I’ve been obsessed with personal finance for as long as I can remember. I was aware from a young age that my family wasn’t rich, already sensing a divide between those who had a lot of money and those who did not. But my family never talked about money in specifics—you just didn’t do that. I knew I was taken care of, but never fully grasped how or to what end.
After a series of financial missteps and hiccups in my late teens and early twenties, I became frustrated not only that I wasn’t armed with the tools to fully understand my finances, but also that I didn’t have a clear picture of what everyone else was dealing with. I get that it’s not really any of my business, but if I was struggling to get out of credit card debt, pay off student loans and plan for my future—all while working part-time at a coffee shop when I wasn’t at my unpaid internship (it was a different time)—then surely someone was experiencing the same thing, right?
Money still seems to be the last taboo topic. We’re more open about our political leanings than ever, if only as a form of self-care to weed out those who are fundamentally against our most important values, and religion seems to be less significant. But we’re still so close-lipped about money. I’ve long-since pored over online series like Refinery29’s Money Diaries (especially now that there are Canadian ones) and articles like this one because they truly make me feel less alone. Less in competition. Less like a financial failure in having to figure things out on my own.
In the personal finance book Worry-Free Money, author Shannon Lee Simmons discusses at length the weight social media can have on our own spending but encourages readers to understand that we don’t have the full picture of how other people afford their (seemingly) lavish lifestyles, explaining that they could even be in deep debt and we’d never know.
While comparison is a fruitless game that only breeds resentment (and yet it’s something I have to actively check myself about), to me, it’s the tight lips and refusal to be transparent that just makes it worse. If you trust your inner circle enough to talk about family, sex, trauma, politics and even your office goss, shouldn’t you trust them enough to discuss money, too, if only to feel less alone in it all?
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to be more open, if only to start a conversation, get advice and maybe even help some others along the way. When I was starting out in my industry, I got paid nothing as an intern and hustled to secure regular freelance gigs that paid $10 per article—yes, you read that right. When I finally landed my first full-time job, I was making $34,000 a year, an amount that seemed astronomical to me at the time, though I had absolutely no clue if that amount was industry standard or befitting of my experience. When it came time to broach the topic of a raise, it was insignificant in the grand scheme of my biweekly paycheques—I didn’t even know how to negotiate.
It wasn’t until I bought my first condo with my now-husband that a friend (who I’ve since become the most open with) asked how I was able to do it. There were a ton of factors that made it possible for us to buy a place in 2014—namely living at home longer than I cared to and hardcore saving everything outside of the unavoidable expenses (though I will also site my soul-sucking three-hour daily commute as the real motivation)—but I decided that instead of a flippant response, I gave her a real breakdown of how much we’d saved as a down payment, how much we bought our place for, how much I was saving by giving up my car and all of the freelance work I was doing outside of my day job to pay for luxuries like cable and afternoon coffee runs so I could stay awake long enough to do said freelance work.
It was this same friend that encouraged me to ask for more—and reminded me that I was worth more—when it came to negotiating salaries for new jobs and raises along the way. It was this same friend that I helped advise on her own home renos and the costs associated (having recently gone through a kitchen reno myself that we called A LOT of favours in for to keep costs down). I have another industry colleague-turned close friend that we discuss, in no uncertain terms, what we charge for certain freelance gigs, even bouncing new rates and projects off one another to make sure we’re getting what we deserve (spoiler: we’re really not, but such is the reality of our industry. I’ve made my peace with it).
I ran a poll on my Instagram about whether people feel comfortable enough to discuss money with their inner circle. And while 68 per cent of people who responded said yes, the other 32 per cent had some interesting points. While some said they were just brought up not to discuss money, others claimed they kept their financial cards close because they were embarrassed, either that they didn’t think they made enough, or had too much debt compared to their peers and therefore felt they were “behind” in life. Alternatively, it was that they made too much or didn’t have any debt and had imposter syndrome as a result. It’s easy to brush off the latter thinking that they might be bragging and how dare they not struggle like the rest of us? But really our society has been set up to make us ashamed of both our falters (not failures) and our successes.
In another piece I recently wrote for Edit Seven, I got honest about the maternity leave pay you receive—it’s not a ton. What surprised me the most when I started preparing for mat leave is that no one told me. No one fully prepared me for the financial hit I would feel being off work for a year. I know our social media-driven instinct is to make it seem like we’re all flourishing all the time, but isn’t it more of a relief when you know you’re not the only one who isn’t?
Like anything, you should only share if you’re comfortable and with those you trust the most, but, like anything, you could gain a new perspective or help someone gain the confidence to ask to get paid what they deserve and even find that you’re not really alone or “behind” in all this, despite what social media might suggest.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ashley Kowalewski-Pizzi)