Minnocks on Money: remittances in an envelope

Welcome to Minnocks on Money, in which I talk to my older family members about how they’ve managed money throughout their life, in a world where FinTech didn’t exist (or did it?).

Nowadays the global remittance market is valued at over $700bn. Remittances are when money is earned or obtained in a foreign country and sent back to a home market, usually by foreign workers to their families. These, and international money transfers more widely, are an area that FinTechs like Wise and Revolut have sought to disrupt.

In 1950s Ireland, remittances usually meant a family member was working abroad (often in England) and the money arrived in a special envelope with a cross on it. I spoke to my dad about his memories of my grandfather, Andy, who sent money home from his work in England throughout the years – before the family would end up emigrating.

My grandfather, Andy, tending the garden at home in Westmeath, Ireland, with young son Michael and a nephew. 1963.

For context, some of the below information comes from interjections by my mother, second generation Irish, who also remembers the experience of immigrant families in England – and, like many women her age, has taken on the task of remembering things on behalf of her husband.

Firstly, why was it necessary for your father – and so many other people’s fathers – to go and find work in England?

There were not many jobs, simple as that. There was high unemployment.

It’s safe to say the running of the economy was not a strength of the government when the Free State was formed. Globally, the economy was hit by the Depression of the 1930s; a World War and some poor decisions by the government all contributed to a poor economy and not enough resources to support those who needed it.

My father personally would have had his job opportunities diminished by the fact he served in the British Army in the War, which excluded him from jobs in local authorities.

But why did it make sense for so many Irish people to go and live in a different country, support themselves there, and still send money back?

Very simply, there was no alternative. At least if they were earning money, they had something left over. They lived very frugally and so did whoever was left behind.

There was a big demand for workers in Britain at that time, so they could work overtime. It wasn’t that people went over “on spec” to see if there was work – they knew there would be work.

It was a time of adjustment for the country. There wasn’t a huge manufacturing industry in Ireland and demand for farm work had decreased. Lots of younger people went and made a life for themselves, but there was also a stratum of people who spent their time just earning money for their families back home – some did it on a full-time basis, some on a seasonal basis.

My father picked hops seasonally in Kent, and did things related to farming, which was what he would know about. I’m not sure how much he did in building, a trade lots of Irish people worked in, but I remember he got a job in a chemical factory in the North of England. He came home once with a pair of clogs, which all the factory workers wore.

He would divide his money between a frugal room for himself, and sending what was left over to my mother.

What was the attitude of people in England to the Irish migrant workers?

Of course, my father heard the statements from people, especially in London, about signs reading “no blacks, no Irish” and sometimes adding “animals accepted”. But he had great misgivings about it: his personal story was that people were very reasonable, based on how he treated them.

He felt some attitudes were justified because some people renting rooms from Ireland would have been reluctant to pay, and very into drinking. So, they would have been capable of doing damage and would have been very unreliable. From his point of view, he never had a problem – and he also took the responsibility of bringing over a number of young people from our town, finding them places to live and monitoring how they behaved toward people.

So that was his understanding.

What do you think led to the behaviour of certain people away from home?

One cause of this situation which he felt aggrieved by – and I also experienced when I went to England, so I can see his point – was a tendency among judges in Ireland to punish people for crimes by giving them the option of a fine, jail time… or leaving town and going to England.

So, some people over there would have had a criminal record and so on. There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s what happened, and others were then tarred with the same brush. People like my father very much had to build their own reputation.

Also, a lot of people would go to what you might have called “ghettos”. And there’s something to be said for that – the comfort of being with people from the same place as you. But comfort also came from the abuse of alcohol a lot of the time, which brought on depression and became a vicious cycle.

This was the cornerstone of a reputation for fighting or drinking – some of it was justified, some of it wasn’t. It’s fair to say that a large percentage of the migrant workers would in fact have been very sober, and would set about building their homes, buying houses, and saving money. Their children, the second generation, would have been very highly educated. That was a big thing; they made sure of that.

How often was money sent back and how did it get there?

Once a week, by registered letter. It was cash – always in notes, no cheques. Sometimes it was a postal order. Currency wasn’t an issue – the Irish pound’s value was linked to the English Sterling, and the currency didn’t break until the late seventies. It is worth noting that of about 25 houses on the road we lived in, over 20 would have these letters delivered, if not weekly then once a month. They played a significant part in supporting businesses as the money was very quickly circulated in the local economy.

Was it ever a bit uncertain waiting for the money to come back? Did your mother know what she was going to get each week?

