Why Is Talking About Money The Last Taboo?

I’ve been exposed to income inequality for as far back as I can remember.

I grew up in a small historic town that had only been a desirable place to live since the 1980s. Prior to that, the center of this once prosperous shipbuilding town had fallen into disrepair. During the 1950s and 1960s, the historic downtown district struggled due to increased competition from strip malls and the growth of the automobile. By the 1970s, the center of town was on the verge of being razed.

Fortunately, some forward-thinking civic leaders fought to preserve the city’s history and properly embrace its riverfront location. The revitalization over the coming decade resulted in an influx of wealthy transplants.

There was always a clear distinction between the affluent new residents and working class families who had resided in the town for generations.

Seeing a disparity between my middle class family and the families of my incredibly wealthy classmates, I remember having an uncomfortable conversation with my father. One day, I asked him how much money our family made. He explained that it wasn’t polite to ask that question, but shared the number with me anyway, making me take a vow of secrecy.

He also took the opportunity to warn me never to share my financial information with anyone. Obviously I hadn’t accumulated much at that age, but his advice stuck with me as I grew older.

To this day, I’ve never revealed my earnings, hourly rate, or salary to any co-workers I’ve ever had.

Even when I was working in restaurants as a server, I would never talk about how much money I had made at the end of my shift. I worried about jealousy and resentment from the other waitstaff, even if I had volunteered to wait on the parties that arrived near closing or consistently sold more higher priced meals and drinks.

This may sound contrary coming from someone with a detailed net worth section of her website. But I’ve blogged anonymously for a reason.

While safety and privacy are important to me, the primary reason I’ve continued to keep my identity a secret is the fear of jealousy and resentment from friends and co-workers in real life.

Prior to my recent change in employment, I intentionally allowed everyone to think I earned a very low income. Despite receiving several raises, I never allowed lifestyle inflation to occur and my frugal lifestyle choices were hardly ever questioned.

While acting with stealth can certainly have its advantages, I’ve experienced the negative aspects of this behavior, as well.

For one, it’s hard to turn off. Prior to this blog, I hadn’t revealed the details of my personal finances with anyone ever. Even partners. Eeek!

I’ve managed to reject the notion that acquiring large amounts of money represents success and status, but I oddly can’t shake the feelings of shame and guilt about what I’ve managed to acquire.

I’ve never been a high earner, but I’ve saved better than most people I know. Why should I feel embarrassed about that?

I wish there was an easier way to openly discuss money with family and friends, but discussing money always seems to induce such a visceral response. We’re missing out on learning from each other, sharing ideas, and supporting each other in times of distress.

Readers: How comfortable do you feel discussing your finances with partners, friends, and family?

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Discussions — 34 Responses

  • Autumn @ The Barefoot Budgeter August 25, 2014 on 6:16 am

    It’s kind of funny – before I started my blog I never talked to friends or anyone about money. My friends still don’t know about my blog, but conversations about finances seem to naturally happen now. I’m not sure if I’m just more open to it or more aware, but we’re having some really great conversations. I wish we would have started sooner!

    Reply
  • JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit.com August 25, 2014 on 6:39 am

    I can’t really blame you for remaining anonymous. My friends and family don’t know about my blog and I don’t want to advertise it to them either because there’s so much of my financial state out there for them to see and I want to avoid the issue. I have no problem with sharing everything but it’s still such taboo that I don’t want to advertise my situation. The discussion can still be had though by just leaving out the dollar amounts. The idea of saving and investing and tracking your net worth doesn’t require a dollar figure. It’s the concept that needs to hit home.

    Reply
  • Elisabeth August 25, 2014 on 6:43 am

    I think there are a lot of conversations to be had without necessarily revealing your earnings. Debt accumulation, tough choices regarding the housing market or investments…. These things are where the interesting conversations happen and aren’t dependent upon “personal information”.

    Reply
  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 25, 2014 on 7:05 am

    I make extremely little money and I’m comfortable being open about it because it helps people understand why I can’t do or afford certain things. I wonder how I’ll feel if and when my income grows.

