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“We often spend money to try to fix our emotional problems. Spoiler: it seldom works.” For Sam Beckbessinger, author of Manage Your Money Like a F-cking Grownup, money problems often have little to do with your cashflow, and much more to do with your relationship, or your psychology, or the shame you feel about that credit card debt. Here, she teaches us how to manage our money like a grown up.

“Our society moralises debt”, explains Sam Beckbessinger, “but our economy is also set up to encourage you to consume, to make you feel like you NEED everything that’s for sale”. And she’s been there - caught in a debt spiral and trying to outrun debt collectors, “things got much better”, she recalls, “when I decided to just treat money like a skill that no-one had ever taught me, a skill I could learn like any other.”

And the secret to learning that skill? It’s actually not that complicated. Read on to find out why getting good with money is just like running a marathon, why budgeting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and why the best financial advice is the simplest...


Tell me about your relationship with money as a young person. Was money spoken about in your family, and has it always been something you were interested in?

My parents found money very scary and stressful, and they wanted to protect us from that stress, so they never spoke to us about money, ever. But even if you don’t explicitly talk to kids about something, that doesn’t mean they’re not picking up a bunch of ideas about it from watching your behaviour. So watching my parents tiptoe around money stress, I concluded that money is terrifying and that you should never discuss it. I’m making up for that now by never shutting up about it!

What I say to parents now is to remember that your job isn’t just to protect your children, it’s also to prepare them. 

In your early twenties you found yourself drowning in debt. You’ve described it as a ‘debt spiral’ caused by living beyond your means. How did you first get into debt, and why did you have to stop moralising your debt to deal with it?

My wild spending in my early 20s was mostly fuelled by insecurity. I had a job that I was wildly underqualified for, and I spent a lot of money trying to get people to take me more seriously as a Competent Grownup (for instance, buying a brand new car). We often spend money to try to fix our emotional problems. Spoiler: it seldom works.

I was also just in denial. I figured, I’m in my 20s, who cares. I’ll figure this out later. Truly, I was so ashamed about all the debt I was racking up, that I couldn’t bear to confront it, let alone get help. Debt collectors started calling me at all hours. I tried changing my phone number to dodge their calls (which doesn’t help, by the way). Shame made everything worse.

I couldn’t deal with my debt until I forgave myself for it, and stopped thinking of myself as an unfixable disaster. Our society moralises debt, but our economy is also set up to encourage you to consume, to make you feel like you NEED everything that’s for sale. Things got much better when I decided to just treat money like a skill that no-one had ever taught me, a skill I could learn like any other. And I made an incredible discovery: money’s really not that complicated. You can read a couple of books and learn everything you need to know to start building financial security for yourself. I was so mad that it was so simple, but no-one had ever taught me these rules! So I decided to write the book I wish I’d read when I was starting my working career.

Research shows that financial strain is the single biggest predictor of suicide attempts, and you once felt so worried about your financial stress that you even considered suicide. How did you pull yourself out of that darkness?

It’s the biggest predictor of suicide attempts, and one of the most cited reasons for divorce. Money stress destroys lives, and as a society we really need to do a better job at talking about it, and not letting it be this huge scary taboo.

Opening up about my stress and talking to other people helped. When I started sharing my own story, other people opened up to me about theirs, and I realised I was not - as I’d been telling myself - the only poor fool walking around the world feeling totally lost and panicked about what I was supposed to do with my money.

You’ve said that ‘what you do with your money is an expression of your values’. Can you tell me about that?

The truly finite resource in your life is time. You’re going to die one day. Most of us spend much of our precious limited time on this earth hustling for a paycheque, and then go and waste half of that money on stuff that doesn’t even make us happy. 

When you start thinking about both your time and your money as limited, you make different choices. 

People value different things and I never want to tell other people what to do with their money. What I want to do is encourage them to make a thoughtful, active choice about what they spend their time and money on; because if you don’t, then money has a way of vanishing into a bunch of stuff you don’t actually care about. 

Almost all financial experts say budgeting is essential, so can you tell me why you don’t agree?

Your brain isn’t a computer. You can’t give it instructions and then just hope it will execute them. If that’s how brains worked, we’d all be fit, mega-productive and much richer. So just telling yourself “I’m going to spend less money on X” doesn’t work well in reality.

