Money Diaries, an online feature which people reveal their spending habits in minute and sometimes painful detail, launched in Canada on Tuesday.
Can we handle it?
In its U.S. version, Money Diaries has generated discussions so intense that a publicist seeking media attention for the Canadian launch called it “everyone’s favourite voyeuristic hate-read.” Expect the same or worse in Canada, where anxiety about money has produced epic levels of judgy thoughts about how others spend – or don’t spend.
We’re worrying ourselves to distraction about money – just ask your company’s HR department about the impact on workplace productivity. It might be that Money Diaries can help us get past this by opening a dialogue on money based on honest accountings of personal spending. Either that, or we burn down the internet with caustic comments.
Money Diaries is published on a website for young women called Refinery29. The format is for someone to anonymously write about a week in their lives from a financial point of view. The focus is on money, but we also learn a lot about the diarists themselves.
“What’s fascinating is that it’s not just the numbers – it’s also about the things people value and how they are living their life,” Carley Fortune, editor of Refinery29 Canada, said in an interview. “You really get a glimpse into somebody’s world, and we do that through the lens of spending.”
The first Canadian Money Diaries post is about a Toronto woman who makes $40,000 a year, pays $687.50 monthly for rent (she shares a place) and has $32,259 in student debt. Her weekly spending totalled $195.31, most of it on food and drink. Believers in the nonsense that financial success starts with denying yourself tiny luxuries like a latte will have a fit when they read this.
In the long-running U.S. version, we’ve heard from people with low, middling and high incomes. Headlines range from “A Week In Washington, D.C., On A $225,000 Salary” to “A Week In Missouri On A $34,500 Salary.”
Readers find something to criticize in pretty much every case. “When it comes to what women earn and what they spend money on, people have a lot of opinions,” Ms. Fortune said. “High earners are judged for how they spend their money, but so are people who have lower incomes. We’ve had moms that are supporting their families criticized for spending money on fast food.”
Ms. Fortune says the point behind Money Diaries is to start a conversation on money in a relatable way that focuses on budgeting, which is an elementary step in organizing your finances. A critique of Money Diaries that ran on The New York Times website in April questioned whether people can improve their finances by gawking at others.
Maybe not, but it’s worth a try. Despite torrents of personal finance content, we have a microscopic savings rate in this country and debt levels that remain stuck near all-time highs. Our discourse on money is dominated by housing – who’s renting, who’s buying, how much our neighbours got when they sold and the incredible mortgage rate we snagged.
Ms. Fortune is confident that Money Diaries will get people talking more about their finances. “Canadians are not comfortable talking about money, and here we are opening up this conversation into something we don’t typically talk about and laying it all out there. I think that really does push some buttons.”
Expect three Money Diaries to be published weekly on the Refinery29 Canada website for the next while. They’re being written by women in their mid-20s to early 30s, so you’ll be hearing a lot from people just starting to make sense of money. Read, discuss and be kind. Judgmental comments are today’s most worthless currency.
Ms. Fortune says the entries gathered so far have one common theme in particular – anxiety about owning homes. “This feels really Canadian to me,” she said. “We’ve been sold this dream [about home ownership] and we’re clinging onto it. You really see that in the diaries.”
PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST
The Globe and Mail, August 1, 2019