Hey, please could you send me that money for the cinema?” I sheepishly asked my friend whose ticket I’d bought the previous week. She replied immediately with a screenshot, informing me that she had sent the money the day I’d bought the ticket. I was embarrassed. “Sorry, I should have checked my account before asking. Thank you so much,” I quickly replied without further explanation. Mostly because I’d had the exact same conversation with another friend just a week earlier, having chased her for money she’d already sent me.
Yes, this is a pattern of behaviour. And it’s not a good one. You see, I do not like to look at my bank account. In fact, it’s my least favourite thing to do, alongside going to the dentist. So I seldom do it. Trust me, this is not because I have nothing to worry about. On the contrary, after an expensive summer and a surprisingly large tax bill to sort out by January, I have quite a lot to be worried about. And yet, I can’t bring myself to do much about it, except to try to spend as little as possible in an effort to delay the inevitable moment when my card is declined.
This has become a bit of a problem, to say the least, particularly since going freelance last year. Suddenly, I was drowning in a sea of financial jargon, gasping for air/someone to help me understand my tax bill. As friends have launched their own businesses, or become experts at sorting their finances through forward-thinking banks, such as Monzo, I am lagging woefully behind, still grappling with my old-school online banking app. The problem has only got worse. Hence I have now come up with a label for my behaviour, to motivate myself to change: Hello, my name is Olivia, and I’m “financially avoidant”.
In short, this means that through a combination of ignorance and fear, I avoid all things to do with money as much as possible. I don’t want to talk about money. I don’t want to ask anyone about money. And I don’t want to sort anything out regarding money. I just want to make sure I have some. In practice, this has meant delaying sending money to friends for fear of looking at my bank balance, sticking with the aforementioned old-fashioned banking system so that I can’t analyse my spending, and outsourcing the logistics of household bills to the people I live with, promising to make up for it in other ways (“I’ll clean the kitchen every week!”). And by outsourcing, yes, I do mean getting them to pay – even writing this, I find myself being financially avoidant. I realise how ignorant this sounds. But I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Whenever I raise the issue of money among friends, the first response is almost immediately to avert eye contact or change the subject. It is a topic that makes everyone squirm unless you have oodles of the stuff, which is rare among people I know, who mostly work in the arts. The only ones with any real money get it from their family. And they’re probably even more financially illiterate than me.
Of course, a lack of financial confidence affects both men and women. But it has a more significant impact on women, for obvious reasons – ever heard of the gender pay gap? Yes, we’re still earning less than men for doing the same jobs. It’s the reason why we’re statistically less likely to ask for pay rises and invest our money in stocks and shares. And you can forget about mortgages, credit ratings, and ISAs (I’m still not entirely sure what these even are). How are we meant to grapple with the most complex aspects of financial literacy and “advance our earnings” or “future-proof” our finances when we can barely understand tax?
Girls grow into women that have had to fight for a seat at the table, for equal pay, for better financial education – and as a result, the level of confidence in managing finances has taken longer to develop
Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen, financial education expert
None of this is taught in schools. At least, it wasn’t when I was there. Had I learnt about taxes, pensions, or student loans before I graduated, I’d be in a much better position now to handle my finances. The trouble is that money wasn’t something that was talked about in or out of the classroom. But my attitude towards it might have been ingrained even earlier than that.
When I was growing up, it was only ever my friends’ fathers who were the breadwinners. Going round to someone’s house as a kid usually meant being cooked for by their mother while we almost never met anyone’s father: in most households, they remained an invisible, money-making enigma. This social conditioning gave boys a financial framework for adulthood: you will be providers. What, then, was the framework for girls? It probably doesn’t help that, on average, girls receive 20 per cent less pocket money than boys, according to a recent study by Starling Bank.
All this might sound like small fry, insignificant stuff, but it combines to build a narrative around money that puts women at a severe disadvantage from the get-go. “The reality is that girls grow into women that have had to fight for a seat at the table, for equal pay, for better financial education – and as a result, the level of confidence in managing finances has taken longer to develop,” says Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen, co-founder of Female Invest, a financial education and community platform.
All this is also exacerbated by Britain’s stiff-upper-lip approach to finance. In certain circles, there is often a sense of shame around talking about money. It’s perceived as vulgar, for example, to talk about how much you earn between friends; most companies, meanwhile, forbid it among colleagues. Friends have been reprimanded for discussing salaries with colleagues on monitored work channels, for example. But if we don’t do this, how will we know if we’re being paid fairly for our work and given equal opportunities?
Let me make this clear: I don’t want to be financially avoidant. I don’t think anyone does. “For women, it’s about stepping into a new territory and owning their voice in a way that has not historically been possible for them,” explains Hartvigsen. Some of the barriers to doing that are “so deeply ingrained in society”, she believes, “that many are blind to them or even deny their existence”. Put simply, this is still somewhat uncharted territory for a generation that was, in all likelihood, raised in a household with traditional gender roles. You can’t be what you can’t see. And so on.
Thankfully, companies are cottoning onto this, hence the rise of platforms like Female Invest, which are designed to support women like me on their financial journeys, so to speak. There are also some promising statistics that might encourage others to get started. “On average, women make a 0.44 per cent better annual return on investments than men,” Hartvigsen notes. “This may sound small, but when compounded over time this can lead to significant impact. Women are recognising that now is the time to take control, and they are rising to the challenge.”
Currently, it feels like enough of a challenge to have a conversation with my accountant. But maybe over time, as I attempt to familiarise myself with financial jargon and build my own confidence, this will change. I really hope it does – otherwise I’m going to wind up owing a lot of friends a lot of money. Cue significantly fewer friends and, well, a lot less money.