It’s time to break down the money talk taboo

2/23/2016

Our culture is rife with mixed messages about money. Money is freedom, money is greed, live simply – but to be happy you’ll need this car, have these clothes and that phone. Yet one message comes through loud and clear; don’t talk about money – at least not at the personal level.

On a broader scale we talk about money all the time. The financial media talks about the level of consumer debt that South African carry, or how unprepared many people are for retirement, while at the same time new homes seem to get bigger, and Facebook is full of vacation and home renovation photos. We hear that people are struggling but we don’t see it. We commiserate with friends that petrol and groceries are too expensive, or that university tuition for our kids is weighing us down, but we often do that over a nice glass of wine or an overpriced coffee. Everyone we know seems fine.

The thing is, behind closed doors, not everybody feels fine.  Many people feel overwhelmed and stressed, but are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell anyone. The isolation goes even deeper if financial worries are being kept from people otherwise close to you, such as a spouse, close friends or family.


Popular wisdom is that we don’t talk about money because it isn’t polite. It may not be considered polite to boldly ask other people personal financial questions, but there is way more to this than manners. What makes money a taboo subject, is that it is so deeply linked to self-esteem, feelings of success or failure and fear of judgement. We’re happy to stick with the old adage about money talk being impolite, it enables us to live behind the mask and not be confronted by our worries, questions or insecurities. But when difficult situations stay in the dark they remain problems and problems can escalate to crisis. When light is shed on them they become challenges, and challenges can be met with strategies and commitment. Avoidance of money talk can provide short term relief from anxieties but real solutions lie in facing the situation and taking back your power to make changes.

So how do we stand against the tide and open up money conversations? Gently.

Money taboo
Start by being gentle in conversation with yourself. If your finances need sorting out, be proud of yourself for realizing that. Work to forgive and release any sense of shame or embarrassment. Whatever mistakes you feel you have made, know that others have made them too, you are not alone.

The next conversation you may need to have is with your partner. Intimacy in relationships necessarily involves a willingness to be open and transparent about your financial needs, wants, expectations and behaviours.  Money stress can be one of the biggest reasons for martial conflict. Again, gentle is key. Don’t ambush your partner when you’re stressed and prone to blame.  A good place to begin is to talk about what each of you did or didn’t learn from your parents. This can be a great way to better understand each other’s strengths and fears around money. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss how you will do things the same or differently when teaching your own kids about money.

Reflect on the life you want to live together and then discuss how your money can support that vision. Set concrete measurable goals and create clear systems to help you stay on track. Be on each other’s side! If you feel unsure where to start or overwhelmed by a moment of crisis reach out and connect to a financial professional.

Take the risk to start honest conversations with friends you trust. Your willingness to share your thoughts, ideas and questions could create an atmosphere of openness that deepens your relationships and your financial knowledge. Ask them if they have a financial advisor they trust, or suggest starting a financial book club. Discussions of the book can create lots of opportunity for sharing goals, worries and strategies.

The more we can untangle our self-worth from our net-worth, the more we replace worry and shame with knowledge and personal power, the more comfortable we’ll be breaking down the money talk taboo.  Money is a powerful energy in our society and if we can learn to talk about it openly, sharing our personal experience and values, I believe we can harness its positive creative energy to create a better future for all of us.

By Melanie Buffel, B.A. Psych, MBA candidate


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