Hello friends! Welcome to Postcrossing Money Tales. Postcrossing.com it’s a wonderful website that allows users to exchange postcards with random people around the world. It’s a very simple idea: you send a postcard to a random generated user and you get a postcard from a different random user.
I came across with this website when I was in my year abroad in Germany when a friend introduced me to it (thanks, Peter!). I sent a few postcards from Berlin to users in Taiwan, Finland and Argentina among others and I got some postcards back from countries like the US, Japan, Morocco and India. With the postcards you can discover so many different places and every user writes a bit about their culture, the sight on the postcard or things about their life. Users like postcards about cities, nature, maps, transport and other things and every user can establish their preferences in their profile. Most users also ask you to write something about yourself on the back of the postcard rather than leaving the back blank. You can write something in your native language, or where you are from or the things you like to do.
What if I shared my experiences with money and mental health with them?
Just in the UK, 7.8% of the population suffers from a mix of anxiety and depression and around 10% of the people in the UK will experience depression in their lifetime. If you live in the US things aren’t looking better: 1 in 6 Americans suffer from depression every year and around 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety.
Not to mention the money problems: 8 million UK adults have “debt problem” and the household savings ratio just fell to its lowest since the early 60s. In the US it’s even worse: 157 million Americans carry credit card debt amounting $999 billion (that’s $999,800,000,000), that is roughly 63% of US adults while 44 million carry student loan debt. Latest non-revolving debt (loans) figures total over $2.8 trillion or $2,805,800,000,000. That is a lot of zeroes.
Whoever receives one of my postcards probably knows someone with debts, money problems or with mental health issues, so what if, instead of telling them my name, that I live in Scotland and that I love coffee I told them the things that aren’t working out in my life? the fact that money worries me and the uncertainty of the future led me to depression and anxiety and that I might not be having the best time of my life.
What if they shared their money experiences with me?
Every person in this planet is affected by money in a way. Some people are born with plenty and some others are born with nothing. Our financial background affects the decisions we make in a daily basis and the path we take in life. Having been made redundant or struggling with debt can make a severe impact in your mental health but there’s also plenty of unhappy people with a lot of money. In short, whether they are a Chinese student, a Russian worker or Finnish grandma, whether they count in yuan, euros or rubles I’m sure that they have their own money tales to tell. That’s why I also started asking people sending me postcards to tell me a short money experience that they had like:
- Have you ever been in debt? Has it affected your health/relationship?
- Are you saving for something big? How are you doing it?
- Have you ever struggled to make ends meet with your pay?
- Are you trying to spend less? What is your approach?
- Do you consider yourself an impulse buyer? – I am one! 🙁
As soon as a user receives a postcard he has to register it on the website where he is prompted to send a message to the sending user (most usually to thank him for the postcard). This is also a great channel for users I send my postcards to share their experiences with me. It’s great because they don’t have the character limitation they have with small postcards.
My aim here is not only to learn how people from around the world act with money but also to break some taboos: Money talks but no one talks money and it shouldn’t be like that. Most people prefer to endure scarcity and mental health issues without seeking help. I hope that with Postcrossing I make my small contribution to breaking the stigma around this.
So… Postcrossing Money Tales.
The first one to ever share with me is Carol (70) from the US: I sent her a postcard from my trip to Berlin featuring the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe as she wanted a postcard featuring labyrinths or mazes. If you’ve never been there, the memorial has 2711 concrete blocks of different sizes on a sloping field that makes you feel lost as you wander around them. When she received it, she wrote a message back:
“Oh wow! The card you chose for me is quite amazing to contemplate. Very sobering, but it is good there is such a memorial to remind people of history.
Your reason for postcrossing is quite poignant. I hope that your recovery is going well and that you will gain new perspective from people all over the world. You are not alone. Not alone in the bad money experiences, nor alone in your experience of anxiety and depression. I have had both, not necessarily related.