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  • Kassandra @ More Than Just Money August 25, 2014 on 7:27 am

    I am a fairly private person when it comes to my financial information but I do share details with select members of my family and very close friends. I definitely welcome money discussions though because I feel it’s important to talk about money and the emotions that drive our financial choices but I wouldn’t share details with co-workers or people I don’t know well enough.

    Reply
  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach August 25, 2014 on 8:07 am

    I think its such a personal choice. I reveal some things, but I don’t like talking about what I earn each month, and don’t feel too comfortable revealing my net worth. I guess part of that is being afraid of being judged, but then also part of it really does feel like no one’s business. I do have one close friend I’m very open with about my finances. I think I might go crazy if I didn’t have anyone to talk to. And if I was in a serious relationship I’d be very open to discussing it with them.

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  • Natalie @ Financegirl August 25, 2014 on 8:31 am

    It bugs the crap out of me that talking about money is taboo. I am on the far end of talking about money with any and everyone. It’s what I do! I will say that I grew up in a similar situation where my family and their parents (my grandparents) were secretive about money, but I think that was just the times they were brought up in. I hope that it is changing now. I like to think Suze Orman is rubbing off on me here! But I totally respect your opinion too 🙂

    Reply
  • Kirsten August 25, 2014 on 8:32 am

    After reading Dividend Mantra’s post this morning, I think I’ll stick to just keeping money talk in generalities. I think our families know that we make good money, though. What they don’t get is how extensive our student loan debt. Like, we coulda bought a nice house with that money, so we effectively have two mortgages!

    I support you for blogging anonymously about the issue. I don’t share specifics with anyone but my husband!

    Reply
  • Mrs. Frugalwoods August 25, 2014 on 9:10 am

    This is something I think about a lot. We don’t really ever discuss dollar amounts with anyone, but we do talk about broad financial goals and plans. When friends ask for advice, it’s usually about real estate, which somehow is not as taboo a topic. Only our closest friends and family know about our blog, everyone else just thinks we’re really interested in personal finance 🙂

    Reply
  • Lauren August 25, 2014 on 9:30 am

    I was also raised with the idea that you do not discuss earnings and it is rude to ask. My parents seemed almost insulted if I ever tried to get an idea of their income- clearly, it was not my business or concern. I don’t feel comfortable talking about my income and earnings today, except with my immediate circle. I think it’s because in our culture, so much of our self-worth is wrapped up in our net worth.

    Reply
  • AldoR@MDN August 25, 2014 on 10:00 am

    I never really discussed my finances with people before I started my blog. The only person I ever discussed it with was my now Fiancee. Mostly I was embarrassed of how terrible I was with my money and didn’t want people to judge me, but now that I’m doing good with my finances, I can’t seem to shut up about it. I’m proud of what I have accomplished and of where I see myself going and want to share it with as many people as possible because I know some of them are in the same situation I was before. If I can help just one person see the path to financial independence, then I can say I am a success.

    Reply
  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde August 25, 2014 on 10:19 am

    I was shocked when I became a financial advisor how private people were about money even with their advisor! I had clients who did not want to share their income with me at first. It’s impossible to help someone with their money if you have no idea what they make. I openly talk about money with friends and I think some of them get uncomfortable when I do, and I don’t understand it. I think there is a lot of judgment that comes with money talk and most people do not want to be exposed to it. I just think it is another aspect of your life just like where you live and it shouldn’t be such a big deal.

    Reply
  • Erin @ Journey to Saving August 25, 2014 on 10:37 am

    My parents never really discussed finances at length with me. When I asked them what they made, they told me, and I only had a vague idea that they were in debt. I never knew any hard numbers when it came to that. So money wasn’t really taboo in our house, but it seemed like they had a head-in-the-sand mentality about debt. If friends or family want to discuss financial matters with me, I don’t mind, but it’s never happened. That said, I’ve never discussed any salary details with coworkers.

