What is being ‘happy’ with money? What a trip away (& Derren Brown) has taught me

Iona Bain

Recently, I’ve taken a a break from Young Money world. The picture above shows me in the wilds of Yorkshire (specifically Haworth), where I definitely had to wrap up warm!

This stop was the conclusion of a rather fabulous tour of the North of England. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see I did a rave thread about my trip. It lost me six followers but I don’t care!

It has been an exceptionally busy 2019 so far, even by Young Money’s frenetic standards. So far, I have:

😵 written two cover features for Financial Times Money (& been on the FT Money podcast 3 times!)

😵 gone viral, been quoted on the front page of the FT, highlighted on the BBC News home page three times and countless news stories elsewhere

😵 judged several comps, including the LIBF Young Financial Journalist of the Year award, the Alt-Fi Awards & the Professional Pensions Rising Star of the Year initiative

😵 recorded Late Night Woman’s Hour & been asked to present my second Radio 4 Moneybox programme (due to be broadcast this Easter)

😵 been on the legendary 11:FS podcast, spoken at the Financial Services Forum, presented at the Alt-Fi London summit & given my first guest lecture at Roehampton Univeristy

😵 completed national video/social campaigns with three major clients including the Post Office (to go live this month)

😵 been named one of Common Vision’s 14 most inspiring millennial women 

😵 almost finished writing my second book and…

😵 continued the award-winning Young Money Blog!

Why am I keeping so busy?

There is so much more to come. Young money has arrived!

I remember, not so long, that my job was strictly for dweebs. Personal finance was not sexy. I was often told young people had no money, no interest and no particular needs that made my job worthwhile.

But stick at something for 8 years, put your own spin on it and suddenly you become an overnight success!

Sure, my generation is still castigated for spending too much and saving too little. But at least there is now a recognition in the financial industry (and media) that this generation matters and that it desperately needs financial help.

Moreover, I now see this help coming in many forms – not just unhelpful one-sided lectures, but intuitive services and nuanced think pieces. And this concern for young people’s financial welfare has penetrated even the most unlikely media outlets. Websites that previously focused exclusively on lifestyle topics have branched out into money, in new and exciting ways.

I like to think the Young Money Blog has played its part in normalising the Young Money discourse. I have always tried to make the subject as down-to-earth, appealing and universal as possible. That’s why I haven’t changed the blog’s name, or its core focus, in the eight years since I got that magical WordPress account.

Things haven’t stood still – as time went on, I decided to focus more on the big issues that matter, like pensions and housing. If you want money saving hacks, there are plenty of excellent blogs out there that can scratch that itch. If you want punchy analysis and an informed steer on how to make the big financial decisions in your life, you’ve come to the right place.

It’s for all young people – not just the much-maligned but eternally mystical *millennials*!

My message is that it doesn’t matter what your background is and how you currently feel about money. So you don’t fit the affluent, straight-laced, earnings-driven paradigm that the financial world so often courts. Don’t worry: neither do I. Up to now, you will have potentially been left behind – but things are changing.

Which brings me onto the next intrepid chapter in the Young Money journey.

The new frontier for Young Money

Writing a blog about money shouldn’t be an exercise in listing products or telling people what to do. In my mind, it’s about ideas.

And the most powerful (and life-changing) one to grasp is that money is simply a tool that helps us get on with our lives, stand by our values, be the best we can be – and maybe achieve some lovely dreams along the way.

Writing about money has naturally triggered within me a longstanding preoccupation with happiness, or rather the pursuit of it.

What role does money play in creating the conditions for happiness? Do money and happiness even mix? These are, of course, some of the oldest questions under the sun but they have taken on a new meaning in our warp-speed modern culture.

Given the contradictory messages we receive all the time about what we should prioritise from all quarters, we can benefit from really stepping back and asking ourselves why personal finance matters, how we should view it in our everyday lives, what presence (if any) it should have in our long-term goals and whether there is anything we can do to make our relationship with money a bit less conflicted and bit more content.

Happy Money…and what it means

Getting away from your everyday routine really helps you to assess those important questions in a new light. I’m no different.

