Why is talking about money taboo?
Our finances control so much of our lives – the homes we live in, the holidays we go on, the lunches we buy. Despite this, speaking about money is seen as taboo as talking about politics or religion. So, why is this?
Research conducted by the Melbourne Institute in May 2021 found that almost one-third of Australians are experiencing financial stress. That’s nearly 8.5 million Australians!
Despite this, we struggle to talk about money stress with our closest friends and family.
Money should be straightforward; it’s literally a numbers game, yet we lack standard metrics to measure if we’re doing it well. Without a budget or awareness of others’ money habits, it’s hard to know the cause and effect of our actions. Is your daily car parking habit compromising your savings plan? Should you be asking for a rent reduction?
We hide our money habits for fear of being embarrassed, in an attempt not to brag, or because we don’t want to be impolite. People (wrongly) equate their financial circumstances with their worth and sense of self. This is what makes talking about money so difficult. Breaking down the barriers of finance is hard, but not impossible.
Instead of talking about money with friends, we use people’s lifestyles as an indicator of their wealth. In reality, this isn’t a realistic measure of someone’s financial fitness. Your friend with the shiny new car could be in piles of debt. Your sibling who works part-time could be sitting on substantial savings.
Why talking about money is important
Talking about money with friends is particularly important for women and marginalised groups. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s figures from May 2021 show women working full time earn $261.50 less than men every week (that’s 14.2%!).
Undoing the taboo of money talk is key to closing the gender pay gap. Normalising conversations about salary allow women in the workplace to ask their employers for pay that matches their male counterparts.
Talking about money with friends puts your finances into perspective. It shows you where you can save and where you can spend, and where you’re being overpaid or underpaid. It gives you bargaining power for difficult conversations.
People say money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does put a roof over your head and food on the table. Whether it’s your partner, sibling or friends, taking the plunge to talk about money has the potential to seriously improve your financial fitness.
Six tips for talking about money
When it comes to how to talk about money, failing to plan is planning to fail. That’s why we put together six tips to help you break down the money barrier and make those hard conversations a little bit easier.
Tip 1: Work out your why
Why is talking about money taboo? Because sometimes you’re not asking for the right reasons. Before you approach your partner, friend or sibling with a money question, work out what you want to know, and why. Asking your friend who works in a completely different industry to you what their salary is isn’t helpful (unless you’re thinking of changing industries) and neither is questioning friends about their new car when you’re not in the market for one.
Ask yourself, what’s making you curious? Are you being nosy, or will it give you context about your own financial circumstances?
If you’re not sure how to talk about money, start by finding out what you and the person you’re asking have in common. Do you work in the same industry, pay rent in the same suburb or have similar financial goals? Money conversations should give you insight into where you fit in comparison to someone with similar circumstances.
Surface-level questions about your friend’s coffee costs aren’t going to help you very much. In the same way, finding out how much your best friend spent on their new TV isn’t as helpful as knowing how much of their salary they put towards their mortgage week-to-week.
Tip 2: Carefully consider who you’re going to ask
Choose who you’re going to start money conversations with wisely. Those who wonder why it’s so hard to talk about money might be talking to the wrong people.
Asking an acquaintance at a BBQ how to reveal their credit card debt may not go down well. Your partner, on the other hand, is someone you’re comfortable with, and will likely be someone you’ll share costs within the future – this makes them a perfect person to have tough money conversations with.
Talking about money with friends and other family members is also important. People you’re close to and share important life milestones with are the people you should be talking about money with.
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Tip 3: Start small
When it comes to talking about money with friends, going too big too early could land you in hot water. If your partner isn’t comfortable with talking about money, asking them to share their salary is likely to spook them.
Start small by sharing your money goals with them. Frame questions as ‘what ifs’…
What if we saved $20 a week towards a holiday? What if we started thinking about saving for a house?
Tip 4: Be vulnerable
If you’re still wondering why talking about money is taboo, try sharing instead. Often all it takes to start a money conversation is one person who’s willing to share. Start a money conversation by taking the plunge and sharing a cost of your own. Try something like: ‘My rent is increasing to $400 a week; do you think that’s expensive?’
Talking about money with friends shouldn’t mean asking them how much their new car cost in front of other party-goers. This isolates them and leaves them open to judgment.
Talking about money with friends means showing your own vulnerability. This encourages others to share their stories too, without feeling open to judgment. People are less likely to feel affronted by a money question if they feel they’re on an even playing field. The more you share, the more likely others are to follow suit.
Tip 5: Ask questions the right way
Learning how to talk about money means learning how to ask money questions. Not all money talk is created equal. Point blank questions about money aren’t likely to yield results, and they might sour your relationship. Start your money conversations with easy, non-invasive questions.
For example, you could ask ‘What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve received?’
This starts the conversation without pushing anyone to reveal intimate details about their financial circumstances. If you’re wanting to get more specific, you can still keep the questions non-committal.
For example, if you’re moving suburbs or cities and want to ask a friend living there how much rent they’re paying, ask an indirect question and give them context. Try saying ‘I’m moving to Sydney and want to rent a one-bedroom apartment near the CBD – do you have any idea how much that will cost?’
This puts the ball in their court, they can tell you how much rent they’re paying or give you an estimated range if they don’t want to disclose specific figures.
Tip 6: Don’t pass judgment
Judging others’ financial circumstances fuels their silence. In order to undo the cycle of money silence, we need to be open and honest. Passing judgment on someone’s debt will discourage them from talking about it.
Why is talking about money taboo? Because everyone spends their money differently. Remember that everyone’s values and circumstances are different. We spend money on the things we value, so although an expensive car or new outfit might not be something you’d spend the big bucks on, some people save in areas you splurge and vice versa.
Knowing how to talk about money with friends and family benefits everyone
If we don’t know how to talk about money, we’re left in the dark about what normal spending looks like. Not talking about money – about salaries, brunch prices and mortgages – works in favour of the wealthy.
If we don’t ask about rental rates in our suburb, our landlords stand to gain. If we don’t inquire about our coworker’s salaries, we can’t ask our employer to increase ours to match.
Talking about money with friends and family isn’t as big and scary as it seems when you go about it in the right way. Give these six tips a go and you’ll be surprised at how quickly people get talking!
At MyBudget, we’re pretty good at talking about money – we do it day-in-day-out! If you’re struggling with debt, trying to get a budget to balance, or have money questions, we’re here to help. Call us today at 1300 300 922 or book a free consultation.