It was always the same amount unless he would do overtime, or have to save up money to come over for a holiday – but that wasn’t often as it wasn’t that many years he worked over there. Eventually he came back because the local economy picked up, there was building work more locally. He would have had constant employment for a few years, but then in the early sixties it began to break down again and he wanted different opportunities – we emigrated as a family in 1964. My older brother had finished his apprenticeship and was working and married, so there were only two boys left, myself and my younger brother.
My sister was already over there working and would also have sent a bit of money back.

I was going to ask, was it primarily the men like your father who went over…

No, the younger people would have gone over and lots of girls would have worked in shops, offices, factories and also as nurses. They would have sent some money to their parents and families too. Probably more ad hoc in some cases.

My dad, Tom, with his sister Eileen and younger brother Michael. Taken when Eileen was visiting home from England. 1963.
It’s worth noting dad is a true baby boomer (born early 1947) so there is a big age gap between the older and younger siblings for obvious reasons.

Were most of those families on your street relying solely on the money from England, or did people like your mother find any work?

My mother would have been quite exceptional, I think, insofar as she did a few different jobs and was quite proactive. I can’t think of anyone else on the road who was employed, except a widow who was the housekeeper for the local priest and a few local spinsters who had to provide for themselves.

My mother did tasks she was good at. She cleaned the offices of a solicitor and the houses of a couple of teachers. She also worked from home for the local butcher preparing poultry – plucking hens, turkeys, ducks and also pheasants. Some of this was seasonal, and it made for especially welcome income around Christmas time. There was some bartering involved: she would get meat in return for her labours.

She also reared chickens and kept geese to provide us with eggs and meat. We became used to parts of the shed and kitchen being covered in feathers and the distinctive smell when the innards were removed and disposed of. It soon passed, and we would have the money spent on new shoes or clothes, so that was a good consolation.

Looking back, she was very entrepreneurial (a word not used at that time) and I developed a good work ethic from her which I hope has passed down the generations.

Were there ever any times the money didn’t arrive, though?

Sometimes, if they money didn’t arrive one week, the shopkeepers who knew your family member was in England would have a slate and you would get a little bit of sympathy. Local charities – usually the clergy – would sometimes step in.

Usually it would arrive regularly, and also people would continue to send money back – sons to their parents for example – even once they’d started their own families. It was simply seen that people in England were richer. We’d have to look into what the cost of living and currency rates were, but your money seemed to go further in England and the wages were bigger. It was more frequent, it was constant, it was more.

Of course, nowadays you can text someone and you know the money will arrive very quickly. I would feel insecure waiting for an envelope of money.

We felt secure in our family, but some people did occasionally disappear into the ether. Some men nominally went to England to work and send the money over but never came back. Or they did for a bit, and then it fizzled out. You never heard from them again.

Dodgy career advice – and my alternative tips

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I love a good old bit of advice – doling it out, totally unsolicited, and on occasion taking it.

If I could change one thing about the world, it would be to make everyone that little bit more confident and help people see their potential in life.

That’s why I love that there’s so much advice out there for careers, which form a very important part of our lives – whether you’re climbing a ladder or simply want enough money to enjoy yourself.

Social media has, unfortunately, reduced a lot of good advice down to buzz phrases and blanket statements – so here are a few that I think are a bit dodgy, and could use some clarifying.

Never say sorry.

Most of us, in Britain anyway, apologise too much. “What’s your name?” “Oh, sorry, it’s Olivia.” What?

In the workplace we all make unnecessary apologies. Often for asking someone to, you know, do their job. Sometimes it is helpful to replace phrases like “sorry to bother you” with “thanks in advance.”

But “stop saying sorry” is just one of the blanket rules that are doled out, especially to women, which simply don’t work. “Instead of sorry I’m late, say thanks for waiting,” advises a #girlboss graphic. No – if you’re late, apologise. You don’t need to be consumed with guilt. It won’t make you appear weak. If you genuinely mess up, “sorry” is a useful and important word.

Another phrase currently up for obliteration is “does that make sense?” Sometimes, this can indeed dampen down your point. It can sound apologetic and less confident. But sometimes, it affords those in the room the chance to ask a question. Language is important but banning words and phrases is counterproductive.

My alternative tip: say sorry when you really are sorry, say it once, and move on.

Set boundaries.

This is, in and of itself, correct. Boundaries are inherently good and, in the age of flexible working, it’s vital to put them in place and be consistent.

Healthy boundaries can look like being aware of your job description and avoiding having other tasks creep in over time, for which you are not compensated. It might look like not answering emails on the weekend.

Unhealthy boundaries can often look like laziness and a lack of flexibility. Nobody should expect you to stay late at work on a regular basis, but hanging up on a Zoom call mid-sentence because it’s “home time” is a bit too far (reader: this happened).

