“Would you like to see your balance before withdrawal?” Absolutely bloody not. I used to be that person who’d quickly withdraw another twenty quid from the ATM without thinking how much was actually in my bank account because I was afraid to face facts. Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one.
For the longest time, I shied away from talking about my finances and identified as a person who was reckless with money, often impulse buying things I didn’t particularly need. But in the past five years, I’ve gone from cowering at the sight of my bank balance to checking my finances every day and finally being able to put down a deposit on my first home. By no means was this a straightforward journey though. It took a lot of change and adjusting.
Money shouldn’t be a taboo subject but the way we talk about it doesn’t always help. Think of your relationship with your bank balance like a marriage. Cultivating a healthy, solid approach to money requires time and work. Taking control of our finances can feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be.
We spoke to financial experts and money coaches for their tips and advice, who told us there’s no such thing as being “bad with money” – but there are some easy ways to start feeling a whole lot better about checking your balance.
Say ‘yes’ to an open relationship
Openness is key when it comes to healthy finances. The more honest you are with yourself about your situation and what’s in your accounts can help you shrug the feeling of shame and seek or offer support during tough times, especially during the current pandemic and impending recession.
Alex Stedman, founder of The Frugality, a website about sensible spending, explains to HuffPost UK: “If you’re struggling, being honest with friends, family, or a helpline is the best way forward,” she says. “I am very open in my relationship about outgoings with both work and my personal expenses. Tracking your expenses is so important to understand your money.”
Develop a positive money mindset
Steer away from labelling your money habits as ‘bad’. There’s no such thing as being ‘bad with money’. Don’t short-change yourself in this way. We’re all learning. “There is this expectation that you’re either good or bad, but no one is automatically good with money,” says Ellie Austin-Williams, millennial money coach and founder of This Girl Talks Money.
We need to take the moralising out of the money chat and be aware of the close relationship between spending and mindset, as well as our mental health.
“Following money accounts on social media have really helped me understand the psychology behind my habits and take away a lot of shame associated with it: not earning ‘enough’ (or whatever that means), and being ‘stingy’ or ‘cheap’,” Alex Stedman explains. “We all have different journeys and it’s important to remember everyone spends and approaches money differently.”
Bin your budget for a spending plan
The term budgeting can feel restrictive when you’re already living frugally or you’re trying to tighten your purse strings in order to save. Focusing on the things you can’t have or cutting things out of your life completely is no fun for anyone and can quickly make life feel miserable.
“Make sure that you allocate enough space within your plan or your budget, to be able to do the things that are important to you,” Austin-Williams explains.
“Set up a fun pot that’s used for going out or other enjoyable things and ensure it’s completely separate. Whatever you’ve managed to set aside for savings for the month and anything leftover can go towards the fun pot in treating yourself as – it’s a tough balance sometimes to strike between being financially sensible and keeping up a social aspect in your life.”
Comparing your situation to others rarely helps either. It’s never a competition. Each person’s spending habits are unique and shouldn’t be judged. “There isn’t a one-size budget that fits all,” Nicholas Agwuncha, co-founder of Money Medics, explains. “It’s about realising how you want to spend your time, and the type of goals you want to achieve by a particular time horizon.”
Make some appy savings
“Use banking apps for debit or credit cards because that way you can set up notifications and limits on how much you want and are allowed to spend this month,” Agwuncha says. “Experiment and dial down how much you spend on social media platforms to prevent you from impulse buying.”
With new technology, comes new innovative ways to save. From Plum and Tandem to Starling, there are plenty of money-saving apps out there to help count the pennies for you, so you don’t have to. I’ve switched my current accounts to Monzo and it’s a great way to track your money’s whereabouts.
Stedman signed up to Chip at the beginning of the year. “It has an algorithm that works out how much money you can afford to save,” he says. “Sometimes it’s £13, other times it’s £1! But it’s the only way I’ve managed to save lately.”
Be more credit-conscious
Obviously, there are lots of reasons we build up credit – a card or loan can help with unforeseen circumstances and act as a safety net when we really need it. “It boils down to understanding boundaries and your goals and that should dictate the type of credit card that’s best suited to your needs,” says Agwuncha.
Pay as much attention to the interest and your repayment plan as you do that enticing credit limit, and try not to see it as free money. “It’s really important to set up those direct debit mandates to prevent you from overspending,” Agwuncha advises.
Pause before you pay out
Of all the ways to prevent yourself from overspending, being mood aware is one of the best. We’re often driven by our emotions depending on what’s happening in our lives – some of us used retail therapy in lockdown as a way of coping, for example. If life isn’t moving according to our plan then we can feel powerless amid the chaos and turn to money to make things – or ourselves – feel better.
“When making purchases, allow yourself a bit of space to think about it,” says Austin-Williams. “We do it with more expensive items and bigger purchases, but we can apply that to whatever the cost of the item. This way of thinking helps shift that impulse buying mode into a smarter, conscious spending mode.”