    Reply
  • Even Steven August 25, 2014 on 12:48 pm

    Like the Frugalwoods we talk about money and personal finance in broad terms with real estate and general plans, I get asked more questions because of the blog but not specifically relating to salary.

    Reply
  • Michelle August 25, 2014 on 2:06 pm

    My spouse and I have always been very open about talking about money. My friends are becoming more and more open about it as well now that they know I’m a personal finance blogger. I think more people need to start talking about money!

    Reply
  • Tawcan August 25, 2014 on 4:31 pm

    I’m pretty comfortable discussing money with my immediate family. We are pretty close and money is a topic that we discuss regularly.

    Even with close friends we do end up discussing money from time to time. Maybe not about what we earn but rather how to invest. I do think that money is a topic that we all need to talk about more.

    Reply
  • Brock @CleverDude August 25, 2014 on 5:19 pm

    Money, whether we like it or not, is a symbol of success. If you have it, you’re considered (generally) successful. If you don’t have it, you’re not. So, if you talk about how much money you have, it’s viewed as bragging about your successes. Similarly, if you talk about how much debt you have, you’re essentially (in many people’s eyes) admitting failure. It’s a false perception of course…..just because you’re having money problems doesn’t mean you’re failing at life. There’s a billion and one reasons why you may be having money issues…and taking the step to get out of debt shouldn’t be a shameful event!

    Reply
  • debs@debtdebs August 25, 2014 on 6:24 pm

    I’m of a whole lot of mixed mind. On the one hand, we need to talk more about money from the proper money management and debt perspective, but sharing income, not so much because that’s highly personal. Net worth might lead to resentment with family members as was pointed out above. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their situation but I also want my family members to be prudent with their money. Sometimes you have to give specifics and not generalities so people can relate. My parents didn’t talk about income either. So ya, basically, I’m conflicted. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, Addison. LOL 😉

    Reply
  • NZ Muse August 25, 2014 on 11:12 pm

    Very comfortable actually. I’ve talked openly to my former journalism colleagues about salaries. I happily talk to friends about expenses (though not really income, though I would if they asked). Had a good chat with coworkers the other day about property and cars, and sometimes about budgeting and spending on lunches and stuff.

    Reply
  • jefferson August 26, 2014 on 10:03 am

    While obviously, as a financial blogger, talking about money has become somewhat routine for us.. There is a limit to our openness.. We don’t discuss exactly how much money we make– either with the blog or in my day job.

    Reply
  • Alexis August 26, 2014 on 2:04 pm

    I’m not afraid to talk about money to others, but it’s the part when people start to worry about me when it starts to bother me. I’m a college student and always try to make a dollar whenever I can.

    Reply
  • Asset-Grinder August 26, 2014 on 2:06 pm

    alld epends who asks. If I sense jealously and resentment from others about money then I keep it to a minimum. But if you are open and cool about it I will be pretty open and offer advice.

    Reply
  • Brian August 26, 2014 on 2:34 pm

    I am very open about my finances with my family (well except my wife’s brother but that is because he is a moocher). I don’t really have anything to hide. I know pretty much everything about my parent’s finances since my dad has kept me in the loop in case something were to happen to one or both of my parents.

    Reply
  • Broke Millennial August 26, 2014 on 3:37 pm

    I’m very comfortable talking about money (and net worth) with my partner and immediate family. I’d have an open conversation with a few dear friends — but I wouldn’t reveal my personal situation to a lot of folks outside that immediate circle. Mostly because, like you said, it can lead to jealously or resentment. I too have been a saver, so people usually think I’m much poorer than I actually am and I don’t mind.

    Reply
  • Dividend Mantra August 26, 2014 on 8:01 pm

    Addison,

    Well, you probably already know how I feel about this.

    It’s unfortunate that personal finance is so taboo. But I suspect that’s why books and the online community are so popular. We’re not getting the support and feedback from those in our personal life, so we seek it out in other avenues.

