Money

The “M” Word – Ellie Daforge – Medium

Why is talking about money so secretive?

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

I stopped by a relative’s house recently, and was surprised to see that she got some remodeling work done in her kitchen. I was thinking of doing the same myself down the road, and blurted out, “Wow, that looks great. How much did it cost?”

A quick glare set me straight: you’re not supposed to just ask about money. Whether that entails querying what things cost, or how much people make. It’s rude. It’s pushy. It just isn’t done.

I was once chided at a job for trying to negotiate a raise. Money shouldn’t be the reason I worked there, I was told. My boss ended the conversation with an ominous statement: “Be very careful about talking about money again.”

That’s the kind of job people leave, because money is important. Money says you value my time and my work. Paying me less than market rate says that you think I’m less valuable.

Whoever said, “Money doesn’t buy happiness” was clearly never broke. Money can make things happen. With more money, you can buy more time. You can buy a better life for your kids, and more leisure. It’s certainly not everything, but without it, people suffer.

We attach labels to people who have money (wealthy), and people who don’t (poor). And there are all sorts of assumptions with each.

But money carries more than social status. When I asked my relative what her remodel cost, I wasn’t trying to judge her. I was just thinking about what my own kitchen would cost to redo down the road.

Talking about money — how to earn it, how much we earn, how to invest, how to save— is very important. Early on, I read up on how to invest, and started a retirement account in my 20s so it could grow over time. But when’s the last time I added to it? A few years ago. I don’t really know what to do with it. No one wants to talk about investing, so I don’t know how far behind I am.

Some of it may stem from shame. People might not have a lot of money, and therefore don’t want anyone to know. Or on the flip side, people might have a lot of money and don’t want people knocking on their door for handouts. I can understand both concerns.

I’m not saying you should print out your bank account balance and show it to everyone you see, but in general, we should be able to talk about the following:

Income

In some instances, such as a job working for the government, your income may be public record. At other places, it’s hush-hush. While you might not want your cubicle neighbor to know what you’re making, it’s important information for your network.

Say you ask someone in another company what you could expect to earn there. Wouldn’t you want them to be honest with you and give you a ballpark figure? Sharing income information can help decrease pay inequality.

Mortgages/debt

If anything, people should talk about debt more, not less. I thought I knew a lot about mortgages, but I had a few surprises when I applied for a loan.

Many people also don’t know how to handle credit card debt. A common misconception is that you need to carry a balance in order to build up credit. Nope. You just need to keep the account open and make payments on time.

Retirement/investing

This is huge, and yet no one’s talking about it. One of my great-grandparents lived to be over a hundred. I’ll probably live to a decent old age. Yet, I don’t earn a pension. A chunk of my income is made by writing and freelancing, and that doesn’t come with a retirement package.

I don’t need to retire at 55, but I also don’t want to be penniless at 65. Can we, as writers, start talking about investing to retire? Please and thank you.

Savings

I know one person who constantly talks about great deals at the supermarket. One of them was a rewards program I didn’t know about, and when I signed up, I started saving money.

I’ve also heard people say great things about a local discount grocery store. I tried it, and guess what? I paid 1/3 of what my normal grocery bill is. Not bad.

Talking about money is hard, but it’s also necessary. Without talking about what we earn and spend, we have no framework for what we should be earning and spending. Or saving, if we have the opportunity. Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic. Let’s start the conversation.


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