My relationship with money

Photgraphed in my office by Karolina Kaczynska.

Money, it’s something we never have enough of, right?! But it’s also something, I believe, we’re not talking enough about.

I have always been quite open about money, mainly because I have never had tons of it, so perhaps I have always felt the ‘money’ chat didn’t really ever apply to me so it was fine to be quite candid. But it is also one of the least talked about topics at the moment.

A new book by Alex Holder: ‘Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money’, out now

This blog, funnily enough, has always been tied to money in a glossy blog-type way. I wanted to start a website that was democratic, you didn’t necessarily have to have loads of money to be a blogger, you didn’t need the latest designer handbag and you didn’t have to be wealthy to love or understand fashion. I spent years organising tickets for Fashion shows, flying to the Caribbean for work, writing pieces on the ‘must-have’ £3,000 handbag but my reality was very different. I wanted to show the invisible side of working in fashion – despite a lot of my friends thinking I was ‘living my best life’ travelling the world, I was working for very little money (I was on £16,000 per annum until I was 28 years old) and longer hours than any of my friends.

I had a large debt from university, from taking time out to travel, and going on more holidays than I could afford, most of which I have only recently paid off. And it’s how the blog came about: yes, I like nice things and would save up to buy items with longevity (especially in regards to interiors) but I would save up for them, or do my weekly food shop in Lidl to make it happen (a lot of people on Instagram stories were surprised by our weekly food shopping bill of £40). But equally, you don’t have to spend a fortune on everything for it to be sustainable and something you’ll love for a long time.

I wanted to take away the stigma of not having tons of money.

I must admit, I have definitely changed my stance about money = success. There probably was a time when it did mean this for me (my parents were both working-class and set up a business from scratch and managed to pay for my university education and never charged me rent whilst working on internships, this freedom equalled success to me and allowed me to progress into a career that could’ve potentially been out of my reach in any other scenario). But now, the more money I am privy to, it really isn’t about that at all.

So, I suppose I need to tell you what I earn, don’t I? I pay myself a salary of £30,000. I am 35 years old. I am the breadwinner. And I am the richest I have ever been. Not only because this is the highest salary I have ever been on, but also because I feel that I am in a place of comfortable debt (just one credit card of achievable payments) and can see a way to start saving for the future (we currently have no pension or savings). We have enough money to pay our mortgage, nursery fees, put money in our joint account for bills and contingency and there is some leftover for a few dinners with friends (Nando’s, but still). This is still under the average London salary.

My company makes enough money to pay me more, but I honestly don’t work for the highest salary I can make for myself. I am very happy to make enough that I feel rewards my work, especially now I don’t work evenings or weekends, but the money my company brings in goes towards something bigger – paying photographers, office staff, people to help with newsletters and creating content. Being able to use money I make to help others be paid in the creative industry (which, believe me, expects A LOT of unpaid work in exchange for coverage and exposure) is something I am hugely proud of and means the atmosphere in which I work is one of positivity and empowerment (I mainly employ women, too, so that’s an extra bonus).

Working for myself has opened up my eyes to the world of money. Whilst working in publishing we would be told, in no uncertain terms, not to ask for a payrise, the current climate of magazines was slippery and we should be ‘lucky’ to have a job. I also inherited my parents’ working class mentality of graft, never show up late, never call-in sick, never ask for anything or rock the boat. Hard work will get you noticed. And it did, but not in financial terms. I was seen as integral to the team but also happy with what I had, so it was never pushed. The only payrises I received in 9 years of working were a £100 voucher after an appraisal (the voucher was for Sainsbury’s, and I was thrilled! We bought loads of food and shoved it in our freezer), or when I threatened to leave. It wasn’t even a bargaining tool, I had just had enough but miraculously the money appeared. But it was also always tied to a promotion, I honestly don’t even know how I would ask for a payrise for doing the same job, I was just taught it wasn’t something you could do.

I wish I had read some of the articles and books that are available now about asking for what you want, understanding your worth and feeling confident with it. It wasn’t until I went freelance and had an agent that I began to understand what others with my experience were being paid, and I must admit I felt a bit of shame and low esteem. Not because I wanted more money but because I realised I had devalued myself. Always working in a recession meant I had always worked three people’s jobs (with a few on the side), so I took that mentality to freelance and almost burnt myself into the ground again by trying to be everything.

I get asked a lot by people, to my face: ‘But how do you make money?’, I suppose it is a strange new career, but I also find it quite rude. It’s not that I don’t like discussing the mechanics of making money and running my own business, it’s more the accusing tone of the question, as if my ‘silly little job’ of posting pictures online isn’t worthy of a career (but perhaps that’s my own insecurities). Most people, would never dream of asking say, a doctor, or a lawyer ‘how do you make money?’ becasue it’s something they understand. But in fact, I shouldn’t have a problem with people asking because it is helping to open up a conversation and allowing people to understand something that they are unable to grasp.

