In my early 20s, I had just left university and was trying to earn a living as a gigging musician and music writer. I was living in expensive rented accommodation and my bills were mounting. My student loan repayments hadn’t kicked in, but I started worrying about when I’d have to start paying for my expensive education. I stayed clear of credit cards that I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage – thank goodness - but it was still proving hard to feel confident and hopeful about my finances.
Clueless about money
What didn’t help was my all-round cluelessness about money. Whether it was PAYE or pensions, I was feeling increasingly insecure about a subject that was Adulting 101, but nonetheless felt completely alien to me. I started wondering: would I ever become financially independent? Would I ever be able to stand on my own two feet?
I became more and more worried about money, particularly in social settings when I feared getting asked detailed questions about how I made my living. My friends couldn’t stop talking or thinking about it either: we were all mired in anxiety about our financial futures. This was all happening after the 2008 financial crash, when the UK went through a recession and the jobs market started to feel like a particularly cut-throat version of The Apprentice. It was hard to see how things would get better.
The final straw
Then in 2011, I picked up a job working as a pianist in a bar in Glasgow and I received my payment in cash. I put the money in a piggybank and kept it in my parents’ house in Edinburgh – I’d moved back there to save money. I thought I was being responsible and grown-up.
On that fateful evening, my parents and I arrived home after they came to watch me in one of my gigs, only to discover the house had been burgled. Guess what was missing? Mr Piggybank with six months’ worth of wages. I was gutted.
It was only when a police officer came to take a statement from me, and I sheepishly informed him that I kept my money as a 23-year-old woman in a piggybank only fit for an eight-year-old, that I decided things had to change. A few months later, I started the Young Money Blog Link opens in a new window.
How I turned things around
Fast forward to today and I’m BBC Morning Live’s resident financial expert, I’ve written two books, and I’m widely considered the country’s go-to voice on young personal finance. That’s quite the turnaround. But Rome (or rather, my financial confidence) wasn’t built in a day.
It took years of hard work and commitment, with a fair few sacrifices and setbacks along the way.
But I’m a firm believer that anyone can improve their approach to money. This isn’t about getting rich – it’s about making the absolute most of what you have, however much (or little) it may be.
What I’ve learned along the way
- You don’t need to go on a special course to learn about money (though a few years ago, I did just that in preparation for my first book, Spare Change, courtesy of the Open University). You can learn so much these days just from reading newspapers, magazines, and websites – like this one. That’s how I researched my blogs for Young Money: I simply started finding out what inflation and interest rates were by reading about them in the news.
- Understanding money is a lifelong process. Products, trends, and strategies never stay the same, and I’m still learning about the best way to manage my money. You’ve just got to be prepared to keep an open mind and do your homework.
- There’s never a good time to prioritise your finances, because a million other more exciting or straightforward things are liable to get in the way. So, start today, but start small. Set goals that are achievable and try to change one habit at a time, whether it’s spending too much on food or saving £50 a month.
- Talk about money. Money can become a no-go subject in our lives, but that simply creates misunderstandings, inaction and outright conflict. The people around you need to understand your financial goals and limitations, and vice versa. The more you talk about money, the easier it will become and the quicker you'll be able to deal with problems and dilemmas as they arise.
- Finally, the author Jonathan Swift once said: “Keep money in your head, not your heart.” Money is not the be-all and end-all and having money doesn’t make you a better person. It’s just a tool that we can use to achieve security and peace of mind. So, learn to use it wisely, and you’ll be so grateful.
There’s so much more I could share from my journey, but I think these five lessons are the most important if you’re starting from a place of financial anxiety. That just leaves me to wish you good luck - I’m rooting for you!
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