As a freelancer-turned-small business owner, I’m no stranger to the ‘feast and famine’ way of living.
It’s been a wild ride, learning how to survive months of late or no payment, how to manage my finances on behalf of the business, and how to not spend all of my money when an overdue payment is finally paid.
While I appreciate that this particular anecdote may not resonate with everybody reading, it has taught me a LOT about ‘spend shaming’.
What is ‘spend shaming’?
In short, spend shaming is when you’re made to feel bad about what you spend. It can hark back to what you earn and encompass all aspects of finances, but it’s safe to say that as we try valiantly to break down taboos surrounding money itself, we’ve naturally gravitated towards a negative discourse around the topic.
From refinery29’s candid Money Diary series (one of my favourite things to read online!) to offhand ‘viral’ Tweets about how millennials need to do this or that to afford *insert something monumental that may or may not be relevant to any or no people*, money is the source of much ado.
Personally, I experience spend shaming on a weekly basis if not more. As a small business owner, suddenly all focus turns on how you could possibly be making enough money to support yourself, never mind be ‘better off’ than somebody in a traditional job. For whatever reason, it becomes the norm to be asked how much I earn, how I afford to live, why I can go on holiday ‘so much’ or how I can justify buying things for myself when I have a business to run.
And yes, these are all questions I’ve been asked in the last 6 months.
Spending and me
I didn’t work while I was at Uni. My parents were adamant that I’d be unemployed so that I could focus on my studies, and they kindly gave me £15 a week for groceries and any other essentials. I then worked at our family restaurant on weekends if I went home to visit (Chinese family life!) and during reading weeks and Christmas, Easter and summer breaks.
When I finally landed my first graduate job, I was amazed that I actually had more than a few pounds to live off. Living back at home meant that I had to contribute towards housekeeping (I looked after council tax and grocery shopping every other week, but didn’t pay rent as such), but it also meant I didn’t have any grasp of money management.
Payday instantly meant = buy all the things from Zara and Topshop!
It was such a novelty and thrill, and it didn’t quite stop.
I would say I only really got a handle on things when I moved to Hong Kong and had to completely support myself, that I stopped buying clothes every payday, going out for every meal and wasting money on things I really could’ve just left in the shop.
Thus, I accumulated a healthy wad of cash and did the maths to see whether I could keep the momentum going should I decide to go freelance.
My relationship with money now is very different. I spend just enough month to month. My outgoings are predominantly subscriptions and hosting fees (to upkeep the biz), my phone bill (so I can chat to my clients), and savings (for my Future). The ‘feast and famine’ lifestyle means that the last time I bought something just for fun was when I needed a new jumper for the autumn chill. I still wear the same jeans I did 4 years ago — Levi’s, you’re the best — and I’m ever so grateful that my blog brings me opportunities to own new things more often than not.
But I don’t think this minimal spending lifestyle warrants questions of why I can ‘justify’ spending the money I work 14 hours a day for.
Why it needs to stop
As I write this post, there’s a Grazia article being peddled around Twitter. It’s another money talk feature and people are sub-tweeting it, judging the subject on their expenditure. It feels grossly invasive but you shouldn’t put yourself on the Internet, yadda yadda, and I sympathise with the subject because you should never be made to feel guilty for your personal choices.
We millennials are at the centre of a money furore. Accused of spending too much on eating out, not enough on saving, too much on unnecessary possessions… Can we all just breathe and let a girl live? Spend shaming from generation to generation is incredibly unproductive, not least because what was affordable for the Baby Boomers is now almost incomprehensibly out of reach for much of the Millennials. Never mind Generation X, or whichever it is that’s next.
There’s a common misconception that whatever I earn ‘must’ go back to the business. That I shouldn’t spend that money on myself, on things like my gym membership or on holidays with my loved ones. But how on earth is that productive?! Whilst I don’t necessarily sit and justify myself each time, ironic as I write this very post, I do quietly seethe that should I return the question, I’d be considered nosy and intrusive.
Yes, I spend money on a gym membership that I have time to make full use of.
No, I don’t have to tell you why that contributes to my business.
Yes, I can go on several trips a year.
No, I don’t have to make up the hours — I’m my own boss.
Yes, I can afford to live.
No, I won’t tell you the ins and outs of my bank account.
Everybody’s lifestyle, situation, income and outcome is incredibly different and personal. Shaming others for how they spend their hard-earned cash is not productive and doesn’t contribute to the overall task of breaking down boundaries about money and earning trends.
Instead, let’s be open and friendly and frank. Let’s share saving (and spending!) tips, and teach one another about investing and sharing, and helping out another who may be in need. Let’s be charitable where we can. Let’s be unreservedly proud of how we earn and why we earn.