It’s a panic like no other. At first I feel sick, and then it’s as if a strange rash crawls over my skin. I can’t sit still, I can’t sit down. I’m anxious and always about seven seconds away from bursting into heavy, snot-filled tears.
That is the reaction I have when I’m in the third week of the month and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the fourth because I’ve run out of money. Or when I remember there are two birthdays this month, a hen do and and a gas bill that needs paying. We are often warned about budgeting at Christmas but I think summer is deceptively expensive. Weddings, wedding gifts, hen dos, more money spent on waxing and grooming in fear of “offending” people on the beach. There are holidays, which are wonderful, of course, but even the ones that don’t include flights add up. And suddenly the pack of cards that is the precise amount of money to get you through the month comes tumbling down with the weight.
It seems that even when you’ve had the mental fortitude to win Olympic medals, money worries are another battle altogether
Recently, British Olympic silver medalist, Gail Emms, wrote a heartbreakingly honest blog post about how she’s had trouble finding work in her post Olympian life and she’s struggling: “I cry a lot and do what I can to make the payment, sell stuff on eBay and hope there is enough work next month.” It seems that even when you’ve had the mental fortitude to win Olympic medals, money worries are another battle altogether.
And I’ve always felt like this. Maybe that’s why I had my first job at 14; when I was a student one summer I had three jobs. I worked while doing a masters. I never took a gap year. Yet, for someone who thinks about money so much – not least from a feminist point of view (my vintage copies of Ms. Magazine feature savings schemes for women to encourage economic independence!), I’m hopeless with the stuff – hence all the working plus all the worrying.
And so I’ve tried different things over the years to be more in control of my spending and stop it leaking through my fingers like water. I’ve tried taking out cash and not using my card; I’ve tried money diaries; and more recently, money apps. Every day my current app asks me, “No spending today?” because once again, I’ve failed to fill in what I’ve spent. I receive a text message at 8am every damn day from HSBC informing me of my balance but I don’t look at it. I just have 34 unread messages until I summon the courage or accidentally open it.
Evidently none of this works. But this is what does work: little and often. Not a complete overhaul but tiny changes that prohibit me from lying awake in the dark thinking what I could sell or crying to my mum – something I should have stopped doing decades ago.
1. Set yourself teeny-tiny goals
I put £50 a month away. This is not going to get me the one-way ticket to LA that I’m dreaming of, clearly. But it is enough to mean that I’ll never be in the position of not being able to pay rent or not eat for the following seven days until payday again. It stops the retching fear that climbs up your stomach when your card is declined or you allow yourself to look at the string of HSBC texts that tells you, yet again, you have no money. You have some money.
2. Don’t tell yourself bullshit
Things I’m not giving up: Netlfix; wine; the occasional Carluccio’s; second-hand books off Amazon, Ubers after midnight.
Things I can totally give up: lunchtime “visits” to Topshop; buying rounds (this may sound tight but it is a massive money-saver); the gym membership I never use; being a lazy-ass and not booking train tickets in advance.
3. Learn from your elders who know a thing or two about sacrifice
My mum knows a thing or two about finding money from thin air. Bringing up two small children on her own without any maintenance support, that woman *knows* about money worries. And her genius ways to support her family make me well up with pride and heartbreak in equal amounts. For example, she only recently told me that in order to pay for my £3,000 university fees, she figured out she could make the money by saving on public transport. For a whole year, twice a day, whatever the weather, she walked from Waterloo to Westminster.
4. Want things less
Yes, deleting the instinct for shiny new things that our capitalist society has injected into our bones is no small thing. And hell, I want more holidays, not less! But think about what you really, actually want. Our lives are flooded with shit we simply do not need. We know how the game works and yet still we play it. When I think what I really want – more time drinking wine in Shutters on Santa Monica beach, please – I realise that I don’t really need another tea dress. I keep a list of the ultimate wants (1.Holiday funds 2. Fall-back funds 3. An annual pair of new Nikes) and that keeps me focused.
5. Talk about it
Literally, that might sound like a cliché or just a really lazy way to finish this article but it’s neither. It’s magic. The only thing that stops me throwing up is talking . I came home from work last month and acted shifty, after realising that a wedding and a holiday had hung me out to dry. I was behaving as if I’d just stolen the crown jewels. My boyfriend gave me a quizzical look. I started crying. We sat down and we talked. And I wasn’t sick and the anxiety subsided. Because money worries – rightly or wrongly – are shameful. And there best way of dealing with shame is to talk it away. Even these 800 words make me feel a tiny bit more in control.