MY STORY: Do my straight mates really spend money differently to me?
“We spend less money on lube,” says Henrik. He, Ben* and I are close. Think Richard Curtis doing an insufferable mid-thirties East London bromance. They are straight men, I’m gay.
Henrik hits his lube punchline: “Unfortunately.”
We’ve seen each other through a thousand messy parties, a million pubs, three festivals, five holidays, five breakups, one wedding, one divorce, one child, and about six house moves. There’s no detail too gruesome and no honesty too brutal in our conversations, yet one topic remains shrouded in mystery: money.
We all have jobs. We do okay. But I don’t know how much they earn. There’s the odd “I’m broke this week”, and “Wow that jacket looks expensive”, but we never go deeper. They could be sitting on a pile of savings or drowning in debt. I have no clue and don’t buy the old lines that money is too personal or too boring to talk about. I think the reason we don’t talk about money is because we’ve never been allowed to, and therefore don’t know how.
But now, as a gay man entering my mid thirties, and after roughly seventeen years spunking mine on parties and holidays, money has slowly shifted to the front of my mind.
Soazig Clifton, a research associate at University College London, led a survey of 15,000 men and women in 2015, which found that people were seven times more likely to discuss sex than money. “Most people, once they start an interview with us, will tell us anything. They feel so liberated. They’ll tell us about their affairs, all of their partners, they’ll tell us all kinds of different things, but the one thing they won’t tell us is how much they earn.”
Silence around any topic always strikes me as a red flag. I suddenly have lots of questions – and not just around a lazy assumption that gay men are wasting all their cash on parties.
But what if I’m late in the game? What if my straight friends are slowly future-proofing themselves, preparing for family life or early retirement, while I’m plotting a week to Seville this summer?
I’m reminded of being a student, resting on my laurels, assured that my friends hadn’t started their dissertations, only to find they’d diligently written most of it on the down-low, leaving me close to a nervous breakdown the night before hand-in date. It’s time to talk.
“That’s cute now, but it’s not gonna be cute when you’re 40”
Some fundamentals: Ben has a son and a mortgage. Henrik is single and “about town.” That’s code for going on lots of dates and spending “£20 on charcuterie at La Bouche” (I pretended I’d heard of it). I’m somewhere in the middle: towing the line between living like a teenager and stashing up for a future I can no longer pretend isn’t coming. A sassy financial adviser provided for free at my previous job looked over my bank statements and shot out the indelible words: “That’s cute now, but it’s not gonna be cute when you’re 40”.
And so I’ve started saving. I’ve paid off most of an old, bloated overdraft but I still use £500 of it. I give Uber and Deliveroo as wide a berth as I can, but often slip.
We meet over beers in Ben’s kitchen and they both immediately laugh off the notion that our sexuality has anything to do with how we spend. And then subtle differences start popping up.
“I pretty much always get the bill at the end of a date” Henrik notices, visibly bothered by the glaring gender inequality this implies.
I tell them my own same-sex dates are equal. I’ll get the food, he’ll get the drinks, and so on. An unspoken pact of evenness that takes the load of every dating LGBTQ+ person’s wallet.
LGBTQ+ people could save what their straight friends are spending
I tell them I currently don’t want kids (maybe when I’m older), and that whatever Ben splashes on childcare, I could be stashing up for a house in the South of Italy.
“That’s because you don’t want kids, not because you’re gay”. Gold star for Ben.
“But I don’t have a girlfriend with a ticking biological clock, meaning my timeline is fluid”, I quip back.
They nod but aren’t convinced; I could just as easily be with a man who wants a kid now.
Here’s what else I find out. Ben and I save. Henrik doesn’t, but is really surprised to hear we’re both deep in our overdrafts every month (I thought everybody did this). We’ve all steered clear of credit cards. No one keeps a spreadsheet, but we all have a rough mental budget we stick to.
Come months’ end, we all divide what’s left in our accounts for an average daily spend. We have guilt purchases.
“Fucking delicious six-pound bullshit hipster coffee three times a day”, Ben rages.
“I haven’t eaten home in, like, six months” Henrik admits. Our jaws drop. “Cooking for one is so lame”, he adds. We nod.
The difference in my finances to my straight pals is down to lifestyle choice, not sexuality.
I’m single and fortunate enough to be able to afford a small, one-bed flat in Newington Green. I’m shocked to learn that what I can muster for rent, Ben and his girlfriend spent roughly the same on 4 days of childcare a week. It’s not posh, from 9 to 5 (not a minute later). But being single, childless and having cash to spare on a home with exposed wooden floors and high ceilings isn’t a gay perk. Plenty of my straight friends do just that, and it has never been more possible for gay people to pour their income into caring for offspring. The difference in my finances to my straight pals is down to lifestyle choice, not sexuality.
That’s a notion we put to rest within minutes of starting this conversation. It’s the conversation itself that became the story.
During an evening of conversation, we still don’t tell each other how much we earn. We talk around it, but no one volunteers an amount. It’s the only taboo that remains and I think it’s because we don’t want to even hint at a hierarchy between us. It would feel vulgar. But it shouldn’t. Because I feel a genuine lifting of the veil around the kitchen table as we reveal more about our relationships with money and how we spend it. It feels good to have this conversation and we can’t quite believe we’ve never had it.
So start talking about money. Start asking questions. It’s okay, just don’t expect to find answers in your sexuality.
*Names have been changed
The expert opinion
“What strikes me most (and couldn’t resist commenting on) is the cost of Ben’s coffee,” says Paul Thompson of Equality Wealth. It’s a new service helping LGBTQ+ people get their finances in order.
“For me I’d much rather cut down on the expensive coffees than the wine and partying.
“We did a rough calculation and calculated (with compounding and growth and other factors), cutting out two of the three coffees a day, and assuming that you have 35 years to go before retiring, could result in a whopping half a million pounds saving.
“People can’t get the best advice if they don’t feel comfortable talking freely. We set up Equality Wealth to provide an understanding and confidential place for LGBTQ+ people and their friends to talk about their finances.”
“We think that for anyone, it’s really important to talk to someone about your finances with someone who understands your lifestyle and can support but not judge.”