Money, Now + Beyond

We have to talk about money, even when it’s uncomfortable

At 27, I make a pretty modest salary, in a country where my tax rate is about 40% but you wouldn't know it from what I buy or how I live.

Money terrifies me. If my partner who I am set to marry this year, knew what I spent, his heart would stop. I cannot remember the last time I made a good financial decision, they all feel so rushed and so arbitrary. I postpone the guilt until it builds up and the gravity of my irresponsibility feels like it’s drowning me. I change the subject. I pretend it’s not happening. I spend 25 euros on lunch for one and I don’t cry about it in public because it’s only money. Money isn’t that big a deal…right?

Even if I did want to talk about it, how could I? Nobody talks about how they are really doing, and how they are doing it. Among women, it is even worse. I assume that my friends don’t have to deal with impulse spending, they don’t cry about their shopping or eating out habits. I know my partner doesn’t, so as far as I can tell it’s only me. It feels like I see only two kinds of millennial women in the media: the frugal ones, the coupon clippers, and mortgage-havers and the hapless shopaholics with no savings account, an Instagram of trendy meals and Marni shoes. What any of these people are making, I will never know. What they struggle with, or not, I will never know either. I am a financial island and I am sinking.

I do not have much money, at 27 I make a pretty modest salary in a country where my tax rate is about 40% but you wouldn’t know it from what I buy or how I live.  I never thought I would struggle with money. While my childhood didn’t really allow me to have a job before college, I lived in countries with economies that made even the best experiences, food and things dirt cheap. I felt removed from consumerism growing up without American TV ads, we shopped for clothes once a year when we visited the US. Today, though I am just as swept up in consumerism as any other American.

I know the cost of it, I have seen the documentaries. I have done my homework and I have tried and failed over and over again to curb myself. I have tried to change the way I consume with the help of every website about minimalism, conscious shopping and frugal, low impact living I could find. Everything I have tried has backfired on me. I tried to throw out my poorly made, ill-fitting clothes and replaced them with well-made, expensive classics. I justified the cost to myself, saying this was the end of my shopping habit. Of course, when the cruel voice of my rock bottom self-image re-emerged I tried to soothe myself by scrolling through I was aware that it was a crutch but recognition was not enough to stop me.

I tried to stop shopping for a month, and I was largely successful so I rewarded myself at the end, found myself paying hundreds and hundreds of euros and justifying it all to myself. I used to save so robustly, and I cannot seem to get back to it. My partner comforts me, he tells me it’s OK to slip up when I am mentally sick and I can’t beat myself up. But, I feel like I am being tossed around like a flip-flop on the shoreline- every time I feel safe, I am swept back up and my bank account takes a hit.

Some days all I want is for someone to yank my bank card from me. Tell me that my self-worth bottoming out is not a good reason to buy a shirt that maybe, maybe I won’t feel like a whale in. Tell me not to buy the 20 euro bottle of wine because I’m feeling unfulfilled at work and I’m just dying to get lost in a bottle I have never tried before.

I see my habits, clear as day but I don’t know how to interrupt them. If you are trying to quit smoking, you would tell your friends to stop you if you intend to smoke. That’s an easy thing to ask for, but in contrast, financial details feel so taboo. How can anyone I know help me when we can’t have frank conversations about what our financials lives actually look like? I want to know how much people make and how, how they save, how much their parents help them, and what kinds of decisions they have made that have put them in their financial circumstance. 

Of course, I don’t know if I would do that. I don’t want anyone to know how much I make, spend and how much help I have received from my family. I don’t want to be judged for my short-sightedness and my inability to change.  For now, I have to keep trying in isolation to change my habits but right now, I  feel like I’m doomed to fail.