TALKING ABOUT MONEY IS RUDE! OR IS IT?
I was recently listing to a podcast where a woman in her late 40’s early 50’s was being interviewed about her life after being divorced from her wealthy husband. She reminisced about how she used to spend money while married to her ex-husband. Money really wasn’t something she had to think about. The same applied to her children. All their needs were met. However, when the day came that her husband let the family know that he was leaving them for another woman, the family’s emotional, personal and financial worlds were completely changed in an instant. The now fatherless & husband-less family had to find a home and a lifestyle that fit their new drastically reduced budget. This is a sad, and unfortunately, not uncommon story. What caught my attention, was what the mother said to her children after attending a dinner party at a friend’s home. These were friends from their former wealthy life, whose home was large and they obviously had managed their money well. As they were leaving, the children brought up to their mother that the host had a beautiful home and lots of money. The mother immediately told her children to not talk about the family and their money as it was rude and she considered it gossip.
My jaw dropped after hearing the mother’s response to her children! Hadn’t her new lifestyle taught her anything about the importance of financial conversations?! It was mentioned in the interview that her mother had gone through the same financial rollercoaster. Having a wealthy husband, divorcing, and becoming financially destitute as a single parent. She knew this story, she had lived it as a child! The story was repeating because she was raised to not talk about money and she still carries that stigma with her today. Remember, “It’s RUDE to talk about financials”. I’m shaking my head here. This mother is potentially creating the same financial future for her children as she experienced. An outside observer could clearly see that her finances could have improved had she understood her financial situation when she was married. I don’t know the details of her previous relationship but I feel that all relationships are strengthened by intimate financial conversations and goal setting. This was something she blatantly never had to do because her family was so well off.
In the above situation, could we have encouraged the children to admire the money management skills of the wealthy friends? Could this have stimulated conversations about financial empowerment? Could a parent in this situation say, “Yes, they do have a lot of money. Do you know how they earned that money?”. “What would you like to do with that much money?”. “How do you think you might be able to obtain wealth?”. I feel these questions would teach a child that they shouldn’t be jealous of their neighbor’s wealth. It would help teach them that they are not passive in their financial life, but active participants.
Sadly, this way of thinking is still in society today. Why aren’t we talking more about money?! It’s understandable to not have money conversations with complete strangers on the street, but why aren’t we talking about money with our friends and family?
I compare the stigma of talking about our money, to the stigma of talking about our mental health. In society, we are safe to say some basic things about our mental health, for example, “It’s been a rough day” or “I can’t wait to get home and curl up in bed”. Those are safe and acceptable ways of expressing possible mental health struggles. It’s the same for financial health. Just like mental health, our financial health in this nation is struggling. There are so many people who lack basic financial literacy or have unhealthy emotional ties to spending money. This directly affects their financial health. The more we talk about mental health issues, the safer people will feel to express themselves. The same goes for our financial health. If we talk more fully and truthfully about our financial health, then those that need help may feel safe enough to reach out and/or find a mentor in life to guide them.
If you go to www.rockstarfinance.com you will see a directory of over 1,500 financial bloggers. There has been an educational dearth for too long in this country in regards to personal finances. You can see from the directory at Rock Star Finance and the many podcasts and books, that people are craving deep and real conversations about money. However, I don’t think that these conversations are reaching our homes.
Some of the most intimate conversations I’ve had with my partner have been about money. About how we can make our dreams come true, and how we can help our family’s dreams come true. Financial conversations can bring intimacy to our relationships in life, and clear a path for a better financial future. I hope to banish the days where the “head of the household” (usually the male father figure) had to manage all the money matters on his own, and hide his struggles from his partner and children. No one should have to manage their finances completely alone. It’s a team effort. Even if you are single, you should reach out to siblings, parents and/or close trusted friends for guidance and a listening ear.
Recently I heard a news story on the radio right before the Christmas holiday. There was a family of four (father, mother and two children), whose house had burned down right before the holiday. The family was now homeless and being housed in temporary housing by the Red Cross. When they interviewed the parents, they had bags of Christmas decorations and toys. Despite being penniless, they had just spent hundreds of dollars on their credit cards. The reporter asked the parents why they were out shopping, and the parent’s response was roughly: “We don’t want our kids to miss out because of the fire”, “we want them to have as normal of a Christmas as possible”. This is where my head exploded!
What a missed opportunity for the parents to have a real conversation with their children about money and life! This was a teaching moment for the parents. However, they chose to allow their children to not be involved in the financial conversation. Letting your children know that Christmas will be very simple this year as we recently had a fire and lost all of our possessions, is ok. Children want to be part of the team, and they want to be trusted with this information. How fun would it have been for the family to spend $.67 on a piece of green poster board from Wal-Mart, cut it into the shape of a Christmas tree, decorate it with hand drawn decorations, and tape it to the wall? Further decorations could be snowflakes cut by the family from white office paper. This would be a Christmas to remember! I know the parents were doing their best. It is such a devastating situation to be in, and I cannot fully understand what they were going through. I simply use it as an example where opportunities may have been missed to strengthen the bond in relationships with real and deep conversations about money and life. These teaching opportunities help everyone to become more emotionally resilient, a skill that more people need to develop.
What I would like to see, is the old stigma of talking about our successful and unsuccessful money situations, eliminated. Those of us who happen to be on the upswing financially, should feel free to celebrate with friends and family without fear of offending someone. Our success story should be seen as a story to lift and inspire and not one of gloating and rudeness. And those of us who are struggling financially, should be able to rely on our friends and family to listen to our financial story and support us emotionally, without fear of sounding like we are asking for money, or looking for pity. Let’s challenge ourselves to have more real and deep financial conversations with our friends and family, and make it a safe place to do so for others.