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We Hate Talking About Money

 

"Money is a loaded topic in our culture. So loaded, in fact, that it is the world's most impolite subject."


-Sarah Newcomb

 

I'm sitting on a couch watching square dancing on TV - not by choice. I'm at a lake place and since it's cool outside, it's really warm inside. Unfortunately, it's too cold to go sit outside and escape the heat. The lake place belongs to a couple, who I'll call "Roger" and "Patricia." Roger has asked three people today how much their property cost.


One neighbor bought a new jetski and Roger asks point-blank, "how much did you pay for the new toy?" A family member came up to the cabin for the first time in a new car and is immediately asked how much the car was and what the interest rate is on the loan. He follows up with how much was put down on the loan and how much he got on the trade-in. My wife and I had just recently purchased a camping trailer and, as predicted, Roger proceeds to ask us how much the trailer cost, how we paid for it, and why we thought that much money is a good deal for a camper.


One common thread here is that nobody, not the owner of the jetski, not the owner of the new car, and not me, is comfortable with this interrogation. All of us come up with a quick answer to get us out of the situation as quickly as possible.

The weird thing is, nobody has any trouble talking about politics or any other taboo topic this weekend, but money is a conversation stopper.


we don't talk about money


Money Taboo


In our culture, it's not polite to talk about money. That's why you can shut a conversation down quickly by simply asking someone how much they make, how much something costs, or why they spent "so much money" on something. It's uncomfortable for most people to talk about.


These days, you're more likely to find people talking about politics, religion, their sex lives, and even major embarrassing health issues than you will talking about money.


If asked about purchases, some people will say, "it's only money." That not really true, though. Besides the fact that he or she was simply trying to end the conversation, "it's only money" ignores the fact that money is usually a proxy for other things, like our emotions and our feelings. And there's no way we can talk about our feelings! (note the sarcasm, which doesn't always come through in text)


Why the Money Taboo?


A common reason people don't like to talk about money, particularly if they are talking to someone who they view to be less successful than they are, is they don't like to sound like they are bragging. It can be quite awkward for people who have more to talk to people who have less because they is a looming fear that you can come across as a jerk.


So, to avoid the perception that someone else may think we're a jerk, we change the subject.


The flipside, of course, is when we hear other people talking about money we can jump to conclusions about their point. Instead of feeling like we are bragging when speaking about money, we can easily think others are bragging when we are listening to them talk about money.


A lot of this comes from the perception that more knowledge about money is the answer to financial well-being.


If someone seems to be more financially successful than we are, we assume they must know more than we do.


This perceived gap between what we think everyone else knows and what we know creates embarrassment, envy, and other negative emotions. So we avoid talking about money in order to avoid these negative emotions that we conjured up for ourselves.