I'm a Gen-Z, and I Know Nothing About Money
© Illustration by Lisa Manton
"Share Your Story" submitted by Claire Hussey, 22 years old, UK
How many of us can safely say we've felt secure in our financial situation? I'm betting not a lot of us, particularly those of us in our early twenties.
For Gen-Z, the prospect of being financially secure feels more like a pipe dream. 41% of us report feeling anxious about our finances, while a further 3-in-10 are self-conscious about them. Our constant stress over a dwindling economy and the struggle to pay rent without multiple jobs, side-hustles or the safety net of a supportive family grows by the day. Will we ever pay off our mountain of student debt or own a house? It seems unlikely, especially with our uncertainty regarding money matters.
Growing up, no one in my family ever spoke about money. In fact, I was taught it was rude to inquire into financial matters or express a desire to learn about the ins and outs of my parent's salaries. The word 'money' became almost a taboo, around which circulated the phrases 'money doesn't grow on trees' and 'money can't buy happiness.' It was a source of stress and arguments and guilt for those within our household. Especially as my parent's ideas surrounding money were always so different. Perhaps it's because, at its core, our view of money reflects our values, and how those values motivate our behaviour.
I cycle between stages of excessive spending and excessive saving. During times of emotional vulnerability or high stress, the 'reckless' switch in my mind is flicked on. All the money I spent so long hoarding, counting every penny because I was too afraid of losing the independence that came with financial security, would be gone in a matter of weeks. What did I spend it on? Truthfully, I have no idea. I drained the life from my bank account until it was left gasping, begging, for my next paycheck. Which only served to trigger my scarcity mindset more.
A 'scarcity mindset' is the idea that no matter how much we have, we will never have enough. That, through all our hard work and budgeting and obsessive spreadsheets, we still can't allow ourselves to believe that we won't lose everything. And so the fear remains, unchecked and living comfortably in the back of our minds.
It's what keeps me from checking my bank account for months at a time. But even now that I'm aware of my dysfunctional spending, and the part my formative years may have played in it, I still feel as though my discomfort stems from something greater.
The negativity that surrounds discussions of money within my generation is primarily centred around guilt, with 72% of Gen-Z reporting that they frequently experience spending regrets. It's the guilt that, on our unpaid internships we're forced to rely heavily on our families, that we can't afford to pay our half at dinner or spend a little more on groceries. A guilt that would likely be diminished if we'd been given a financial education during our adolescence.
At the age of twenty, I thought I had it at least moderately figured out. I could manage my student budget and still have money left over. But, after what was supposed to be a quick trip to the bank to pay a sizeable chunk of rent, I realised how little I actually knew.
I was cornered in a booth and told, against my will, about a savings account that I should open. And all I needed was £1000 (£1000!?). I frowned, wondering where the h* the lady thought I was going to get that money from, and that she then assumed my parents had the spare cash to lend me in order to open this account. The whole time I felt a mixture of uncomfortable, pressured and inadequate. How could I know so little? I thought as I shook my head or shrugged my shoulders in answer to her numerous questions; staring blankly as she discussed differing interest rates and the effect this account could have on my buying a house in the future.
I left quickly after, as soon as I was able. Feeling like an animal released from a cage and into the wild as I dashed through the sliding doors to my freedom.
And what would make us feel more confident and assured when making financial decisions, and less like we're about to have a panic attack as soon as someone mentions 'credit scores'? A solid education and a healthier view of money within society.
I can recognise these destructive patterns in my own habits; the fear and avoidance tactics that only get a person so far. The mindset that prevents me from taking a hold of my financial situation and openly discussing it can only be fought through my self educating. Podcasts and books and YouTube tutorials are popping up everywhere, helping our generation to grasp the concept of handling our money and viewing it not as something 'scary' but as something 'empowering.'
I'm a Gen-Z, and I know next to nothing about money. But, I'm working on it.
I never did open that savings account, though.