It’s much more effective to understand how your brain actually worked, and the cognitive biases that we’re all susceptible to, and then work WITH those limitations. Things that do help people to spend differently: enveloping (splitting up your money into different pockets or accounts). Making your savings automatic. Saving 100% of any “windfall” money you already know you can live without, like bonuses and side-hustle income. Focusing on reducing your one or two largest expenses rather than punishing yourself every time you “slip up” and buy a coffee. Money is the number one reason couples fight and is often cited as the reason for divorce. Why do you think this is, and what can people do to improve their communication and handling of money issues in relationships?

Ah, I wrote a about this recently!

You’ve written the book Manage Your Money Like A Fucking Grown Up as a kind of instruction manual. What did you feel was missing from all the financial literature out there?

It’s so easy, that’s the bonkers thing. The finance industry works hard to make money seem very complicated. They wrap things up in complex language and jargon and talk about seven billion types of financial products and acronyms and obscure asset types. And they never get around to explaining the basics (I honestly didn’t really know what the stock market was until I was about 25).

The information that’s going to help most people is really quite simple. I wanted to write a book that was funny and accessible, and was about how managing your money better can help you to live the life you really want to live.

You’ve written a version of your book for teens. Do you think teens get enough financial education?

When I was doing research for my book, I spoke to dozens of teens to ask them what questions they had about money. Their questions were profound! Young people are asking big questions about the world, about inequality, about the relationship between the work you do and the money you earn, about how to start their own businesses, about what it means to have enough money, about how to resist advertising. Many of them also want advice about how to not spend their pocket money all at once, which is something most grownups are also still learning. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that young people won’t be interested in these questions; money is connected to many of the biggest questions about how the world is, and how people live happy lives. Teens care about this stuff!

Your kids learn more by watching what you do, than from what you say to them. One of the best things you can do is to work on your own emotional hangups about money. Improve your own financial education. Go to therapy if you need to! If money terrifies you, your kids will pick up on that. 

Then, find age-appropriate ways to involve them in real financial activities as a family. This might mean saving together for a family goal and tracking your progress on the fridge (modelling delayed gratification), or getting them to help you make a decision about a big purchase, or helping them to start a business to earthier own cash, or paying your younger teens a nominal “interest” rate to help them learn about investing. Make it fun, and help them learn by doing.

In a lot of ways your approach to money is really about psychology. Do you think that’s true of most financial management philosophies?

Achieving financial security is a lot like running a marathon: it’s not COMPLICATED, but it is HARD. If you want to run a marathon, you don’t need to read a bunch of books about biokinetics; you need to put running shoes on your feet and hit the pavement every day, even when it’s raining.  The hard part about money isn’t understanding money; it’s mastering your emotions and changing your behaviour. Books about money that don’t talk about the feels are missing the most important part!

If you could boil your financial ethos down to one or two sentences, what would that be?

Your life is short and your dreams matter. Find ways to fund them!

As a feminist, how does sexism and misogyny affect women financially? Aside from the gender pay gap, are there other ways women tend to be financially disadvantaged, and what can we do to counteract that?

So many ways! It’s not just that we earn less, but that women are responsible for the lion’s share of care work. This amounts to countless hours of additional unpaid labour that we do throughout our lives. Women also are more likely to bear the costs of children. For instance, in the UK, 91% of single parent households are headed by women, and 40% of child support cases are not paid in full. 

Women live longer on average, and have higher lifetime expenses. And yet, there’s still an assumption that investing is a boy’s game. Even in Millennial partnerships today, when cisgendered and heterosexual, you often find a dynamic where women manage the household budget but men manage the long-term investments. This is dangerous, because it’s extremely likely that most women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives. We need to overcome our own internalised biases and equip ourselves with as much financial knowledge as we can.

But there’s a real limit to how much any one of us can do alone. The best thing we can do is support other women and marginalised people and work together to make society better. Get involved in local politics. Campaign for equal parental leave at your business. Find ways to step up and support each other in whatever communities you are a part of. Women experience the brunt of poverty, so building a more equal world helps women.

What’s your best piece of financial advice?

It’s the simplest and most obvious thing: don’t wait until the end of the month to save money; make your savings automatic on payday.

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