Number one in the introductory series: Taking the fear out of finance

“Tell us a bit about yourself.” This is a question that most people have faced at some point in their lives. Yes, it’s a cliché, but that is because it does such a good job of enabling one of our basic human instincts: to reach out and make a connection. No wonder it features as a tension-busting opening in group situations, such as evening classes, or – even more commonly – in interviews.

How we choose to respond will naturally vary according to the situation, but it is probably fair to say that there is a set of accepted rules about which areas of our lives we are expected to share. For example, most people will happily divulge details of their physical wellbeing if it shows them in a good light. (“I play badminton at World-Championship level in my local village hall seventeen times a week - I find it helps to energise me for the challenges my work life presents”). They might even wax lyrical about the effect of personal achievements on their mental health. (“My greatest sense of achievement and self-worth came not from climbing Kilimanjaro for the third time this year, but from the amount of buy-one-get-one-free goods I donated to the local food bank”) Yet rarely would they consider including an overview of the state of their finances.  

So let us imagine the opening gambit was “Tell us a bit about your finances”. The chances are that such a question would throw us off balance. Much of that might be due to a deep-seated, cultural feeling that it is no-one’s business but ours; yet for many of us it is also the case that we rarely give our financial wellbeing a second thought. Far from being a part of life that we accept and nurture, it tends to be locked away in a fire-proof box and kicked into in the dustiest recess of our mind where it can’t scare us. And that’s a bit odd, because, very often, the whole reason for being in that interview in the first place is…. money. At Money Mentor Club we feel it is time to drag financial wellbeing out into the light of day and help to integrate it into the mainstream so that people start connecting on financial matters as readily as they do on other areas of their personal lives.

Even the words “money” and “finance” can provoke different reactions in us. We are at ease when it comes to discussing the price of goods and services, including – as in the job interview scenario – how our own services might be valued. Yet the words “personal finance” imply a whole area of our life that we should be somehow managing, keeping on top of, controlling – in other words, an area in which we are the expert. This is where the fear comes in. It is such a vast field, how can we possibly get to grips with everything we need to know? Furthermore, there is a whole industry out there persuading us that it is too complicated for mere mortals to understand, so we should really just leave it to the big guns. Or, better still, download their handy app that will make that relinquishing-everything-to- the-finance-industry process a whole lot easier!

How did we come to be in this position? As a society, we have allowed ourselves to believe that “common sense” and “rules of thumb” are no longer enough if we are to achieve a sense of wellbeing when it comes to our finances. Easily available credit and Monopoly-money mortgages as a standard fact of life have disconnected us from our own financial situations. In much the same way as you might hear an eight-year-old proudly proclaim him- or herself to be “rubbish at maths”, we consider it acceptable to declare ourselves “hopeless with money”, or to have “no head for finance”. In what other area of our lives would we be so unashamedly defeatist? (“I’m totally no good at personal hygiene”). And, as with primary school maths, we sense that there is only one right answer, which often leads us not to tackle the question in the first place for fear of getting it wrong. Perhaps, too, we have a lingering sense from our childhoods that financial matters are only for the grown-ups to discuss behind closed doors, and that we don’t have to worry about that yet. Newsflash: that “yet” is now. And the grown-ups? That would be us, then.

At The WoWW! Business we want to help people to feel good about themselves. Our 5 Ways to Workplace Wellbeing programme mirrors the 5 Ways to Wellbeing model created by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in 2008, which is now widely used by healthcare professionals to promote lifestyle balance. Financial wellbeing is not just about getting the best deal around, hopping onto the latest investment bandwagon or switching accounts every five minutes; it is about connecting – the first of the 5 Ways - both with the key people in our lives and with our own personalities to find an approach to finance that is right for us. Once set on the right path, some people will relish the idea of a stack of neatly labelled spreadsheets and regular alerts and prompts to take action, while others will prefer to concentrate only on the end goals, leaving the nitty gritty to other members of the family or outside experts. Whatever the means, financial wellbeing is about finding ways to feel comfortable around money – and that is what we, at The WoWW! Business, we are all about: putting the fun in and taking the fear out of finance.

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