The Money Taboo: 8 Reasons why Money is still taboo. – Part 1

When was the last time you had an open discussion about your salary, your mortgage payment, or your tax returns with anyone besides your partner or spouse? Many of us still aren’t even able to have those frank discussions with our partners and spouses. Discussing money openly may be the last taboo.

So exactly why won’t people talk? Money discussions are taboo for many reasons:

Belief that money is personal. Often there is a generational belief that money is not to be discussed, as noted in Jamie Johnson’s (heir of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune) documentary "Born Rich."
Watch the video excerpt on this page. His family was more than a little peeved that he chose to speak out about their money. Warren Buffet’s granddaughter (in-law) got a little harsher treatment, she was apparently disowned. Watch.

In speaking to an associate recently, she indicated that she would be most uncomfortable commenting to a family member about a particular financial transaction the family member had made. When I asked, what if your financial experience could provide a benefit? The response was, “that’s something that you just don’t do.”

Corporations have also long used a privacy policy on discussing one’s salary with others, to maintain their bargaining advantage, which also probably plays into an individual’s belief that money discussions should be personal.

Guilt. If you are financially set, you may feel a tad guilty that you have done much better than the other guy.

Superiority. You revel in your financial success and certainly don’t feel obligated to talk about it with folks who have been less successful, in fact you have a certain disdain for those who you feel can’t “get it together.”

Shame. If you are in a bad money space, you may have feelings of shame that you haven’t done better, whether it’s due to poor money habits, or because you feel that your opportunities are limited. This often causes some folks to “beg off” from attending those high-school reunions.

Inferiority. You may want to do a lot better financially, but just can’t figure out which of your habits are preventing you from progressing. Your income is competitive with your peers; they just seem to be doing better. You really just aren’t sure that what you earn, or what you have amassed is as acknowledgeable as you might feel it is.

Financial illiteracy. You feel that others around you are more financially savvy, and so you keep silent about your own financial situation. You won’t talk about the huge financial mistake you just made, for fear of ridicule, or for fear of showing your lack of knowledge of how money works. Lack of math skills could also have a part to play here.

Jealousy/Envy. You maintain an image, commensurate or ahead of your peers even though it has to be supported by massive debt, which you dare not disclose, as it would reduce or destroy your perceived status in your community. The interesting thing here is that it becomes a never ending tale of the dog chasing its own tail. Herd thinking fuels each person’s effort to out-spiral each other, when no-one can afford to. Obviously not much thought is given to the damage and debt that this causes.

In Texas, this is referred to as folks with a “big hat and no cattle,” being showy without any substance financially. One young student, stated in a local newspaper article, that she had no idea why her parents moved into a huge house in a great neighborhood, yet she was never able to participate in extracurricular activities, because there was never any money to support those activities.

Shira Boss in her book ‘Green with Envy: Why Keeping up with the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt', talks about how she miscalculated the financial status of their next door neighbor – by presumption, innuendo, and gossip. Their neighbor’s apparently “financially carefree” lifestyle basically made them feel somewhat inferior, until through a series of events and meetings they realized that the lifestyle they almost envied was supported by huge credit card debt, home equity loans, and mortgages.

Dishonesty. There are probably enough cases where folks would rather not talk about their finances, because of the existence of “under-the-table” components, which could include illegal sources of income, under-estimation of taxable income, or erroneous tax deductions. Here keeping silent avoids them tripping themselves up. If you have watched any of the episodes of CNBC’s “American Greed” the con men featured were rarely an open book.

So, should we change? We all have our own belief systems about money, mostly indoctrinated in our early years. But our inability to openly discuss the one item that we need almost as badly as we need air to survive, can be damaging. Like anything else open discussion brings more items to the table. We are charged more so now than at any other time in our history to be in control of our finances for a lifetime. Improving our financial literacy will only come with our ability to have frank and open discussions about our money.

Can we change? Yes we can. Change occurs even in the most unwilling situation when accompanied by crisis. Like every long-standing habit, change will be gradual, but the mortgage and credit card mess with its ability to potentially decimate the finances of a large percentage of the population, may cause us to remove more layers of the onion in a speedier fashion. In the effort to take control of our finances, we will be challenged to remove , or at a minimum lessen the taboo. Maybe we are on the brink of that change.

The Money Taboo: Breaking the Taboo – Part 2

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"No matter who you are, making informed decisions about what you do with your money, will help build a more stable financial future for you and your family." Alan Greenspan