Money Taboo

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Think about your friends. Who hasn’t had an orgasm? Which one was once suicidal? Who had an abortion? Which chick dabbled in bisexuality for a while?

Personal questions, but I bet you know the answers.

Now here’s another: How much does each one of them make? Which one is nearly $10k in debt? Who has over eight credit cards? Which one has a savings account twice their yearly salary?

If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t have any clue. Most people shrink at the notion of discussing money. I mean, their finances are none of your business, right?

And yet money affects every aspect of our relationships with other people. Where we decide to live, how we socialize, what we do with our free time – money is a deciding factor in how we interact in the world around us.

American culture is notoriously silent when it comes to money. We’re afraid of being labeled as the “poor one” and the object of pity, or perhaps worse, the “rich one” and the one nominated to pick up the check. Jealousy, pride, resentment, boastfulness – these are all feelings that money talk can trigger.

A 2008 creditcard.com poll revealed that people were more likely to talk about death, their love life, and their weight than they were to talk about their credit card debt, which ranked as the #1 taboo. This despite the fact that the average American holds $8,000 in credit card debt.

Talking about debt and financial woes is never easy. But not talking about our money and debt allows it to be ignored, and essentially given room to grow. We busy ourselves making sure our outward appearance reflects success and prosperity, while inside we can be collapsing under a mountain of debt. And since we don’t talk about it, getting help can be difficult, if not nearly impossible.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Chinese Personal Finance Blogger Xin Lu writes about how different the attitudes towards money are in her culture. In China people discuss their salaries openly. “Discussing one’s income is not always a matter of bragging because not everyone is rich,” she writes on wisebread.com. “Once you speak to people and find out their income they tell you more about how they live.” This open conversation leads to more responsible spending (in her culture, credit is not trusted), and even helping each other negotiate higher salaries. In addition, in China it’s customary to barter prices, getting up to 70% off items – just another perk of relieving the taboo from money.

Perhaps we can’t convert an entire culture overnight, but talking to your friends and family about your finances can create a supportive community where you can discuss finances in a safe environment. No one’s perfect, but an open dialogue can help realize the flaws in your spending and educate you on better habits. By relieving the taboo of money, you can release the power money may have over you. You are not your salary, the clothes you wear, nor the car you drive. Money can do a lot of great things, but in the end, its import to remember that it does not define you. Anyone who you feel comfortable telling about your sexual history should be equally non-judgmental if you reveal you’re $40,000 in debt. You may not be where you want to be, but talking about money will help you move in the direction you want to go.

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  • Great topic – I find this so true – I think one of the reasons people don’t talk openly about money is that some people feel that when they do talk about it – others will think they are looking for a hand-out – but in reality the person or people they are apprehensive about talking to are most often in the same financial situation or even worse.

  • ceecee

    I don’t know about this. Finances came up once in a conversation with some coworkers and I casually mentioned how I was in the red (I constantly struggle with balancing my finances even though I read up on smart money management and practice the principles all the time) So I’ve been labeled as the money careless spender when we joke around during water cooler conversations.

  • @Ceecee – I’m sure those jokers around the water cooler are experiencing the same thing – like we all do. Hey maybe they are even worse off and just laughing instead of crying.

  • Cdubb

    @Ceecee – Your experience with your co-workers is proof that financial conversations should be had ONLY between FRIENDS/FAMILY like the article says. Casual acquaintances and co-workers don’t usually have your best interest at heart and will be tackless,careless, and insensitive about your financial situation.

    IA w/article – We should be able to talk more openly about finances. I think it would be extremely helpful! It would provide a sense of accountability between people and release some pressure of having to say “NO” to going somewhere or buying something. But, finances are a personal issue so like with other personal issues, you have to be cautious about who you tell your business.