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Breaking the taboo of talking about money

20.06.2019 by Jack H

Money can be a bit of an overwhelming subject for some people, let alone talking about it openly with friends and family. There is a reluctance to open up and speak about financial statuses and challenges, known as the ‘money talk taboo.’ Money tops the list of uncomfortable subjects, beating out many other touchy subjects, including religion, politics, health and weight, and love life.

Ask yourself some questions: do you know what your parents earn? What about what your friends earn? Do you know what your co-workers earn? Are you aware of what other people’s debts are like? If the answer to most of these questions is a resounding ‘no,’ then you could be affected by the money talk taboo.

Why are we afraid of talking about money?

Most people were raised to believe talking openly about finances was rude. A lot of people probably remember their parents gasping in shock if you asked how much money they earned, or if they had debt, and then got a scolding for doing so. The notion that asking or speaking about your finances, or asking about others’ finances, was so highly discouraged, that many people feel extremely uncomfortable even thinking about talking about it now. Don’t talk about what you earn per year. Don’t ask your parents about their mortgage. Don’t ask your friends what kind of rent they pay. Don’t ask your colleagues what they earn. The question is, though, why not? What are we so afraid of?

For some, the answer could be that you are uncomfortable talking about it openly because you can’t talk about it privately. If you can’t have that conversation with yourself, how can you possibly have it with anyone else? Yes, it’s an intimidating and sobering conversation that starts with a deep dive into your financial status and habits, but it’s an important and necessary conversation to have. How do you keep on top of your finances, or how can you set financial goals or plan for retirement if you don’t even know about your own wealth? It’s time to break the taboo and be open and honest, and it’s to your benefit.

Why should we break the taboo?

Generally, taboos are seen as bad topics, topics you don’t speak of because society has deemed them uncomfortable or just plain wrong. However, continuing and participating in taboos can be detrimental to you and everyone around you. If you don’t talk about something openly and honestly, how will you learn? How will you grow? How will you better yourself?

Discouragement of speaking about a certain topic fosters a total lack of conversation, which can make people feel embarrassed and shamed into silence. Small, easily fixable hurdles can quickly develop into large, seemingly insurmountable issues because nobody wants to bring them up in the first place.

Debt is one good example of this. Say you have to take out a loan for a huge expense on top of a mortgage and student debt you already have, and the financial institution offers you a high-interest rate and a repayment plan you can’t afford. You struggle to make ends meet, but ultimately end up in even more debt trying to pay it back via your credit cards, because this is the only way you can. Or so you think. This exact scenario is not uncommon, but because of this money talk taboo, people in this situation won’t open up to others to discuss their woes.

Having a cone of silence around the topic can lead people to believe these false ideas, like ‘why am I the only one having this problem?’ Or ‘how come nobody else is struggling? Am I failing?’, when, in reality, financial struggles are common across many communities and demographics. They affect so much of the general population and are most likely more common than you imagine. Closing off the conversation perpetuates the feeling of being alone in the world, and even more damaging stops people from asking questions and seeking the help they need.

Using the same scenario as above, say the person in debt wasn’t uncomfortable talking about their financial troubles. After taking out the new loan, they discussed it with their friend who mentioned they went through a similar experience but spoke to someone at the bank who helped them. So, this person went and consulted with a financial advisor, who helped them sort through their finances, consolidated their debt payments to make them more manageable, and helped them create a savings plan on top of everything. Their financial situation just improved greatly, and all because they chose to speak up about it and ask for help.

If all you do to start the process of breaking this taboo is one thing today, pick a close friend whom you trust and open up to them about your financial status. Ask them about theirs. Discuss things like how much are both of your monthly expenses versus earnings, what kind of debt you both are in and how much you pay in interest fees, what your savings or any investments look like, and what financial obligations you both have. It isn’t rude, or engaging in gossip – it’s being honest. You could be surprised at what you learn.

For money saving tips and and expert advice on how to make the best of your finances take a look at our other money saving tip articles.

Not Taboo, Family Talking about Money
Not Taboo, Family Talking about Money

Get the family involved

Another benefit of breaking the taboo is that speaking openly about money can help you financially plan together with your family. There are a number of reasons why this is beneficial. If you’re trying to budget for family expenses, it’s challenging to do without any of your family members’ input. You can only guess what their needs and wants are; so rather than assuming and missing something important, it’s better to find out from them directly and be frank about what kind of budget you can work with to help achieve everyone’s needs and wants. It can also help you problem solve if something isn’t in the budget, but is deeply important.

