The One Thing Holding Women Back From Financial Freedom

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 Millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what Millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating. Today's topic: Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, financial wellness advocate, money coach, and founder of The Fiscal Femme, talks about the number one thing holding millennial women back from financial freedom.

We all struggle with money. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who is challenged by your money (especially when you pass a designer-clad power walker on the street, or find yourself in a sea of expensive handbags), but the reality is that personal finance presents each of us with challenges. And there’s a good reason for this: money is a taboo subject, and in addition to not talking about it, most of us never learned about it. For many of us, it just wasn’t an option to learn about personal finance, so it makes sense that we feel lost and make mistakes.

Take me for example. I was a finance major and finance professional who knew absolutely nothing about my own money. I’ve made all kinds of mistakes in every area of my personal finances. There was the time I bought $900 shoes with my first paycheck only to return them a week later feeling terribly guilty. Or the time I took a coworker’s investment advice and lost thousands of dollars. Oh, or the time that I didn't realize I had to add my roomie's name to our renters insurance policy, and she lost thousands of dollars worth of property in a pickpocket but ended up not being covered for the loss. And the list goes on and on.

I’m sharing these mistakes with you to show how common it is to feel lost when it comes to personal finance. If a money expert has made all of these mistakes in her personal finances, you might be able to muster up some compassion for where you are in your financial life and realize there's hope. Many of us allow the mistakes we’ve made to hold us back from financial freedom. We feel regret and punish ourselves for not reaching our goals quickly enough. We may feel shame about where we are in our money lives: still paying off loans, living paycheck to paycheck and never saving, or spending more than our lifestyle and income can support. It’s easy to stay stuck in a rut, beating ourselves up for not being better with our money.

But dwelling on past money mistakes is the number one thing that holds us back from making progress. When we chastise ourselves and create negative stories about ourselves and money, we end up being in opposition to ourselves. We are no longer on our own team. You might have a financial to-do list that is a mile-long, but it’s not going to matter one bit if you don’t start with self-love and forgiveness. If we are still punishing ourselves into submission and reminding ourselves of past mistakes, we will feel paralyzed to take any positive steps forward. And if we are unable to take positive steps, we will notice that eventually we rebel and undo our best laid plans. It can feel like you have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on another. The angel says, “Don’t buy that, you want to pay off your debt,” and the devil, tapping into the paralysis you feel about your money decisions, takes advantage and says, “Buy it, you deserve it.” This back and forth doesn’t work, and doesn’t get us any closer to reaching our goals.

The first and most important step in our financial wellness is to truly understand why we are where we are. We might not be where we want to be, or where we imagined we would be by this time. But given how much we have working against us, it makes sense that we’re here. The most important thing we can do is forgive ourselves for what’s in the past. Once we do this, we’re ready to begin a new relationship with our money. Unlike the past relationship, which had us working against ourselves and feeling paralyzed by our mistakes, this new money journey allows us to tackle our challenges while being compassionate with ourselves. Learning about personal finance is a great way to gain the tools we missed out on, but we can’t get started until we stop the cycle of punishing ourselves. Once we’re back on our own team, we can start our journey towards financial freedom.

Check out the “Get Money” stream in the Bustle App for more tips and tricks on how to save and spend your money.