For those who don’t understand, it is very similar to a magazine. I run an editorial platform which has readers and my advice is a trusted part of my site, I recommend products and from time to time, a brand will ask me to work with them to promote a product within a paid partnership (this is never random, and always a brand I have worked with in the past, the payment will generally be because it’s a focused post, or there is a specicifc product the brand want to push). These are essentially advertorials: I have creative control but will often need to gain the brand’s approval before publishing. I also earn money through my styling work: I style campaigns for brands, I write for magazine, consult for brands and sometimes create imagery for them to use on their channels.

I am also working on a few other projects, namely a downloadable mini book on money and budgeting. It’s about how we budget as a family, how we save money on our food shopping bills, tips for selling items second-hand and at carboot sales with some memoirs on money and how it makes me feel all thrown in. I’m still working on it and you can sign up to read it (when it launches) here.

To be completely transparent, this will be something to ‘buy’. I have long battled this idea with myself, but it has taken me a few months to put it all together, I’m giving away a lot of myself in it and realistically, if I’m talking about money, my time and my worth, I actually cannot give away this e-book for free. But it’s extra content, it won’t cost loads and if you’re here for free content then I would recommend going through my last 7 years of archives on this blog.

So there are some thoughts in a nutshell. I feel that social media is starting to create a huge barrier between women especially, especially with money, driven by a lot of assumptions and judgements (I have, sadly, been partial to it, too) and I honestly believe the more discuss issues we face, then there would probably be less comparison and we can help each other ask for more and understand our worth.

Some books I have started reading:

Money: A User’s Guide, Laura Whately

Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money, Alex Holder

Great websites:

Vestpod

The Cut

Refinery 29

Sign up here to be the first to access my guide when it comes out.

112 Comments

  1. What a great post! I love how honest you are, coupled with really interesting and relevant content. I’m probably one of your very many ‘silent’ readers who enjoys reading your blog but would never normally pipe up but I just felt I had to say well done and thank you.

  2. I’m so glad you wrote this 🙂 It makes me happy to see more and more money posts pop up on mainstream outlets like The Cut, Refinery29, and on popular blogs like yours. Money is that weird thing that everybody wonders about, but no one talks about. What the heck?

    The first time I found out I was underpaid was by chatting with my male co-worker. I found out he got a higher starting salary than me, even though I was the better worker (I became his boss later). All he did was ask. Meanwhile, I didn’t think I had any leverage to ask for more. Like you, I had undervalued myself. Negotiating wasn’t for “people like me.” I told myself I’d never let that happen again. So I’ve negotiated ever since.

    Anyway, that instance was just one example on how talking about money led to positive things. And it was important that I talked money with a peer–someone I could relate to. If I had someone from above lecturing me about what I should do it would have gone in one ear and out the other. Yet another reason why people are so thirsty for this information from bloggers they can relate to.

  3. Hi, this is the best blog post I’ve read in a long time. Thank you so much for your honesty. I live and earn very much like you do and I’m in my early 50’s. Neither myself or my husband have ever had high earning jobs but we are careful with our money so we can afford to pursue the things we love and have the home we want. Honestly it’s so brave of you to talk about it and reveal your income. It will be very heartening to many people and also I love how you choose to empower people with some of the income you make. Very inspiring. Well done, for sharing and thank you for writing about it 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for writing this Alex, you are one of my favourite people on the internet.

    One question that would help me as a self employed person who is always trying to work out what to pay myself. When you say you pay yourself 30k is that 30k of salary/dividends etc or the equivalent of a 30k salary if you were in a job (ie tax and NI would come out of it)?

    Thanks again and keep doing what you are doing x

    1. I pay myself through a mixture of dividends and salary but the equivalent of £30k from a salary in a job and I put away 25% as soon as it goes into my account and that separate bank account isn’t touched (unless I need to pay for something like a carpet and sometimes borrow and put it back! Naughty but needs must sometimes) x

  5. Alex, I could not love this (and you) any more! I love how frank we’ve always been able to be about money, where we spend it and where we don’t (when no one else ever seems to talk about these things). Like you I really, really, really had to work for my own money and will never take it for granted. I am so grateful to be in a position where I can be independent, but also find myself falling trap to a bad case of social media status comparison (when I see others with huge houses and expensive holidays every other month) and have to remind myself that just because someone earns a lot more does not mean they are any happier.

    Thank you so much for always talking about this, and I cannot wait for the e-book!

    Briony xox

  6. Great post Alex and thank you for your honesty! Money is such a taboo subject but it should be discussed.

    I agree on having the mentality of working hard, doing the best you can, drive results and not ask for a higher pay as that’s what you can’t fathom on that idea. It’s something I struggle with as well and how I value my worth.

  7. Alex, this is the first tine I read your blog post and it was great! I understand how difficult it is to make a living and be a freelance but I appreciate your transparency…. to be fair sometimes I look at other influences and wonder why brands approached them not you (e.g. the bathroom tiles that one influencer was inspired by after seeing it on you feed and then got them for free from the brand… I know it might sound silly but it is a big thing)….. I understand that tou don’t always scream and shout about ‘reserch’ for the house improvements prior to buying stuff in order for brands to approach you and that’s why I value your opinion, judgement and your interior taste! Thank you for sharing and being so open?!!!

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