    I’m choosing to refrain from any financial discussions with family from here on out, but I do think that some earlier comments about speaking in generalities is probably possible. Though, I can also see how that might be a slippery slope. I’d rather not find myself on the slope at all and instead talk about weather, sports, or “work” with family. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to lean on the online community for support and feedback in regards to finances.

    People who want to change will seek out the necessary tools and discussions. Those who don’t won’t. And maybe, just maybe, those in our personal life who eventually want to change will humbly ask us for help and advice. In which case, I’d love to help. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the hassle.

    It’s a shame.

    Best wishes!

    Reply
  • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich August 29, 2014 on 10:56 am

    I don’t really have much trouble talking about money in general, but, yeah, exact numbers are a little awkward. And I know they shouldn’t be. I write all over my blog that they shouldn’t be. Even as a few friends are learning that I have a blog, I tell them it’s a personal finance blog and that it has my salary posted on it before I tell them what it’s called and as soon as I say it’s got my salary posted it on, half of them tell me they don’t want to know what blog it is. I always think that’s an interesting response.

    Reply
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  • Cecilia@thesingledollar August 30, 2014 on 8:23 am

    This is a super interesting post and really made me think. On balance, since I am 35 and just emerging from total financial ignorance, I think we don’t talk about it enough 🙂 Coming out of college, I had really no sense of how much people in various careers made, and why that might matter; I knew people who wanted to earn “a lot” of money went into finance or law, and people who “did what they loved” or “served the world” wouldn’t have “as high” a salary, but the actual practicalities of what that meant, or that there might be some middle ground, jobs where you could engage in some public service without taking a vow of semi-poverty, was pretty opaque to me. The only thing that would have helped would have been a lot of talking about it! [The luckiest people I knew in college were really into computers; they got to do what they wanted to do *and* handily out-earn almost everyone else.]

    This lack of talking about it continued into my thirties. I’m just easing up to the topic with my BFF now; I wish we’d spend the last ten years discussing it, because I think we both would have benefited from more open discussion. Instead, through my blog, I’m talking to strangers on the internet because I still feel like all this is taboo. When I would rather be talking to my IRL friends.

    Reply
  • Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet August 30, 2014 on 2:40 pm

    I think money is a taboo topic (and always will be) because our society sees it as a measuring stick for how you rank within society. People with money have power and can make things happen more than others than don’t have as much money. I like to keep some privacy with money but wouldn’t mind if people were a little more open to talking about at least in a general sense

    Reply
  • Financial Independence UK August 31, 2014 on 6:48 am

    I have always been completely open with my wife as we share all our accounts (credit cards, banks and savings), and she knows all the details of the investment accounts I legally cannot share for tax reasons.

    I haven’t discussed specifics with my family, mainly because I think people will think I am rich because I have made the effort to save whilst they have not.

    I don’t really discuss money with people at work but a few of my colleagues are aware that I will probably be able to retire by 60, therefore can probably make the assumption that I do have a value of savings that most people would think was a lot (I think anything over £100,00 would make people consider you as being well off in the UK)

    I think the reason almost no-one talks about money is that they think it will make other people jealous, and also I think most employers prefer it that way so their employees can not benchmark with others.

    Best Wishes
    FI UK

    Reply
  • Edward August 31, 2014 on 8:51 am

    I agree that revealing your personal wealth is risky; however,I believe you can provide advise without talking about specifics. I have been trying to help my brother and a close friend who seem to struggling with saving. I made the unfortunate mistake of revealing that I just paid off my house as an example of what you can achieve. It’s a really big accomplishment for me. However, I could immediately detect that there was resentment,and I will never discuss my personal accomplishements with family and friends again. It’s not worth the grief.

    Reply
  • Myles Money September 2, 2014 on 10:41 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Discussing finance is vital in order to learn about how to deal with money more effectively, but the taboo surrounding money means you’re more likely to talk about your sex-life or an embarrassing health problem than discuss your salary or your debts.

    Reply
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