Recently, my trip gave me the opportunity to really think about what I do and why. Because the irony is that…I’m not obsessed with money. It’s a common mistake to believe that people who write about and think about personal finance are ruthless shills who only care about self enrichment. (Okay, maybe some are.)

But my attitude? Money is merely the means to live out your principles, goals and desires in a responsible, sustainable way. Money is not at the core of my existence. But I now understand that having a balanced, honest relationship with money is very important to me, because everything else flows from it. To paraphrase those Aussie adverts, there is more to life than money, but it’s a good place to start.

It’s an ongoing process with constant setbacks. Even the “experts” should admit that it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be consistently excellent with money. We have innumerable psychological tendencies that hold us back, from procrastination to FOMO. Combine those with a constantly moving financial picture, an economic framework that is dependent on us spending money (and ideally getting into quite a bit of debt) and a financial industry that profits from keeping us in the dark, and I’d be amazed if anyone could truthfully claim they have “cracked” money management.

Accepting this means we can move on from self-recrimination (how we often do we tell ourselves: “I’m awful with money”?) and get to a more mature, constructive place.

Sure, most of us want to improve our physical, mental, romantic/sexual and spiritual health, if and however we can. But none of this is actually viable until we start examining our financial health. Because lacking cash, being obsessed with it, owing it, squandering it, chasing it, ignoring it…all this behaviour puts the brakes on personal progress. And we all know it!

It can seem counter-intuitive to think about personal finance in relation to self-improvement. Surely the desire to hold onto or earning more money ?

I’ve been listening to Derren Brown’s latest book on happiness – snappily titled “Happy” – and he points out that where religion once filled the collective yearning to “connect with something larger”, that space has been occupied by the pursuit of wealth. It’s all to with “valid, noble cravings” to improve ourselves and move beyond the hum-drum and familiar – and why it’s pointless and naive to scorn our natural preoccupation with money. But that doesn’t mean we can’t channel it in a more productive way!

Here’s what you can do…

So maybe you’ve been having a think to yourself lately, and you’ve decided you want to do something about your relationship with money. Awesome.

A good place to start is to think about your *needs*. This doesn’t mean stripping back to a state of punishing austerity. Being more aware of your individual priorities will allow you to identify what YOU need to thrive. As Derren explains:

Some commodities will help us do that, and they may indeed be expensive or appear luxurious to others. Advertisers will tell us what we require to feel good about ourselves but those things don’t actually correlate with what we actually need to do ourselves justice. Understanding what one’s needs are in this sense, and then not bothering with the rest, sounds like a very liberating experience…we might require an expensive instrument if we wish to flourish as a musician, or quality oils if we paint. If we really value late-night conversations with friends, we might decide a nicely-arranged room and certain furniture is of more importance to us than, say, the latest phone or some fancy sunglasses. What we need is neither the bare Epicurean basics, which for most of us would make flourishing difficult, nor the nicest newest version of everything the advertisers dangle before us. The latter invents needs for us. We can get ahead of that process by taking stock of what truly matters to us and making sure it is our own requirements we are prioritising.

Even Derren confesses he hasn’t got the self-mastery to fully think for himself (yet). And yet he quotes an amazing call to action from the philosopher John Armstrong which I (personally) would like to nick and adopt as the unofficial Young Money mini manifesto:

We need to be more imaginative, more patient, more attentive to the lessons of our own experience, more serious about the things we care for, more canny, more independent in our judgements, but most importantly, we have to figure out what we actually need.

…and here’s what I can do!

I have a newfound motivation to try and discuss money in a manner that is relatable, authentic, responsible and hopefully inspiring to other young people.

In this new financial year, I commit to:

🗣️ sharing more of my needs, goals, financial highs and lows and what I’m REALLY learning about my personal finances (even if it’s a hard lesson that has seriously knocked my pride!)

🗣️ trying more financial options aimed at young people so I gain genuine insight into what works – and maybe what doesn’t

🗣️ talking about the psychology of money as much as the practicalities

🗣️ being honest if I have changed my choices, strategies and outlook

🗣️ keeping as up-to-date as possible with all the latest developments so I can be informed on your behalf!

It won’t be easy but I relish the challenge and look forward to sharing the results with you!

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet @ionayoungmoney.

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