The old expression goes that you should talk about religion or politics at a dinner party for fear of wading into shark-infested waters. (Side note: remember back in Before Times, when you could get together with friends in person?) We do sometimes broach these subjects, infrequently to have measured, thoughtful exchanges of ideas, and more often to just shout randomly into the void over social media. A more stubbornly taboo topic remains money, in particular personal finance. I expect most of us would rather explain how sex works to prepubescent kids than share details of our balance sheets with friends and family.
Why this taboo? In part it is because money carries with it a good deal of baggage. What it means to us personally, what our relationship with it is, whether we had enough of it or not growing up, what we feel about people who have less or more than us, to what extent we conflate net worth and worthiness as a human being. All of this means that opening up about personal finance is scary because you don’t know how another person will judge you.
Not talking about money more openly however has downsides. Much like sex, money is something that we will all experience in our lives at some point. Also like sex, financial education leads to better decisions and better outcomes. Depending on the state you live in, the sex education you receive at school may be anything from comprehensive to shitty. On the other hand, almost no one learns good financial education in school, all the more reason why we should talk about it more in real life.
“But eek!”, you say. “I don’t want anyone to know how much money I have in the bank!”. And that is fair. I’m not going to tell you my exact number either. But we can talk generally about finances and the decisions we make. For example, right now the only way we judge someone else’s financial status is by exterior signalling – what car they drive, where they live, what clothes or gadgets they carry around. As we know, these signals can be very misleading. Does my neighbor drive a Tesla because she is rich or does she have nothing saved and can barely make the payments?
What if instead of proudly posting pics of a new purchase we bragged about front-loading our IRAs in January? Could you get comfortable turning down an invite to dinner and saying “i’m saving up for X instead” rather of making an excuse? If so then I’d like to recruit you to help me break down this taboo.