It should not be your responsibility to work on an understaffed team, but if someone is sick or some last-minute work comes in, saying “that’s not my problem” and leaving people in the lurch seems, to me, like a very toxic form of “self care”. We’re all human and sometimes people need support – I would just recommend noting who supports you in return, and not turning exceptions into habits.

My alternative tip: it’s fine to do the bare minimum, but you have to get comfortable with the idea that someone else might not, and that they might be rewarded.

Always listen to feedback.

Even though I am young enough to know everything, I still believe all feedback is useful – but this has definitely got me into trouble. The truth is, if you listened to everybody’s feedback about your product, your work or even your personality you’d run yourself ragged trying to chop and change to fit it all.

Try to be a filter, not a sponge. I still listen to feedback and take it on board, but before I put anything into action I take a couple of days to process the reasons behind the feedback – does the giver have the same goal as me? What were their emotions and motivations for giving it? I recently heard someone ask “are they an observer or a participant?” and found that very useful.

All feedback should be processed, but not all of it needs to be put into action. Most businesses – and indeed, people – have a specific target audience. It’s OK if someone isn’t yours.

My alternative tip: don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice.

Speak up.

Always speak up! Provided you have something to say.

We’ve all been there. I’m very much a silence filler and a lot of my contributions come from a place of “well nobody else is putting their hand up”. But, add too much of nothing to a conversation and you’ll soon be found out.  

You should never be afraid to speak up where you think an idea can add value – or when you have an important question. Most of the time, if you don’t understand something, someone else in the room doesn’t either – but they’re scared to ask.

I’ve been reflecting on confidence a lot recently, and how many of us think it means being the loudest one in the room, or the centre of every conversation. True confidence is being yourself, knowing you deserve to be in the room, listening to others, and being comfortable with silence.

My alternative tip: Save “speaking up” for when you have something to say. That way, people will look forward to your contributions.

Bonus tip from Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”  

I’m 24, stop notifying me every time I buy an iced coffee

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Every time I make a purchase, half a dozen apps clamour to tell me what I just bought and how much I spent on it. I am not sure where they think I was throughout the transaction.

“You just spent £5 in Pret!” notifies my challenger bank. My money management app will inevitably ping – sometime later, might I add – to tell me the same thing, but with a patronisingly judgemental emoji, explaining I’ve spent well over my iced coffee budget for the year.

My savings app, connected to my challenger bank through the magic of open banking, also decides to get in on the notification game – for reasons unclear. Perhaps just to reassure me it knows what’s going on.

All of these FinTechs are incredibly proud of their ability to explain exactly what, where, when and how I spend. At first, this was an exciting gimmick – how does it know? But now, it seems pretty futile to tell someone who just left a café holding a coffee that they just bought a coffee. Especially when even my Main Bank, the big old dinosaur, can now do the same thing.

The purpose of all this, presumably, is to equip people with the information they need to do better with their money. It’s supposed to empower us with as much knowledge as possible.

But I was born in 1996. My first bank account had an easily accessible webpage showing a list of everything that went in and out, as did my PayPal account. Within a year I had “mobile banking” where it was even easier to see all my transactions on an app.

I have never lived a life where I didn’t have all this information at my fingertips, and – as an educated, middle class white woman who grew up on a budget with fairly financially savvy parents – I’ve always felt pretty confident and secure about it.

My generation (a “cusp” between Millennial and “zee”) now takes it for granted that we know exactly what’s happening with our money at any given time, should we choose to be interested. So what’s next? What actually is useful and helpful for the twentysomething and their (virtual) wallet?

For me, knowing what I am spending doesn’t massively change my behaviour in the way I might hope. It doesn’t take an app to tell me that Uber Eats was my biggest spending category in May. I was there. I Uber ate.

One thing I have found useful so far is Plum, a savings app that secretly rounds up my transactions and squirrels my money away in separate account without me noticing. I also use Moneybox to manage my LISA and a 45 day savings account. This makes it incredibly easy to put moneyinto my savings, but I know I’ll be penalised for getting it out. As someone who will spend everything that’s in their current account, but no more, these suit me down to the ground.

Another feature I would find useful is being able to go through my subscriptions – something people my age sign up to with gusto and forget about after the free trial period – and cancel all those I am not using. So far, I’ve seen apps like Emma promise this feature, but fail to deliver anything especially seamless or suggest anything I wasn’t aware of.

The question, for those of us who have budgeting and saving down – or feel we can go no further – is now how we make more with our money, and that will inevitably involve investing some of it. I know apps like Plum and Revolut offer this feature, but so far I’ve only bought a small amount of gold – which I again find useful because this is kept separate to my “spending” money.

