Here’s the thing, we exist in a society of oversharing. We’ve long forgotten boundaries of privacy and actively go out of our way to document our lives and share it with the world of the big, bad internet. Except when it comes to money.
Suddenly at the mention of money, we’re totally hush, hush. We’re worried about offending and in an increasingly invasive society, we’ve left money to be the last taboo topic of our generation. Given this attitude of secrecy, it’s no surprise that when publications like Refinery29 started publishing their anonymous money diaries in 2016, people of the Internet flocked to the site to get in on the scandal. Three years later the weekly financial column has had over 500 entries and has now been published as a book, containing all of the money diary entries published along with follow-up interviews and useful financial advice on issues like buying a house or negotiating a salary raise. But, why do we care? Why does it matter who gets paid what? Why does it matter if the world does or doesn’t know our salary? This curiosity has created an addiction in us all as we grab hold of anything that will give us insight into what everyone else spends and earns.
People will argue that money doesn’t matter and while money isn’t everything, it certainly matters when you don’t have any. When it comes to our salaries and caring about those of others, it all plays into the detrimental comparison game that our generation are such keen sufferers of. Making money is an indication that the market accepts your talents and is willing to pay you for it. As a result, whether it’s right or wrong, we can’t help but associate it with our self-worth. Money affects how we live our lives, dictating what we can and can’t afford to do. Money equals freedom, right?
For those unfamiliar with the concept of these money diaries, twice a week Refinery29 publishes a detailed look at the financial lives of young women on different salaries, from different cities and working in different industries. While they detail their exact spending for every day of that week, the money diaries are so much more than that. The diarists talk about why they spent the money. They talk about their work, their friendships and their relationships. Their goals and concerns along with almost guilty, self-conscious statements about why they spent what they did on certain items. The diaries are anonymous so come with an element of freedom for the writers with a definite element of therapy that extends beyond their financial habits. They let us in on a whole host of behaviours like how they like to spend their free time, whether they go to spin class and what they watch on Netflix. For the reader, it’s a totally voyeuristic experience and we’re sucked into even the most mundane entries. Think about it, when was the last time someone in your life detailed every single thing they did that day? Or let you rummage through their purse, take note of their receipts and do a quick cash count? Probably, never. This aspect of people’s lives isn’t something we usually have access to.
For the reader, it’s about reassurance in comparison – or so we like to think. When we compare our salaries with those not earning as much, most of us experience a feeling of superiority. It’s the same when the shoe is on the other foot and suddenly the salary we were once relatively proud of seems unsatisfactory. What other people earn seems to have a profound effect on us, even if it isn’t something we think about or address every day. In a way, it’s a human instinct. Even as cavemen we were comparing ourselves to others. We’d take a look at the cave next to us along with its occupants and if either were bigger with us, we noted a cause for alarm, regardless of whether they were a logical threat.
In terms of reassurance, there’s definitely a weird relief when peeking into someone’s purse and spending habits, you’re able to note similarities. Even more reassuring are the differences you notice. Suddenly, your saving habits seem all the more responsible when you compare them to some of your peers.
The reality is, we millennials came of age during the time of the recession which means we’re dealing with much more amplified versions of the usual financial burdens that come with adulthood. We’re dealing with crippling student loan debt, considerably inflated living costs and unexpected expenses, all of which combine to create a need to save a lot more for life milestones.
So yes, we let the salaries of others affect us more than we should and yes, along with the million other things we worry about, we measure our idea of success against the weight of our salary. But we also have so many more resources available to deal with these financial constraints, when those of previous generations had to simply power through. Content like money diaries counts as one of these resources. So next time you feel guilty reading through the details of a stranger’s spending habits, consider it a learning exercise.
On the bright side, it’s payday. Bookmark this article and come back to it in week three of February when you’re feeling grumpy and broke.