Money can be a sensitive issue and an uncomfortable subject to talk about for some, even with their families. Several surveys have documented the same view that society holds on money talks: a taboo. The APA survey revealed that 18% of Americans say that money is taboo to talk about with their families. Furthermore, 36% do not feel comfortable talking about money despite being stressed due to financial problems.
Why the Taboo?
In her research article, Dr. Liezel Alsemgeest from the Centre for Financial Planning Law, University of the Free State, South Africa, listed possible reasons behind money as a taboo subject in the family. First, as part of the norm, it is customary not to talk about finances. Talking about money openly is not a common practice in many societies, even in Western countries. This is passed on to the next generations through practices and habits in the family, making it difficult to change.
Second, money poses sacred and profane meanings as both a tool and a drug. As a tool, money enables people to make ends meet. However, it has the danger of becoming a drug for people as it leads to money obsessions. Examples of disorders may arise such as overspending, impulsive buying, and pathological gambling. Due to this, money becomes a touchy subject as it may mean several things for different people.
Third, money can have social and cultural connotations. Money can act as a non-verbal cue of an individual’s status in society. Furthermore, it can act as an illustration of the degree of an individual’s acceptance into society. Since this can lead to certain biases based on material possessions rather than personal qualities or achievements, people would rather not talk about money to avoid judgment.
Finally, money is often associated with feelings of power or inferiority as well as shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Money can empower an individual’s standing in society and family, leading to inequality in resource sharing and decision-making. Consequently, in line with its social and cultural aspect, openly talking about money could bring to the surface negative emotions that most people are not comfortable with. Parents might want to protect their children from worrying or feeling embarrassed while keeping their dignity and concealing their guilt.
Starting financial talks with children
As the first institution of life, the family plays a vital role in shaping and influencing an individuals’ financial values and behaviors. Family financial socialization can affect an individual’s financial knowledge, self-efficacy, and subjective financial wellbeing. This means that a child can be introduced to finances through discussions on money and how their parents handle it.
To ensure that they do not cause excessive worry and fear about what awaits their children in the future, parents need to be cautious when approaching the topic of finances. Parents may start by sharing the importance of getting a job to earn money and how it correlates to the future of their families. Parents may also share what they think about savings, how they spend money, and when they use credit cards.
This may prove to be challenging as this also exposes the good and bad spending habits of parents. However, this can be an opportunity for children to learn and develop healthy relationships with money. By gaining good habits and learning from the bad, children can eventually develop better financial habits.
Similarly, discussions such as retirement planning, long-term care, inheritance, and estate planning between aging parents and their children who are of legal age are also necessary. This conversation might be the most uncomfortable one, especially when family estrangement exists. To tackle this, finding financial professionals who can sort out finances for them can avoid disclosing sensitive information. For aging parents who are financially less prepared, communicating their concerns to their children is important to resolve any bigger issues that may arise and harm their family systems in the future.
Sharing financials with spouses
Starting discussions on money matters with a spouse/partner can be surprisingly difficult too. Some people keep financial secrets from their spouse/partner. However, it can put a strain on not only their financial health but also on their relationships as a whole.
To start opening up about financial matters with a spouse/partner, one can share their past experiences with money. These can include the money values and habits they grew up with. During these discussions, they may discover differences in handling money which might be rooted in childhood teachings.
Along with these experiences, one can also share their expectations in shouldering the management of finances. Differences in individual income and debts can also be a source of tension in an intimate relationship. However, by having these discussions, couples can learn how they handle household finances and also deepen their relationship.
Society needs to see discussions about money in a new light, especially in the family context. While financial issues and the stress that comes along with it are challenges that one deals with on a daily basis, people need support from the ones closest to them: their family members. This also indicates our intentional effort to build resiliency and develop a source of social support when facing financial hardships.
However, this can only happen if the silence is broken within the family setting and new norms are made regarding conversations on money. Talking about money could mean exposing one of our vulnerabilities, but it can also save us from more dire situations and even provide more hands to reach out to later on. If people continue to keep financial issues out of the discussion and hide unhealthy money spending from other family members, this ignorance can be detrimental to the family’s financial wellbeing.