Opinion

There's no shame in being skint. Talking about money worries will free you

Opening up about money has helped me, and I think it will help you too

Illustration: Big Issue

When I woke up this morning, I got a text from the bank telling me that I was overdrawn. Then I got a notification alerting me to a couple of payments due to leave my account later that day. Next, I received an email from the credit rating agency I foolishly subscribed to, telling me that my rating has just dropped from ‘good’ to ‘fair’ for reasons they are unable (or unwilling) to explain. All this money talk before I’d finished my first cup of tea. 

A therapist once warned me: “It’s all too easy to bury your head in the sand about your financial problems.” I wish that was the case. I wouldn’t mind five minutes of respite. 

Like most of us, my financial status is subject to constant fluctuations – many of them disheartening – and my phone keeps me informed of them throughout the day. Every single day of the year. Yes, it is convenient. Yes, it can be helpful. But, my god, it’s stressful.  

Throughout my life, through good times and bad, money has been a constant source of anxiety. Being skint is miserable, of course. But even when I’ve had plenty in the bank, I’ve never been able to shake the low hum of stress that accompanies any thoughts of finance.

If I haven’t got much, I worry incessantly about where the next pay cheque will come from. If I’ve got a few quid in my pocket, I stress about how to organise it, spend it and manage it. I worry about losing it through naivety, irresponsibility or frivolity. I am just not comfortable around money.  

And I am not alone. According to recent ‘Money Talks’ research by MoneySupermarket and suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), one in two people in the UK report the cost of living crisis is making them feel anxious. The study also found that 52% of the UK population are more worried about money than 12 months ago. And one in four say they feel lonely or isolated because they cannot afford to socialise as much as they used to.  

I appreciate that I am luckier than many: I own my home and I can put food on the table. But money worries aren’t always rational. We live in a society that is obsessed with money and links it closely to status and self worth. We all know deep down that our bank balance is not an accurate reflection of our value as human beings, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that.

Our financial situation can shape our sense of personal success and failure. It can conjure feelings of shame and inadequacy. It can sometimes feel impossible to shake these feelings, however irrational you know them to be. 

The truth is, everyone worries about money to one degree or another. According to the Money Talks report, 34% of people don’t talk about their finances because they don’t want to feel judged, 33% feel a sense of embarrassment and 30% don’t share money worries as they don’t want to be an emotional burden to friends or family. 

When I was a kid, my mum was always skint and would talk about it constantly. I was raised in an environment where cash was always tight and it was a permanent source of worry. But at least my mum was happy to admit her problems and discuss them with her mates, many of whom were in a similar boat. 

Middle-class life is different: people can be guarded about their money worries. They want to appear relaxed, comfy and perhaps even a little smug. It’s like a conspiracy of silence, wherein nobody admits that they’re skint and so all of us end up thinking that we’re the only ones. 

These days, I try to behave more like my mum did when I was a kid: I tell my wife when I am concerned about the bank balance. We discuss it openly and work out a plan together. If a mate wants to eat out at
a fancy place I can’t afford, I will tell them honestly and without shame. Not giving a stuff about being perceived as rich is fantastically liberating. 

And it’s not just myself I have freed by being honest about money. It’s those around me too. Maybe by showing them that I struggle, they will feel slightly less isolated in their own problems. 

As with all matters relating to mental health, we can do a real service to each other just by opening up.  

Read more from Sam Delaney here.

Sort your head out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Little, Brown £10.99)You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy!

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