When support does more harm than good

When Support Does More Harm Than Good

Liz Falconer – Account Planner at Stnce – talks about her on-and-off relationship with saving money.

Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is the second in a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance.

When I was very young, my parents declared bankruptcy, so growing up, we weren’t very well-off. My siblings and I always had hand-me-downs, and I never thought much of it. But there was a moment when I learned that finance was a taboo term. When I was about 12 years old, out of curiosity, I walked over to my mother while she was paying the bills and she immediately covered up all the papers and said, “This is none of your business.” After that, I started to think I shouldn’t ask questions. On top of that, every time I came through the door with a shopping bag, we would end up fighting. She was never happy about what I was doing with my money, so, it became this evil thing that I never wanted to discuss. I wanted to stay away from it.

When I was 18, I wanted to take a year off to save and figure out my options. I wasn’t sure of the career I had chosen and I couldn’t comprehend how I would pay back such a large tuition fee. At the time, I told myself I wasn’t ready for university but looking back, I think it was never for me. Overall, it just didn’t seem like a wise investment. So, even though my parents didn’t support my decision, I bought a car, got a job, and started to become financially independent. What I didn’t know was, I needed a plan. I flew by the seat of my pants and thought I was doing well but in reality, I wasn’t. I was spending my paycheck, still living at home, not paying rent, and saving almost nothing. Part of it was getting that large lump sum every month. I would immediately spend all of it because seeing that dollar amount and getting tangible things in return just felt so damn good. Especially because, growing up, there was never an explanation for why we couldn’t afford things nor did my parents ever sit me down to talk about budgeting. During the holidays, they would tell me I could only choose one item but I never understood why. I just went along with it and wished that one day I could have the things everyone else had.

We’re told all the time that we’re worth it, that we deserve it, that we should treat ourselves. It’s literally a support system for spending money on things we don’t need.

After I moved out, I fell into a habit of pushing financial responsibilities. It was just easier to avoid confronting the issue and keep doing what I felt good about. Which led to putting self-worth into the stuff I bought. I would think, ‘If I buy this Michael Kors bag, I’m going to feel really special because it’s designer and only someone who is really special should have that.’ Most of what I would spend money on were clothes, accessories, and shoes, so outwardly, I felt great about myself. And I would also get a positive response from people around me. They would say, ‘I absolutely love that look on you.’ And I would go back to the store. We’re told all the time that we’re worth it, that we deserve it, that we should treat ourselves. It’s literally a support system for spending money on things we don’t need. And it’s not just advertising or the media. We do it to each other. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been told to splash out because I’ve had a long week. It’s almost instinctual for my friends to say, ‘But look how much you’re saving,’ or ‘Wait until he sees you in that,’ or ‘You work so hard,’ or – and this is the best one – ‘It’s twenty dollars. It’s basically free.’

There are times when I think to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I know I can’t work forever and I know it’s not very probable that my cat is going to become Instagram-famous. I’m not saving for retirement and I know that I should be but I still don’t push myself to do it. My friends are buying homes, starting families, and making decisions that require a substantial amount of savings. And in those moments, I feel bad that they’re doing better than me financially. So, I’ll decide to make drastic life changes. I’ll make an effort to pack my lunch every day, get coffee in the office, say no to going out for drinks after work – but it’s just not realistic. I’ve learned that substitution works a lot better than subtraction. Now, I go for McDonald’s coffee instead of Starbucks and buy lunch once or twice a week rather than every single day.

I want to be that person who has enough savings to help their friends out if they need it; who can loan them a hundred dollars without breaking the bank. Instead of having to say, well, I can’t help you because I’m no better. I think it would help if I were a lot more open with my partner about finances – to start asking a few questions here and there. It’s just such a habit to hide it. I don’t think he knows the full picture of what I spend versus what I save. Because I’ve been burned so much in my past talking about finances, there’s this fear that I’m doing it wrong. But I know I can’t afford to continue to be in this “safe zone” where I don’t take a big leap and commit to change, even if it’s small. I need to remind myself that when it comes to spending, it should make me feel good in the long-term.

As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce. Illustration by Yana Vorontsov. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable. [As requested, interviewee name has been changed.]