Here is one short episode of a personal experience that hurt. When I lived in Massachusetts, I worked part time for a fine art and craft gallery. The owner was a friend and she was quite unusual in that she offered me retirement savings even though I only worked about 24 hours a week. I was thrilled to have this little nest egg and watched it grow for a few years. She then told me about some stocks that her brother in law recommended. He was so avidly in favor of them that he had convinced my friend, the gallery owner, to invest in them heavily, so I felt it was a good option for me as well. It was a mistake. I lost my not so little nest egg …from almost $6,000 to $3.69. I have never invested in stocks again. Thankfully, it was savings for the future, not necessary to our daily expenses.
Thankfully, also, my husband and I have always been conservative spenders. We are fortunate to have stayed out of debt since moving from Massachusetts to South Carolina 15 years ago. When we were first married I had “budget envelopes” for our bills. At that time we put our earnings into these envelopes in order to have the cash to pay our utilities, gas and insurance for the car, food, and rent. It helped. It was only when there was some cash left over that we could consider anything extra. But times have changed drastically since we were young. It is much more challenging now. Our oldest grandson is 24 and he has struggled with money issues. He felt he needed a new car, he has house expenses and college loans. We are hoping his current job will bring in what he needs, but his parents are still helping him quite a bit.
I sent this postcard to Santa (Santa!!!), a 29 year-old librarian from Latvia who likes historical photos and castles. Luckily we have a fantastic castle in the centre of Edinburgh. She replied:
“Hello Jorge, Greetings from Latvia! Thank you for your postcard! Our relationship with money is such an interesting topic but people tend to avoid it. I think some principles should be taught at school! My experience is that we learn from our families, and that’s not always the best example for a young person. I earn more than my parents did, but somehow I still find that there is not enough money for important things. I once read that poor people think differently about money, and when they increase their income or inherit a huge sum they are soon broke again simply because of the way they think and therefore act. Have a great day and Happy Postcrossing!
I sent this postcard to Peter (61) from Flensburg, Germany. He joined postcrossing as an alternative to the digital world.
Many thanks for your postcard which I received today. You asked about the experiences with money. For me there is not much to say. I believe that nowadays there is too much attention on it. In my life (I´m 61 now) I learned that other things like friendship, love, health or having a partner on my side are really more important.
In your blog I read that you have a partner/girlfriend at your side? I think that is a treasure I hope you can appreciate.
Wishing you all the best,
Now we can move to the postcards I received recently:
Jannina (23) sent me this postcard from Rovaniemi, Finland: home of Santa Claus and a town in one of the northernmost regions in Europe.
“I live together with my boyfriend and he have had some financial difficulties due to his ex. When we started dating and living together, quite big part of his money went to his debts and I needed to provide for both of us. Finland is quite an expensive country to live in and government welfare isn’t big. That’s why there have been some difficult times when we have been jobless or I have been a student. Luckily all his debts are gone now and they don’t affect our relationship anymore. I wish all the best for you!
Denise (62) sent me this postcard from Guernsey, an Island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy.
I have never been well off and due to a disability now cannot work. I have Microsoft money on my computer and I budget for my regular expenses every month. The rest I split into cash x4 weeks and live on that set amount. It might be a lot of soups, beans and eggs on toast but I have never been in debt.
So far I’ve only received responses from people in Europe (and Carol’s from the US) and I found that even though we are in different stages in our life and come from very different backgrounds we are all affected by money and the choices we make with it. Some people have had bad experiences and have learnt from them. Some other people are so mindful that they don’t let money affect their minds and they focus in other things they consider more important (I wish I had that mindset!)
I will write here monthly about the best postcards I send and receive. Hopefully they will bring some food for thought and new topics to talk about.
Please share your thoughts in the comments!
StepChange Debt Charity (UK): for free expert advice on how to tackle your debt.
Citizens Advice (UK): for free, confidential legal advice.
Postcrossing: to support this wonderful project.
On mental health:
If you feel like something is not right with you, seek professional help. Visit your General Practitioner ASAP!
For self-help visit Scottish Association for Mental Health (SCO): Really useful links on how to deal every day with mental health issues and tips on how to be there with someone with those problems.
If you are based in the USA, MentalHealth.gov might be a good place to start