There was an interesting article in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald that caught my attention. The headline read: ‘Young women increasingly anxious about their finances.’
It piqued my interest enough that I had to check out what all the fuss was about.
Now, I’m not a woman. Nor am I particularly concerned about my finances (living at home with zero fiscal responsibility does that to a person). So this headline wouldn’t normally resonate with me. But, on this occasion, it struck a chord, not least because it seemed to encapsulate where we are as a nation today.
As the piece goes on to explain:
‘An annual survey of wellbeing by the National Australia Bank shows the level of anxiety reported by women under the age of 30 is at the highest level since the poll began in early 2013. Young women said general finances, a lack of time, and events such as abuse were the biggest detractors from their wellbeing.
‘The analysis showed women aged 18 to 29 were much more likely than the rest of the population to rate “finances and money” as a drag on their welfare. The overall level of wellbeing reported by women under the age of 30 has fallen to the lowest mark since NAB started an Australian wellbeing index three years ago.’
This got me thinking.
Are these concerns any different to what women (or men) in other age groups have to put up with?
I went through the list.
First things first — there’s no excuse for any kind of abuse, period. There’s no doubting that women experience abuse, particularly in the form of sexual harassment, more often than men. And young women in particular are targeted victims of this kind of abuse.
But, as this issue is beyond my area of expertise, all I’ll say is that we must strive to eradicate any kind of abuse. That applies to older men as much as it does for younger women. Other than that, though, we’ll leave that issue aside here.
As for time…well, we’re all suffering from a lack of it. Roger Waters, the front man for Pink Floyd, wrote the band’s classic ‘Time’ at the tender age of 30. You’d be forgiven for thinking the lyrics came from the mind of an exhausted, unfulfilled pensioner. But anyone that’s listened to it will know firsthand how close to home those lyrics hit, regardless of age.
I bring this up for no other reason than to illustrate that, quite frankly, we’re all time poor. This isn’t a problem exclusive to women aged 18–29. We all live with it. Some manage it better than others.
That’s not to make light of the way in which a lack of time can cause anxiety. But the pressures of time — or rather the lack of it — heap a degree of anxiety onto every one of us.
As a society, we’ve bought into how things ‘should’ work. A monotonous working life follows decades of scholastic tedium. And there’s something about death and taxes in there as well…
That’s our lot. Complaining about it won’t achieve anything, especially if you’re invested in it. You can free up time in your life, provided you’re willing to break free from ‘the routine’. After work and sleep we have, at best, a few hours each night to do what we like. As for those that have children, well, hopefully you’re content with spending 10 minutes on whatever it is that you like to do…
Other than that, I’m sorry to say that the rest of us haven’t mastered time any better than you.
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The road to financial freedom
As a financial publication, we’re most interested in what these young women have to say about their finances. What is it about 18–29 year old women that makes them feel more likely to cite finances as a barrier to wellbeing?
A 29 year old project manager, Laura Miller, was interviewed as part of the research into this piece. As she explained:
‘Financial stress is something that causes a lot of anxiety in my life and I know a lot of my friends feel the same way. There are a lot of decisions to make about things like saving, superannuation, how to apply for a mortgage, should you be investing — but we’re not really taught how to do that. It does create a feeling of anxiety and a feeling of being out of control with your finances.’
These pressures build from all sides. Some are weighed down by credit card debt. Others feel that they’re incapable of achieving their financial goals. Whereas others (I imagine most) worry about not being able to afford a place to live. We could probably add a myriad of other financially related shortcomings that blight our life here too.
Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution to make these problems go away. People either deal with them, step by step, or they let them linger.
Credit card debt is one of those things you either tackle head on, or let bog you down. If someone uses credit cards to pay bills, there’s probably a severe cash flow problem lurking in the background. If they use it to rack up thousands of dollars’ worth of expenses instead — and then moan about a lack of financial freedom — then they’re clearly living beyond their means.
Whether people like to admit it or not, most anxiety is self-inflicted. It is very rare that a situation or external event is enough to cause anxiety — financial or otherwise. Often these problems seem to stem from the torture that we impose on ourselves. That’s not always the case, but you’ll find that your interpretation of events is often what gives rise to anxiety.
Even worse, we place expectations on ourselves that are often unrealistic, and sometimes not even what we actually desire.
Take investing for one.
Investing is something that many people use to grow their wealth (and, on occasion, lose it all the same). But it’s become something that most people feel almost compelled to do. The rationale is that, if I’m not investing, I’m setting myself up for a miserly future. Or so we believe.
The get-rich-quick mentality is no worse than the ‘get-rich-over-long-term’ one. At the heart of it, there’s still an innate belief that you must either grow your wealth, or be left behind.
And, when things aren’t working out as we’ve been convinced they should, we get anxious. Of course we do. Expecting something and not getting it is the sure fire way of increasing anxiety in your life.
Those us who still live outside the housing bubbles of Sydney and Melbourne wish we were in them. Why? Who knows — but it looks great from the outside, doesn’t it? We’ve been conditioned that we must own homes, for better or worse. With your typical ramshackle home going for a $1 million these days, we feel like we’re missing out on all the fun, ramping up our anxiety that extra notch.
But, if you want it bad enough, there are means for fulfilling your goals.
We all want the security that homeownership brings. But we’re not prepared to make the sacrifices that will get us there. If anyone is serious about saving up for a home, there are lots of ways that even 20-somethings can make it happen. But we’ve been conditioned to believe we have to leave home early, that we have a duty as consumers to consume, and that renting is the evil closet monster that will leave us without a dime to our name in retirement.
In fairness, not everything is our fault as individuals. Some things are beyond our control. That wages are growing at their slowest level in two decades is something we have to live with. We’ve prized job security above wage growth. That’s how it is, no matter how often we throw our hands up in frustration.
But, ladies, especially those in the 18–29 bracket, you need to realise something. Whatever concerns you have about finances are shared by most of us, female or otherwise. Few of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouth. Anyone that wants financial freedom needs to sit down and evaluate where their priorities lie. Figure that out, and you’re halfway towards financial freedom and anxiety-free life.
Contributor, Markets and Money
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