A recent poll revealed that 61% of more than a thousand affluent people claim they’d rather talk about politics and their health than talk about money.
Also, according to Wells Fargo, 33% of Americans are more worried about their financial health than they are about their physical health, and 40% call money “the biggest stress issue” in their lives.
Part of the work I’m doing is to create safe spaces where people can be free to talk about money. Spaces where we can dialogue, share, collaborate and support one another in our journeys toward financial happiness.
But I have found that inviting people to share and talk about money often simply invites silence—if not awkwardness.
So, I finally just asked a group of female business owners I know: “Where and with whom do you discuss money?”
My question was met with blank stares.
Even Friends Can’t Talk about Money
One woman, in her early 30s, all but guffawed. She said, “Talking about money nearly cost me my best friend.”
Then, this woman, let’s call her Cynthia, told us about a conversation she had had with a friend of hers in which she was expressing dissatisfaction with her corporate marketing salary.
Cynthia said, “You don’t understand. I think I can make more money if I were to go out on my own. I’m over-stressed and over-worked and they only pay me X!”
[I used X here because, frankly, Cynthia didn’t tell me the number and I don’t think it’s really important. What IS important is that this number was a number her friend was dumbfounded by.]
Her friend, let’s call her Letty, was aghast. She said, “I didn’t even know real people made that much money. How in the world could you not be satisfied with that amount of money? I don’t make but half that!”
She went on, “Not only that, but I don’t understand why we’re talking about this. We’re women. Money isn’t important. You should just be happy with what you have! It’s rude of you to have told me how much you make.”
Letty was offended and abhorred.
Though Cynthia tried to salvage the conversation, they ended the call still in a state of awkwardness and upset.
That night, Cynthia tearfully told her husband, “I think I just lost my best friend.”
Cynthia felt wrong for wanting more, and sad and confused about the outcome of the conversation. Whatever beliefs and assumptions Letty had about money, Cynthia knew she didn’t understand them.
How We Get Our Wires Crossed
Let’s take a look at this conversation for a moment—at all of the assumptions and beliefs that got in the way during this conversation between friends.
First, Cynthia took a risk and shared her salary number with Letty. Letty’s reaction was so negative that Cynthia says she really isn’t likely to share her numbers with a friend ever again.
In fact, Cynthia did share with me that she wants to talk about money so badly—but has given up on sharing with girlfriends—that she’s looking for a financial advisor with the skill set to allow and support that.
Letty was shocked at the number Cynthia shared, because it was so much larger than she had assumed it was—or could be.
This shock led her to recoil and resist the conversation, which probably reveals that the discovery of Cynthia’s income number led Letty to negative conclusions about herself.
In other words, Letty was probably thinking something like, “I had no idea Cynthia made so much money, I feel inadequate in comparison. Not only that, but now Cynthia knows that I make only half what she does—and she’s not even happy with twice my number! I really wish she hadn’t told me, because then I wouldn’t feel inadequate and Cynthia wouldn’t know how little money I have.”
But Letty also expressed another belief about money that really bothers me: “We’re women. Money isn’t important.”
Money IS Important
The truth is, money is just as important to women as it is to men.
Money creates options, and options make life worth living.
Money can provide health, nutrition, shelter, education, travel, luxury and valued experiences. It’s a tool for all of us.
So, then, where does the belief that money isn’t important for women come from?
And why do these beliefs make money such a hard topic to discuss?
Car talk isn’t typically thought to be as interesting for women as it is for men, but we don’t hesitate to participate in the conversation if it comes up. We certainly don’t get our feelings hurt about it.
Talking about Money Tactics is Easy
We all want to make more, save more, and most of us wish we wanted to spend less.
We’re all willing to talk about the interest rate on our savings account or whether we’re choosing to save in a Roth or a 401(k). We’ll talk about how much we saved by negotiating with the car salesman and the coupon that scored us the bargain basement prices at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
That’s all tactical. It doesn’t touch the really deep stuff.
What we won’t talk about is much of anything that relates to how much we have, how much we earn, or how much we’ve really spent or lost.
The Power of Communication
We all know intuitively that there is value to being in communication with our peers and loved ones about the issues we are struggling with.
Keeping something to yourself means that you never get another perspective. Also, stress and anxiety build up over time, which can prevent you from being effective in other critical areas of your life, and isn’t good for your health.
Opening up about your concerns, fears and struggles can also help to initiate or deepen relationships.
When someone feels that you are human, and that you have been vulnerable with them they are more inclined to be vulnerable, honest and loyal in return.
I especially like and abide by the adage, “If you want what others have, do what they do.”
I have and have had lots of mentors in my life who have shared with me their best practices and go-to strategies for dealing with the area of life at which they are expert.
If you have no money mentors, how will you ever improve your results?
There are plenty of blogs and forums you can take cues from, but how do you know those people are producing the results you want to produce? Beyond that, money is a complex issue—how do you know the advice they give won’t sabotage some other aspect of your financial plan?
So, really, why don’t we talk about money???
I think the real answer is that we just don’t really know.
Most will say, “Money is a private issue.”
But, why is it private?
Private seems to be very hard to define.
I am not testing our definitions or boundaries around privacy by suggesting that we all flaunt our lives without regard.
I’m simply asking out loud whether defining money as a private issue is more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Some will say, “I don’t want people to know how much money I have for fear they’ll try to steal it from me or sue me for it.”
Yet, people can only steal from you technically if you carry cash, and credit card fraud is rarely committed by people who have any idea how much money you have—they simply
play the game of large numbers and charge stolen numbers until those numbers get cancelled.
And Forbes publishes its 50 Richest lists every year like clockwork, and I’ve never heard a billionaire say she was embroiled in a lawsuit because Forbes had outted her as being rich.
Whatever the Number is, it’s the Wrong Number
Honestly, we’re a little nuts about money.
People who think they have too little are ashamed of it and want to keep it private and preserve the option to pretend they have more.
People who have plenty are afraid of jealousy, sometimes ashamed of their own luxury, so they keep quiet, too.
A good number of people have bought into the idea that money somehow measures our worth—our value as a person.
In other words, they think, “It takes intelligence and talent to earn money, so therefore if I have it, I’m worthwhile and if I don’t, I’m probably not.”
But I know plenty of very high IQ, talented people who make less than their extroverted salesperson counterpart. Education and intelligence may be positively correlated with income, but they are not causational, and they certainly are not deterministic.
Sometimes, I’m Uncomfortable, Too
Recently I was talking with a prospective client, and she asked me how much money I have.
I was taken aback.
She clarified, however, that what she actually wanted to know was that I have my own money invested in the same way as my clients’ money, and therefore what my investment returns are, rather than wanting to know what the lump sum is.
I assured her that my money is all-in alongside my clients’, but when I thought that she wanted was to know my net worth, I really hesitated…
And afterward I questioned myself: Why did I resist?
I’m Asking You
So, I’d like to hear from you.
Given that money is one of the most anxiety-inducing subjects we deal with, and talking about it would most likely make it easier and better, what keeps you mum about money?