Your bank balance.
What is sitting in your bank account right now?
You might look at that number and feel proud. You might feel ambivalent. You might look at it and feel overwhelming, gut-wrenching, sweaty-palmed concern. You might feel so sick about it that you don't actually look at the number at all - you go about your life and hope for the best, reflexively closing your eyes when you touch your debit card to the eftpos machine, breathing a sigh of relief when the 'accepted' notification beeps onto the screen.
Whatever you think and feel about that number sitting next to your name, it tells a story. One that you might not have had a whole bunch of control over. One that began from the moment you were born - one that's been shaped and influenced by a million different competing factors.
If life didn't serve you up family wealth, it can be tricky. I get it. When I landed my first 'career' job, I was on a $40,000 salary. My parents had just unexpectedly split up, and my mum couldn't afford to keep renting the house we were in without my dad's income. They both moved into separate units, but there was a catch: neither place had room for me. As a result, I was forced to move out of home and into a one-bedroom shoebox apartment. At the same time, my health - both mental and physical - crumbled. Between my chronic asthma and anxiety, I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on specialist appointments and medications. Luckily, I had my boyfriend Mitch to help pay rent - but because the big move out of home came far earlier than we had ever planned 10 months into our relationship, we weren't exactly financially equipped to cope with rent and bills and all of the other random expenses that come with being independent.
It was one of the most stressful times of my life, and it taught me a lot of lessons about money and security. Three years later, we are still in the same dingy, airless, annoyingly dark shoebox apartment. It is the bane of my existence when I need to put the lights on at 12pm every day, but I'm also proud of us for staying here (even when we can technically afford to not have to rid the bathroom ceiling of mould every two weeks) because it's allowed us to slowly build up our savings and think seriously about our future.
The frustration doesn't just dissipate there, though; I still grit my teeth when I hear of acquaintances getting leg-ups on home loans because they have a family member to be their guarantor. It doesn't feel fair that I will be disadvantaged and have to pay Lender's Mortgage Insurance because my parents separated and don't own property.
Actually - scrap that - it actually isn't fair at all.
Maybe you read that story above with a smirk because my situation at 21 seems like nirvana to you; that's OK too. To some, that 21-year-old girl will sound like the definition of privileged - she had a job, and a partner, after all - and to others, it will sound like a pretty crappy time.
My point is: If you feel despondent about money right now, you're not alone.
A post in our Facebook Group on Wednesday night made it clear that for some of you, the three money diaries shared on our She's On The Money podcast so far have been demoralising. The teacher, healthcare worker and nurse featured on the show haven't adequately reflected your own money stories, and for that Zara and I have to apologise. When we set out to present these money diaries, we wanted to bring you relatable content with an aspirational tilt; particularly from those in the most popular and studied fields. What we ignored, however, when we reached out and asked for volunteers, is that the people least likely to volunteer their money diaries are those who feel like they're treading water. For those women, the idea of sitting down and revealing their money diaries is terrifying.
While we are only three episodes into the 12-part series, we do promise to bring more diversity into that segment and - thanks to that thread in the group - have now connected with a range of women on lower incomes who are willing to meet with us in person and record an interview, one of which will be featured in episode four.
Frustrations aside, though, that thread did also illuminate something else of equal importance: we need to keep talking about this, at every possible chance, even when it feels awkward.
The uncomfortable money conversations are important - indelibly so - because they educate us all. Being honest with ourselves about our money stories and how we can change them for the better is absolutely necessary if we want to improve our financial position. For some of us, that change will come with tough love. For others, it will be through gentle coaxing.
These conversations might make us squirm, yes, but they're the only way forward if we want to improve women's financial literacy and confidence.
We are not sharing women's money stories to make you feel isolated, or alone. We are sharing them to open a dialogue; to talk about the 'taboo' stuff in a helpful way - in a way that finally gives women a seat at the table.
There are nine episodes to go, and we can't wait to show you what's in store.
With lots of love,