I will have to investigate some wealth options next, and see if these make me feel any more empowered than I have since I opened my first account.  

How I… measure productivity in 2021

The “right to be busy”…

One particularly horrible week in a particularly horrible job, I was told by a colleague: “You need to do more. You should be making sacrifices for your team; not the other way around”. 

In the same week, another colleague made a complaint that my long working hours, which bled into evenings and weekends, were “demoralising” to others. 

That week taught me two things. First, the important life lesson that you really can’t please all the people all the time. Second, that nobody else can measure your productivity or decide if you’re doing enough. 

I never feel that I am doing enough. A strong work ethic and in-built sense of duty toward others, coupled with doing a job you genuinely care about, is a dangerous concoction that can lead to burnout. 

At the very least, it’s a constant sense of panic bubbling away below the surface as the to-do list only gets longer, and the person you finally remember to email has the audacity to reply straight away (what were they doing for six weeks?)

2020 has been a good year for me in learning to look after myself and measure my productivity on my own terms. Here are some things I’ll continue to consider in 2021 to keep that panic at a nice dull roar.

Where do I add value? Keep coming back to this question because the answer will change. As I progress as an editor, the role becomes less about writing and editing and more about offering opinions and advice, and that can be hard to measure. 

Shifting from “doing” to “thinking” is usually a positive sign in your career. You should be able to discuss problems and talk through ideas without worrying that you have 1000 words to write, or cakes to bake, or whatever it might be. If people are asking for your support and you’re giving it – this is productive.

Be honest with others. There is nothing worse than knowing a colleague isn’t being honest with you. Yes, I might come across as negative in meetings when I say things like “I haven’t even had a chance to start that yet” or “No, I can’t take that on in the time available”. 

But I know from experience this is a lot less frustrating than insisting something is “almost there” only to deliver it late, badly, and lacking the support it needed from the team. Keep everyone in the loop,  even if it’s not a nice loop to be in.

Be honest with yourself. I am not writing this article to tell you to do less. Self care is key but there’s enough toxic content out there that screams “don’t fancy getting out of bed? Never do it again!”

In 2020, we have been left to hold ourselves accountable more than ever. Some of us have an even higher workload and have to ensure we make time for breaks. We also have to keep up communication and be honest about our output – with our colleagues but also with ourselves, ideally not spending all our time wandering over to the fridge, opening it, closing it, and opening it again with lower expectations. 

During my brief career as a “runner”*, I used the walk-run method to start and was advised to “run until you feel tired and walk until you feel guilty”. If you’re kidding yourself, you’ll know – so listen to that voice really deep down.

Prioritise. It sounds obvious, but keep coming back to how and why you are prioritising your tasks. It’s easy to get caught up with the loudest client or the most persistent emailer, at the expense of the bigger picture.

I have regular discussions with my boss and wider team about what needs to be done to take the business forward, as well as taking time out to think about what content our community needs. Sometimes, I even prioritise the most fun task – which is not just allowed, but recommended. 

Reverse the situation. Having to delay things or not quite meet expectations is part of life, but never seems to feel any less disappointing. I can’t stand letting people down even if that’s just having to cancel a meeting or rearrange a call. But am I letting them down? Or was a call with me not necessarily the highlight of their week? 

How would you feel if the situation was reversed? Would you take it as a sign of laziness and lack of consideration, or a sign that someone is obviously busy and important (ergo worth talking to), and be grateful they want more time to properly prepare for the call?

Embrace the right to be busy. On that note, just as the people you work with have the right to be too busy to take on another task or make it to a call, so do you. In a society that praises the “grind” and 24/7 working, we still somehow feel horribly guilty for having too much work on. Remember being busy (as long as it’s productive busyness) is a positive sign, and if people have time to judge you for it they’re probably not adding much value themselves. 

*I did one 10K very slowly, and after much consideration running will not be on my list of resolutions for 2021. 



Thank you for visiting my site, especially as it doesn’t look like much at the moment.

I’m Olivia – a writer and editor in the FinTech sector.

I set up this website in order to write my own thoughts and opinions related to money – whether they’re to do with financial technology but don’t fit in with my day job, wider issues around our attitude to money, advice on how to progress in your career (and thus hopefully, but not necessarily, have more money), as well as reviews of things I have read or tried.

For now, I’m working on planning and populating the site with a few key articles, and emailing the poor customer service team at WordPress every time I get totally lost or something disappears. It turns out working in tech doesn’t help much when it comes to actually using the internet.

Anyway, thank you for joining me and I look forward to sharing more posts with you.