UK reality TV fans are used to seeing Anna Williamson dishing out no-nonsense advice to unlucky-in-love celebrities on E4's Celebs Go Dating. But now she's bringing her expertise to a new series, Save Well, Spend Better, dedicated to minimising the impact of money troubles on relationships of all kinds. As Williamson explains, the show was inspired by "the statistic that the main cause of relationship breakdown in the UK is due to financial issues." Those seeking advice are living proof of how finances can complicate friendships, family dynamics, and romantic relationships. In the first episode alone there's Angela, a florist who is frightened to tell her mum she's in £60,000 worth of debt, and Paul, whose struggle to please everyone in his family is causing financial fallout.
I spoke to Williamson about how to make it work when talking to your loved ones about money and got her thoughts about getting out of debt and establishing a healthier relationship to your finances.
Aimée Grant Cumberbatch: How do you stop money negatively impacting relationships?
Anna Williamson: The main thing is communication. You've got to talk about finances with those that are in your life. As we found with the show, secrets and a lack of willingness to communicate about finances can can breed so much mistrust. It can bring some serious problems. Involve other people — loved ones and trusted ones — in financial matters. It doesn't mean you have to give them everything. Just asking people for their advice can be really helpful.
AGC: I think part the reason why people don't talk about money so much is because it's still quite taboo, isn't it? How do you think we can overcome that and get communication going?
AW: Money is a taboo topic, I don't believe it should be. I believe that there is a level of privacy around money, of course. I think everyone is absolutely entitled to that. But we need to all accept and be more realistic [about the fact that] money is what drives us all. We either have, or don't have it, or want more of it. I think just to try and strip away that taboo and that stigma around it and just be a bit more open about it is a far more healthy attitude for people to adopt.
AGC: The show is about relationships and money but it's also about people's own relationship with money. What would be your one piece of advice for someone looking to improve theirs?
AW: Turn the spotlight inwards and look at what you have to spend your money on and what you like to spend your money on. Don't be afraid of documenting your outgoings and income. We live in a tap-and-go culture. We open that pay slip with our eyes closed and crack on blissfully in denial because we feel it's an easier option than than any sort of potential bad news. But that's not going to help us. We need to own our financial position. We also need to own what's realistic in our financial situation. If we can't afford [something], or if we don't earn as much money as a friend or a family member, and that means we have to rethink how how we do things — don't be afraid of making those decisions. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very dangerous path when it comes to finances. Even if you are in debt or working on a debt management programme, that shows nothing but bravery and education about your own financial needs. Even if things are a bit bad at times, or you have been a bit blinkered, it's far better to get a grip on it because it will very rarely get better unless you confront it.
AGC: Thanks to social media, we're more privy to certain aspects of people's lives. I wonder if that can add to pressure on people and impact how they spend?
AW: We absolutely do see that habitual spending but that's always been there. Even as children, we always aspired to have the trainers that the kid in our class had. I do think it has increased and I think social media absolutely has had a part to play in that. For example, my 15-year-old godson wants a £480 Tom Ford belt. He can go and whistle, quite frankly. When we were 15 years old we probably asked for a £20 New Look voucher. There is an aspiration but I think aspiration has always been there.
It's important to never measure yourself against anybody else, but also to remember that what we perceive others to have is very rarely the truth. A lot of people live in debt and live on credit. A lot of influencers will be gifted items. It's not a true representation of people's wealth. I think we all need to learn to be more satisfied with what we've got.
AGC: Do you believe that women are still being judged for their ambitions and wanting financial success? If so, what do you think we can do to change that?
AW: I think that judgement about having ambition and having independence [has reduced]. We see across the board now that lots of heads of companies are now empowered women. Heads of the police, heads of the fire service, lots of CEOs.
But I think there is still huge stigma and judgement attached to working mothers and working mothers wanting to "have it all." I'm a working mum and, yes, having children is an absolute gift, but I think there is a huge stigma around mothers that want to continue with their career once they have children. I think we have quite a long way to go before there is some sort of parity around that with men. What I would suggest to fellow working mums or other women in business [is that] people will always have opinions on what you do and what other people do. I always say to people, as a coach, that we can't change what other people think, but we can change how we think and what we choose to do. If people have opinions on on me being a working mum, they're entitled to that. But it won't affect or influence the way that I choose to run my life and my family life, because I know that my priorities are completely aligned. So, stop worrying about what others think — if it works for you and your family, then go for it.
AGC: What would you say to a young woman who feels achieving that, balancing that, or getting to a level of stability is out of reach?
AW: It's certainly not out of reach and I would say, look to be inspired by people that are doing and achieving what you would want to achieve. [With] having a work-family balance, there is a pecking order that shifts depending on what stage you're at. The children should always come first, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your independence, your financial independence, and career aspirations as well. It's all about working out what works for you and creating a career around what you feel you can and can't do. It is a struggle having a family and working, they're two full time jobs. We have to be realistic with that, but it is absolutely doable. The most important thing is that too many career women are tying themselves up in knots, dealing with judgement, dealing with stigma, feeling that they have to push back harder to get away from the stigma and prove themselves. And then they're trying to be a loving mother as well. We just need to take the pressure off. The advent of flexible working [is] really important for women and career men shar[ing] the load when it comes to having a family. [As] we start to get away from this Monday-Friday, 9-5 attitude, I think that will really start to help families and career women being able to manage both very happily.
AGC: What would your advice be to somebody who who needs to get get out of debt, what are the practical simple things they can do?
AW: To be clear, I'm not the financial expert on the show but I do have a basis of the financial knowledge. First of all, confronting it. It's not sexy. It's not easy. It's not fun to admit you're in debt and you might have to cut some corners. But it's essential and it's really important and it's really empowering. It's about being realistic. It's about facing up to the facts.
One of my top tips is all about budgeting. There are lots of debt plans and repayment plans. If you're in credit [card debt], work out as soon as possible a repayment scheme on your debt. Get rid of [it] as soon as possible. Paying minimum payments, you'll just be so locked into years and years and years of paying that debt off and wasting money in the process. It's very important to be clearing off those credit card debts as quickly as possible. Speak to the banks, speak to financial advisors. Ask people for help and advice. There's a lot out there.
When it comes to spending, I'm a big fan of budgeting and actually using proper cash. We spend willy nilly when using a contactless card and it is absolutely proven that, if we have cold hard cash, we think a little bit more consciously about what we're spending. I would say to people, give yourself a weekly budget of £50, or whatever it may be, and stick to it. Don't be tempted to reach out and keep tapping. You'll be surprised how much you can save.
AGC: What does a good relationship with money look like to you?
AW: One where it doesn't control you, you control it.
Anna Williamson is Celebs Go Dating's celebrity dating agent and an expert on Spend Well, Save Better which you can watch now on All 4.