MONEY. It conjures up all kinds of emotions and responses from people. Some good, some bad, some absurd. Money is one of the subjects that people are so afraid to talk about freely. There are other difficult subjects in life like politics, religion, and sex. But I’ve noticed that people will talk about sports, social media craze, celebrities, politics and even religion (with all the divisiveness that these bring), yet will chicken out when the subject of money is brought up. Why is that? There is a fundamental connection between our daily lives and how we think about and handle money.
The Bible And Money
The Bible talks so much about money. Why? According to this blog post, money is such an important topic in the Bible that it is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told. In addition, one in every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money.
In fact, 15 percent of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions, more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Yes, certainly prayers, faith and heaven is much more important than money. But maybe God wants us to manage our money well because how we spend our money (and our time) is a good reflection of who we are. Where your treasures are, there your heart will also be. To manage money well, don’t we have to talk about it?
Shhhh, Don’t talk About Money!
Many of us grow up learning that money is one of a few topics — like politics, sex and religion — that you should avoid in polite company, if you don’t want to rock the boat. Actually, people are even brave enough to discuss the other taboos (sex, religion, politics) before they will talk about money. You don’t brag about your net worth (who does that anyway? Don’t peek, but this guy does). You don’t share your salary with colleagues, or even family members. You try not to ask your friends about their rent or mortgage payment, even if it helps put your budget in perspective. Heck, some wives don’t even know what their husbands make and vice versa. It’s all convoluted to me. Yet money permeates all aspects of our daily lives. Like, every single aspect of it. Because our parents brought us up this way, we bequeath the same system to our kids and the vicious cycle continues.
When you dare bring up the topic of money in a gathering, you might be met with instant silence. Some consider it rude or poor social etiquette. I’ve noticed this in my own life that I’ve learned to navigate the system by only discussing it with like minds. Learning about money is quite intimidating and there is really no structural system in place to teach us. Money is not taught in schools, at home or in churches. In fact for most churches, the summary of their teachings about money is “Give tithes and offerings” without actually helping members understand how to manage the money so they can give effectively. The end result is that only about 15% of most evangelical church members in the US pay their tithes religiously. And that’s a shame. The reality is that most learn about money by winging it as they grow. The effect is that we make a lot of mistakes, some of which can be very devastating. There are few things that can cause joy, shame, contentment, anxiety and stress the way that money does.
Further still, we look at poor money skills as something to be ashamed and embarrassed of, which can keep us from being honest about money and seeking out the right kind of help. This social taboo, intimidation and embarrassment, conspire to keep us from talking about money and improving our financial circumstances. For example, according to a 2015 data from Fidelity Investments, 43 percent of Americans don’t know how much money their spouse makes, yet fighting about money is a top predictor of divorce. In America, money fights and money problems is the number one cause of divorce. When you don’t even know your household income, you can pretty much guarantee a financial fight will eventually erupt. It may take time, but it will eventually happen. Not talking about money is also one way that women get underpaid for doing the same jobs that men do. But when they don’t know what their male colleagues are earning for doing virtually the same work, how can they even organize to demand equal pay? See why this is important?
If your finances cause you stress, shame and anxiety, it’s only natural to want to keep this to yourself as you may feel embarrassed about the decisions you made. However, this is not a winning strategy because when you ignore your financial situation, minor recurring problems will grow to become significant financial challenges. And if you don’t pay attention to your finances, someone will always try to take advantage of that and rip you off. I’ve caught a lot of fraudulent fees charged to my credit card or cable and phone bills over the years that if I never paid any attention, that would just slide past.
The caveat to all of this is that when you are very open about talking about money, you may get unintended consequences. When you freely discuss how much you make, how much bonus you got, how much you got in your tax refund, or your net worth, you might be considered proud (if your finances are in the black) and may even be shunned by people who are otherwise your friends and family.
So What To Do?
Well, it’s time to break the silence. You have to break the silence for yourself first. The first step is for you to take charge and control of your financial life first. This often starts with your own financial literacy. How do you do that? Start with 30 minutes to an hour once or twice a week to learn something new. You can start by reading money blogs or listening to podcasts. Or you can check out my quick guide here. You will be surprised how much stuff you learn as time goes by. And you will get an immediate boost when you discover that you are learning something that will benefit you and your money. Who doesn’t want that?
Schedule Money Talk With Spouse
If you are married, you may want to get to be on the same page with your spouse. You can schedule money meetings. It can be weekly, monthly or quarterly. Do what works best for you. This can be in the form a budget meeting. Create vision boards with your spouse. Work towards a goal together. You can even do this as a date night with wine and flowers. Don’t think this would work? Ok, you can try writing financial love letters to your spouse, like I do, detailing your household financial snapshot and ask for a reply. Get the ball rolling and get that conversation started.
Also at the same time, try to be honest with your spouse. Sharing joint accounts will probably be ideal but I’ve seen couples with separate accounts that did just fine. Find what works best for you. But what about sharing user ID and passwords of all your financial accounts? That would be great transparency. Financial infidelity is as dangerous as marital infidelity. You can choose to be more transparent, and your marriage may be better for it.
Talk To Your Friends
Speaking to your friends about your own financial situation may be critical in breaking the money taboos. Talking to friends or family about what they should do about money may well be condescending, but when you get excited and tell them about how you paid off your credit card debts, paid off your mortgage or saved up for a down payment may get them to want to learn more, and then you can freely discuss this. You can do this one friend at a time, and not as a group. Of course, if you take this course and you friend shows no interest, you can be rest assured you have done your part.
You can do the same with family members. Sharing your successes and even your failures with money can help spur the conversation in a guilt-free way. All of us have made money mistakes, nobody is free of that. But we can always learn from somebody else. A couple I know paid off their mortgage debt within 2 years after they bought their modest home and they shared this with me. This blew my mind and actually spurred me to try to pay off our home as fast as possible too. I had no single envy or jealousy from learning that piece of information but it helped spur me to make a better financial decision for myself. I guess it helped that I had already mastered that ultimate financial principle of contentment. It makes you truly happy for people when they win financially and if anything, inspires and motivates you to do better for yourself financially too.
Setting financial goals, whether big or small, may be an effective method to take control of your money. And then you can share the successful completion of these goals with your immediate family or friends and help spur a discussion about it.
Find Like-Minded People
It helps a lot to find like-minded people to talk about money. This is often difficult to find around you. But online however, there is a ton of blogs or forums that are focused on money. You can ask questions, find motivation, share your frustrations and your wins. You will be amazed at the kind of support you can get in the online personal finance community. There are certain things about money you will feel very uncomfortable discussing in real life but discuss it freely online among your community, often times, anonymously too.
So do you have a money taboo? Do you have difficulty talking about money with family and friends? Share your views below.
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