An example of this could be sports or dance lessons for your little one. By going through your family’s budget together, you can collectively decide where to cut costs, where to allocate more money, and how to scrape together more if it is desperately needed. You can also set goals together as a family, so everyone understands where the money for the family annual holiday is coming from, for example.

Having these kinds of discussions with your children teaches them good financial habits and skills. If you keep your kids out of the conversation and hide your finances from them, you could be hurting them in the long run. Keep them in the budgetary loop and inform them about money and how to save and spend wisely when they’re young. This information is invaluable because when they’re older, they’re going to need this skill. It will teach them to appreciate the value of hard-earned money, therefore giving them a sense of how much work it is to afford frivolities like holidays, dining out at restaurants, and spending on extras. They will understand that not everything is possible, but working towards a goal is beneficial and a healthy way to look at money.

You can teach your children smart ways to save and even budget their allowances for themselves to spend on small purchases like sweets or toys. This will further increase their understanding of money and will foster good spending habits when they’re older and have a disposable income. The last thing any parent wants is their child falling into the same destructive habits they have been plagued with or have overcome, so setting them up for success means having frank and open discussions early on. Obviously what you don’t want to do is burden them with any fiduciary stress, but gently explaining to them in terms they can understand will help them learn important life lessons before they have a chance to get themselves into financial trouble early on.

Helps you to budget better

Not only will breaking the taboo help your family but also it will help you budget better. It’s difficult to know where on the scale you fall in terms of financial obligations, like rent or loan repayment, if you don’t discuss amongst your peers. There are plenty of companies who would jump at the chance to take advantage of someone who doesn’t pay enough attention to their finances, which could end up costing you. If you’re open and honest about what kind of situation you’re in, you can see where the gaps are and take the necessary steps to fix them.

It will also give you the opportunity to self-audit and learn where your own shortcomings are in terms of your spending habits, investment opportunities, or saving habits. This will give you a good chance to learn about something you might not have known before. Whether you’re looking to learn more about cost-saving tips, investment strategies, consolidating debt, or whatever else will help organise your finances, there is no time like the present to jump right in. Taking a good hard look at your financial situation and being honest with yourself is the first step when overcoming a problem or breaking the taboo of the money talk.

If you feel stuck already, no problem – that’s totally normal, and there is no need to pre-stress and panic. After all, you are confronting a topic that you probably have spent most of your life avoiding. There are plenty of resources, both online and offline, which can help you get started and answer basic questions. Reddit is one of the best resources for beginners looking to learn about finances and those seeking advice. There are various topic boards, called subreddits, that cater to a variety of needs, whether you’re starting out and need a more ‘finances for beginner’ style information, if you have got the basics covered but want to take it further, or if you’re a seasoned budgeter, investor, or already have a savings plan. The subreddits are all fuelled by community posts, where one user poses a question or posts an article for discussion, and other people leave comments with their opinions, advice, or similar stories for peace of mind.

The best part is, on Reddit everyone is anonymous. You can pose your questions and expose your financial situation without fear or intimidation of judgement. Unless you give away your personal information that people can use to identify you offline, nobody will know who you are. This opens up the freedom to ask whatever you want on very specific details of your finances if you are comfortable doing so (and after reading this article, you should at least feel empowered to take this step). Of course, this could have a downside, as you aren’t sure who the person giving you advice is – they could claim to be someone with clout or a ton of experience when in reality they are anything but. However, this is a good place to gather information to take to someone like a financial advisor to ask follow-up questions about and gain more insight.

Reddit is just one example of a place to learn and get more financial information. There are many other interactive online forums dedicated to banking, investing, saving, and budgeting you can browse. You may not even feel the need to post your own financial situation online if you see another post with similar questions that had been answered by experts. You can dive into all the written resources, as there are a myriad of books written on the topic by reputable people, but be careful not to take some ‘get rich quick scheme’ people too seriously. You can speak to financial planners, advisors, or someone at your local bank branch who is already privy to your financial situation. Or, if you are open and discuss these matters with your friends and family, they could give you tips or teach you something you didn’t know before that has worked for them.

How to break the taboo?

So by now, you should be convinced that the money talk taboo is unnecessary and even harmful. What can you do about it? As mentioned, the best way is to talk about it. Be open and honest. Have the money talk with yourself first, and then open up the discussion to your partner, your family, and your friends and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to discuss personal finances if it helps you budget better, put it into better perspective, realise your worth at work, or teach your family valuable lessons. Money is the one thing everyone strives for, so doesn’t it seem rather silly to keep this shared factor a secret when everyone is dealing with the same sort of struggles?

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