Why You Should Talk About Money With Your Friends
Money: the final frontier. Sometimes it feels like we can talk about everything and anything with our friends, from dating to careers to fitness – but we still can’t talk about money. Why not? And why should we try to change that?
Being real about money with each other lets you know how things really stand, and helps you get your priorities straight. Should you work an insanely stressful and/or boring job that pays well enough for you to go on dream holidays twice a year? Should you work a crappy retail job that doesn’t pay well enough for you to go anywhere that you can’t reach in a car, but leaves you heaps of time to work on your own stuff? The truth is it’s your decision to make, and making good decisions is all about being informed.
Talking about money with people you trust is super helpful when you are trying to set up a side hustle, because it gives you real indicators of what’s going on. This is especially true of creative industries. Everyone talks about how long Matthew Weiner ground away at screenwriting before coming up with Mad Men but how many people know his wife paid all the bills in the years before he hit the big time? In a piece written for Fast Company Weiner himself talks about how he struggled to even get an agent, “So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us.”
Sometimes I think about this and wonder about what that looked like from the outside, about how his friends felt coming home from their day jobs and then writing while they were exhausted because it was the only time they had. Maybe friends who didn’t know him as well didn’t actually know that he didn’t have a day job, and puzzled over how on earth he did it? This is the crux of why you should talk about money with your friends: if you don’t see the money, then you can’t see the whole picture.
Money Rich, Time Poor?
I used to work in a small independent bookshop two days a week. I’d work for two full days and then have the next five days off. I liked to call it The Reverse Weekend.
Every couple of months or so somebody would find out about The Reverse Weekend and they would ask me, perplexed, “What do you DO all day?” I would answer glibly “Whatever the hell I want!” and regale them with stories of going to the beach in the middle of the afternoon and napping whenever I felt like it. This is true: I did go to the beach a lot, read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies. I even had an annual pass to the zoo around the corner from my house so I could go whenever I thought “Hey, I wonder what the otters are doing right now.” I got enough sleep, exercised regularly, made good food, and just generally had a whale of a time. I behaved like a retiree who had skipped the pesky working-for-fifty-years part.
The flip side of this lifestyle is I couldn’t go with my friends to Hawaii on a big group holiday they planned. I mean, I could technically, but it would have involved making some awkward decisions about what I could and couldn’t afford when I got home. As it turned out the bookshop I worked in closed down a few weeks before the trip, and I was glad I hadn’t sunk a few thousand dollars into a holiday. The hit to my finances would have stressed me right out and there are only so many times you can share articles about what you shouldn’t say to friends who are struggling with money on Facebook.
Cents and Sensibility
The thing about living the junior retiree Reverse Weekend life is it requires controlling your finances with an iron fist. You need to have a death grip on every dollar. Buying potatoes? That kind over there is fifty cents per kilo cheaper than this kind of potato. I won’t pay for toilet paper that costs more than 26 cents per hundred sheets. Do you even know how much your toilet paper costs per hundred sheets?
I had enough money to live on two days a week of work because I made it be enough. I learned how from my folks. My mum used to fill the spare room with boxes of toilet paper and soap and cereal whenever they were on special because we’d use it all eventually, so why not pay as little as possible for it over the long run? When my dad’s washing machine broke and wouldn’t top itself up with water anymore, he connected a hose to the laundry sink and stuck the other end in the tub. He filled his washing machine with a hose for years! My parents did this kind of thing without ever suggesting that it was out of the ordinary, so I thought that was how everyone did it.
This was the trade- off. I had plenty of time to do whatever I wanted, but not the money to do whatever I wanted. The usual response to my stories of gleefully living my life like it was one big summer holiday was wistfulness, which I guess was the goal of my describing it to people that way. Unless you asked me directly, it would have been easy to get a false picture of what it means to live on the knife edge of personal finance.
It’s More Important than Shampoo
If you see a friend in a life situation that you think might be quite nice for yourself, talk to them about it. Ask them how they make it work. If you wouldn’t think twice about asking how they get their hair to look so smooth or how they got such ripped calves, then you should ask about money. It’s a bit more awkward, but it’s also a heck of a lot more important.
The reason it can get awkward is big differences in income, but this is also the most valuable bit. The more different your financial situations are to each other the more variety you have in opportunities for new knowledge. Think of it this way: if you all ate at the same restaurant then you wouldn’t know if the restaurant down the road is any good, because nobody you know has been there and can tell you what it’s like. I followed in the footsteps of several friends who signed up with temp agencies after finishing uni. I would never have thought of doing this off my own bat (getting plonked in an office where you don’t know anyone and don’t know where anything is sounds like a literal nightmare) but I discovered that sometimes having a boring stable job is the best thing that you can do for your creativity. Just because you want to be an artist doesn’t mean you have to be starving!
Of course, there’s a financial sweet spot somewhere for everyone and that spot will be at a different place for each person. Sometimes it’ll be in different places at different times as priorities change over the course of your life. Whether you want to be like the guy who gave up his Mercedes to live in a tropical island paradise or you want to buy a Mercedes (both are valid!) you might be surprised at how satisfying it can be to talk it out about financial goals with your friends, just like talking about all your other goals.
Yvonne Buresch is a Perth-based freelance writer whose favourite hobbies include going out for breakfast and lying perfectly still after having eaten too much breakfast. You can find her on Twitter @cakey_face