for our health, there is one fact that the wellness industry currently overlooks: 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 both sexes. By talking about money I started to feel a greater control over it. I no longer feel that 3am anxiety about it that I used to. Money doesn’t stalk my brain like it used to. I might have spent months talking about it, but ironically I no longer really think about it. I don’t spend mindlessly, I don’t sweat in a pay review, and it doesn’t keep me up all night. And that’s all because I started talking about it.

Alex’s book, Open Up: The Power About Talking About Money, is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

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