finance

"I'm a full time worker but I can't get ahead."

Financial stress is a small monster carving away at the pit of your stomach. It starts churning when bills are due. It’s in constant debate with the voice of reason, because it doesn’t care about how much money is coming in, or the fact pay day is only a few days away. It tries its best to shout down the voice of “things aren’t that bad, let’s go out for dinner, I’ll make it up next week. Next week I won’t go out at all’.

It wakes you up at night. Starts hammering away with the alarm clock in the morning. Sometimes it’s quiet. Only to come back more viciously, more angry than ever before. It can make you feel panicked, sick, out-of-control. Your productivity declines. You don’t listen in the same way. You can hear the words, make the connections, but your brain is busy doing calculations. Wondering how you’ll be able to afford the car repayments. Holding your breath that Optus will wait till next week to start calling for the phone bill.

Most of all. More than anything. It makes you feel stupid. Constantly asking: How did you get here? 

One in four working Australians live like this, in a state of “financial stress”.

And, yes, you read that right; we’re talking about working Australians.

A national study of more than 2000 Australian employees, conducted by Kantar TNS for AMP, has found fewer than half (48 per cent) of us feel confident about our finances. Two years ago this figure was six per cent higher.

It also discovered that one in four working Australians are “financially stressed”.

This stress is not only affecting our respective stomachs and internal conversations. It’s also affecting our work.

Financial stress is costing Australian businesses $47 billion in revenue each year, the report found.

Why? Employees that are stressed about money are more likely to take sick days – up to four extra sick days each year. They also spend an average of 6.9 hours each week daydreaming and stressing about their financial situation at work. (Remember what I said about “hearing the words, but the brain is like a calculator”?)

The reason for this stress is mostly bad debt. Half of those living in financial stress are worried about personal debt. 35 per cent are concerned about saving for retirement. 34 per cent are worried about providing for their family.

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Predictably, females are much more likely to be experiencing this financial stress than men. (30 per cent compared to 19 per cent).

Why is this predictable?

Because women are still earning 17 per cent less than men. Even though it’s 2016.

Women graduating university can expect to be hired for $8,900 less than their male competitors. (This number was found through a survey of millions of new graduates in the US. The same trend can be applied here too.)

A woman’s “earning growth” slows considerably at 30. The most she’s ever going to earn is at 39. Male employees however, will continue to receive pay raises throughout their 30s and 40s. Their “peak earning” is at 48.

The gender gap extends to superannuation.

In Australia, women retire with half the amount of superannuation as men.

Women are also more likely to put their superannuation at risk. For example, accessing it to pay for IVF.

These are working women. Living in extreme stress.

These are working mothers. Scrambling to find the school socks and keep on top of emails and meet that deadline and collect their daughters from netball practice. But who have a constant flow of numbers and bills and account balances just behind their eyes at all times.

These are younger women. Millennials like me. Who are doing their very best to start a career, gain as much experience as possible, for whatever money offered. Living in a strange, expensive city. Trying to balance transport and electricity bills and don’t even talk to me about buying a house.

We are professionals, trying to hide this stress. Until we’re somewhat relieved to discover that one-in-four of us are in the same boat.

We don’t feel so stupid, or so helpless, when we learn there are so many of us scrambling. Working so hard, just to get by. Running, as always, to a constant flow of numbers and calculations with an angry monster deep in our stomachs.

We might feel this strength in numbers until, one day, the real numbers will be strong for us. Pay will be equal. Retirement will be fair. Financial stress won’t be so prevalent or so debilitating for women in the workforce.