After nearly two hours of telling me about her sex life — in detail — a friend switched topics to wanting to save money and buy property. As a recent inductee to homeownership, I assumed my friend wanted advice, or at least personal anecdotes, but when I started asking about her savings and mortgage plan, she totally froze, unwilling to discuss the numbers even abstractly.
The story is familiar and common — as finance podcaster Gaby Dunn discovered anecdotally, millennials strongly prefer talking about sex over money and a recent Marketwatch survey shows that Americans prefer to talk about their weight than personal finances. But without talking about finance, we’re not learning how to better our financial habits, achieve our goals and even measure equality in the pay gap.
Many of us are taught that money is a private topic not to be mentioned or discussed, with numbers or even without, outside of your household. And while that may have worked in decades past (maybe? maybe not...), existing independently as an adult relies on a financial competence that’s rarely taught in schools, and must be communicated through peers and professional expertise.
“The consequences of not talking about money are high: To society, couples, families, friends and financial services professionals,” says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, wealth psychology expert, author and host of the Breaking Money Silence® podcast. “The benefits of breaking money silence [are] great. These include greater intimacy in your relationships with others, increased financial fitness, strengthen financial confidence, an ability to make more informed financial decisions [and] more.”
But how do you start talking about finance with your friends when you’re conditioned to never mention your bank account, debts or salary in a social situation?
To ease into the once-taboo realm of money talk, Kingsbury urges people to find their “money talk mindset” — that is, your automatic thoughts and beliefs about money, and then engaging with another person on these same themes. The following questions can help launch the process of determining your own money mindset:
1. What did your parents teach you about money conversations?
2. What is the easiest money conversation for you to have? What is the most difficult?
3. What is the biggest fear you have when you think about money talk?
4. How might you benefit if you broke your money talk taboo?
5. Who is a safe person to start with?
These questions can help ease you into conversation in a way that’s not totally overwhelming and help guide a productive discussion about personal finance.
“It is important to be able to live in a society free of money silence and the harm that it does,” Kingsbury says. “It helps to discuss finances with peers to learn from each other, to find out if you are making a fair wage for your position, to make sure you are not a victim of the gender wage gap and to be able to be a role model for the generation after you. Discussing money and how you think and feel about your monetary decisions is just part of a healthy adult life.”
What we have is not who we are
“We need to stop judging people based on how little or how much they make or have. We need to stop criticizing others for being in debt or making financial mistakes and instead be compassionate that money management is a learned skill and one that involves sometimes making an error, then learning from that experience,” she says, noting that bringing salary and student debt out of the shadows is essential to building equality.
Consider challenging yourself to have one conversation per month about money. “With each [conversation], you build up the skills to discuss finances; how you feel about saving, spending, gifting and investing; and eventually discussing finances becomes a regular part of your life,” Kingsbury says. “If everyone dared to do this, we would live in a world free of the money talk taboo and that would be wonderful.”
Find a “money buddy”
Not all of your friends are going to want to chat openly about money, but if you can identify an ally or two to discuss finance with, you’ll hopefully help each other stay accountable to your financial goals, recommends certified financial planner Patti Black. She recommends finding someone who has similar values to you, i.e. if they’re dedicated to spending and your goals revolve around saving, your conversations may not be a good match. She also encourages money buddies to push back when necessary, not be too nice or let their peers fall into bad financial traps, like not having an emergency fund or spending it before a true emergency arises.
Black suggests the following money-related conversation topics to start:
Discuss the amount of debt you have and want to pay off and the timeframe in which you want to do so. “Telling someone else about your plan may hold your feet to the fire to get it done,” Black advises.
Cash savings may seem like they’re just sitting there, but when you have goals in mind, socking away money can feel easier. An emergency fund may not be the most exciting thing to save for, but it’s necessary, and an accountability partner can help you figure out how much to aim for in that account. Other savings conversations can revolve around a down payment on a house or a car, how and where you plan to save your money and what long-term and short-term goals are.
Your annual 401k contributions, the percentage you’re increasing your contributions by annually and how you’re investing your 401k are all good topics to bounce off a peer, especially if retirement seems far off and abstract. Discuss the other benefits you get at work, too, whether that be comp days for overtime or a corporate gym discount. Knowing how peers are being compensated beyond traditional salary can help you know what to request from an employer.
Share recommendations for financial advisors, insurance agents, estate attorneys, etc. “Just like we talk about what doctors and hair stylists are good, we should be sharing feedback on the financial professionals we use,” Black says.
Once you’ve laid down the basics, chances are no matter what money situation you face in the future, you’ll feel way more comfortable about opening up to friends for their support and advice.