talk about money

Money: Can We Talk About This?

Money and personal finance are relevant topics to all of us, but talking about it can be hard. How many times have you heard of the infamous topic trifecta? The 3 things you are absolutely not supposed to discuss at a dinner party (or with anybody other than your parents and spouse, I’d guess):

  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Money

Those first two I’m just going to leave alone because we’re here for the M Word, after all, and also because this is a blog and not a novel. Anywho.

Probably most of us are aware of the general understanding that these are “no-no” topics.

Off-limits.

Do not enter.

Loaded topics that are the quickest ways to make enemies out of friends, or unemployment out of a perfectly good work situation…or worse. And it’s understandable! It makes perfect sense that we feel this way.

Money is a touchy subject.

It’s also an incredibly broad subject, and I don’t think it’s fair to assume or declare that just *anything* related to money is “touchy” or off-limits. There is so much information out there, and networking isn’t just for your profession. Networking is an amazing tool for all sorts of opportunities–general learning, contractor recommendations, gym recommendations, knowing where the good avocado toast is, finding a realtor, and so on.

I have learned so many things from all of the people in my network, and money is no exception! I can’t help but wonder how much MORE I could have learned, though (or could have taught!), if we felt more comfortable discussing it.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this subject, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when you closely examine the types of conversations you’ve been exposed to involving money, it’s not money itself that makes us feel icky and awkward. It’s when people start bragging about their yachts, or worse–they start talking about how they can’t afford anything. So I’m proposing we re-write the rule #3.

Don’t talk about your income.

You might think your income is modest enough to where SURELY it’s not going be uncomfortable for anybody to hear about. Or perhaps you know you make good money, but you’re not bragging–you’re just TALKING! There’s more to life than money and you know that’s not what defines you, so how could anybody possibly think you’re trying to brag? You just wanted to invite them on a lake day for some beers and burgers on said yacht. Fine. But you still shouldn’t talk about your income.

This is about their feelings, not yours.

You have absolutely no control over how another person interprets you, and you never know how someone truly feels about their own financial situation (which can have a huge impact on how they interpret YOU and yours). Your own feelings about the subject truly have no bearing here. Take it from me, as I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I wish I’d learned sooner, but this is something I’m focusing on going forward.

That’s not to say that you can’t tell your buddy you bought a boat, because obviously you want to take her on a lake cruise. I’m just saying that if it’s ALL you’re talking about, and if you’re talking about it to people you barely know, check yourself and think about how you might be misinterpreted.

It doesn’t matter, nor is it necessary

Learning how much money someone makes (or them learning how much money YOU make) is not going to teach you anything. Like I said, money is a broad subject–and we all have stuff to learn! You can spend hours, days, weeks talking about money without ever needing to divulge your income.

Budgeting, IRA accounts, brokerage accounts, the stock market, real estate investing, credit cards, HSAs, and the list goes on. I can talk to anybody about these topics without having to bring up how much money I make, and I do! I know for a fact that I’ve helped some of my peers learn about the messy world of investing just like they’ve helped me, and I think that’s fantastic.

There are some exceptions.

This blog is an example. I will be discussing my financial business in much more certain terms than I normally would, because I think it’s important that people can directly relate to me. I also think that if you’re reading this blog, you have begun to think of money more openly and therefore I feel confident that you aren’t here to judge or get your feelings hurt. You’re here to join the FIRE community.

You’ll notice, though, that I’m not broadcasting my identity. 🙂

We can reduce financial hardship through greater transparency and communication.

When we encourage dialogue around the subject, and allow ourselves to learn from each other, we are minimizing the misconceptions and incomplete information that causes so many of us to make poor money decisions out of fear or just plain ignorance.

There are so many decisions I made that I wish I could take back or do differently. No doubt that at least some of those had to be learned the hard way, that’s just life–but I truly believe that several of them would have been prevented by a greater understanding of money. You don’t know what you don’t know, and as more of us realize that there is so much information out there, and get more comfortable talking about it, there will be a ripple effect.

They don’t teach us this stuff at school. And we don’t ask out it. Our parents don’t complain about that–they don’t know either.. They’re scared too.

They don’t know what they don’t know either.

All of us can have a stronger financial future. All of us can save more money and retire sooner.

Money itself isn’t scary. It’s unknown–and that’s scary.

The biggest thing holding you back isn’t your salary. It’s not your lack of education, the city you live in, your student loans, or your boss.

The biggest thing in your way is your knowledge deficit.

You don’t need to go back to school to learn about money. You don’t need to pay for a financial advisor. It is 2019. It literally has never been easier to learn anything you want to learn.

Of course it’s overwhelming. Of course it’s complicated. But it gets easier. There are resources online that can teach you in terms that you understand.

Do you drive to work? Ride a bus? A train? One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is the Afford Anything podcast by Paula Pant. I love it because of the breadth of topics, as well as her ability to explain anything in a way that’s easy to grasp. Any time someone uses “money jargon” on her episodes, even if she’s explained it a thousand times, she re-explains it in case there are any new listeners.

Seriously, listen to it. She has a blog, too.

Here are some more resources that helped me a lot:

The list goes on. This is but a drop in the bucket. Spend 5 minutes Googling and you will find a plethora of resources to help you.

Don’t feel like you need to learn everything right away. 20 minutes per day, each day, and a year from now you will shock and amaze yourself and how much you know. This is the secret to becoming an expert in anything–consistency and deliberate practice.*

It’s a marathon, not a race (but a marathon you should start now because life IS short, after all).

The important thing is to keep going, and be open to discussion. You never know what you might learn–and from whom.


*On the subject of building skill and becoming an expert–read The Talent Code. Excellent book, and great motivation to learn something that seems scary and out of reach.

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