In case you’re reading this outside the UK, let me explain: we don’t like to talk about money here. Even with COVID-19 putting many of us under heavy financial pressure, it’s an unspoken rule that talking about money is tacky.
Here are three times I wish I’d had the courage to break that rule.
1. In my first ‘proper’ job
I often remind myself, “You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time”. While in most situations this is a good philosophy, in the case of pensions, it isn’t strictly true.
When I got my first permanent job after studying, travelling and temping, I was happy just to have a business card with my name on it.
In my 20s, I had a vague notion of what a pension was. And I’m sure whenever I was told about them, my eyes would have glazed over with general admin apathy. I would’ve smiled and nodded and filed it under ‘things to do when I’m older’, along with paying off my student loan.
What I never understood is that with pensions, what you save earlier on — even though it might be only a little — multiplies through compound interest over a longer time. So, in this case, time literally is money. The earlier you start, the better.
Who I talk to now
I love the clean, simple presentation of brands like PensionBee, Hargreaves Lansdowne and Vanguard. It makes it simple (and dare I say enjoyable?!) to check in on my pension alongside the rest of my budget each month. With time, I’ve become confident enough to ask questions about my pension to ensure I’m making the most of it. Three of my four grandparents totted up 90+ years, so Future Me is going to be very thankful for this. While I do my budget, I envisage a kick-ass old lady, which makes me chuckle.
If you’ve paid attention to a pension talk over your working life so far, great! Even if you haven’t, you may have pensions you don’t even know about. Since 2012 through auto-enrolment, if you are over 22 and earn over £10k per year, you’re more than likely paying into a workplace pension. You can use the pension tracing service to find your money.
Having said all this, as a content creator starting a career in a recession economy, most of my jobs haven’t been ‘proper’. When I was working contracts or starting a business, no-one told me how I could manage my money using tools like a self-invested personal pension. I salute Vestpod, who run investing classes for women, and Firn Accountants for introducing me to this.
2. With my parents
I come from quite a practical family, but when my mum died suddenly, it became clear how little I knew about this side of money. While the loss of a loved one in itself is devastating, there is also a practical element that is rarely talked about — financially, what happens when they die? What about their bills, debts, savings, insurance and pensions? And how much is a funeral?
When you’re grieving and adjusting to a life without someone, managing money is the last thing on your mind — you want to feel that it’s taken care of.
In a pandemic, this conversation is more important than ever.
Who I talk to now
While I haven’t fully figured this one out, the experience has definitely made me approach money differently. Now, I read job contracts with an eye to things like life assurance and death in service benefits. I’ve set up a beneficiary for my pension (now that I have one), so that I know who will get it when I die, and I’ve worked to clear down debts so that those close to me won’t have to worry about it.
3. With mental health professionals
More and more we’re learning the words to wrap around our everyday experiences of mental health, whether good or bad. But I don’t ever remember talking about money and mental health together. No-one told me how my health and mood might affect my spending or income, and vice versa.
Some time ago, someone close to me suffered from depression. While I knew that depression could impact areas of life like relationships and work, I didn’t realise how much it could affect your ability to manage money, until I stumbled on a black bag of unopened envelopes. The contents included unpaid parking tickets, overdue bills and debt collection notices requesting immediate payment. I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of letters for hours, opening and organising them, making calls and doing my best to mitigate the mounting bills. I had no idea that there was someone I could call to help us with this.
Who I talk to now
It’s great to see the two strands of money and mental health becoming more entwined. The NHS has social prescribing to help with the root problems that impact your health, like the stress symptoms caused by money worries. So your GP might signpost you to free money guidance.
There are also banks whom you can talk to you about your mental health. If you have a gambling addiction, or a condition with highs and lows that affect your spending, some banks will put checks and balances in place to support you.
And I now know that there are dedicated debt advisers always ready to help you open your black bag — for free!
Honourable mention: With lovers
The saying goes that opposites attract and, unsurprisingly, money opposites are no different. Spenders may look generous, glamorous and free-spirited to savers. And savers look, well, I don’t know how we look. I like to think secure and sensible, a safe pair of hands… although I suspect that in some circles we may be considered ‘boring’.
Either way, one money conversation I’m super glad I did have was with my husband. We tried to be clear and open from the start, and figured out a money system early on that has saved us a lot of botheration and argumentation since. Maybe consider couples therapy or using this guide on opening up with your partner, so you can both make the most of your financial strengths.
Yeah, having all these conversations would probably have made me feel a bit naive and awkward at the time, but I’d definitely be richer for it now. Ask the stupid question. Have the talk. Reach out for help if you need it. (And above all, listen when people explain compound interest!) Picture your kick-ass future self and do it for them.
Have the talk
Talk Money Week is an awareness week run each November to help people build financial wellbeing by opening up about money. It’s co-ordinated by the Money and Pensions Service, a provider of free, impartial money guidance. Get your organisation involved or get support to start a conversation.