There’s just certain things you don’t talk about in America: your girlfriend’s weight, that illegal stunt you pulled during an all-nighter in college, and personal finance.
Money is especially a taboo in this culture. Don’t ask how much someone paid for something, don’t ask what someone’s bonus was, and definitely don’t ask about salary.
We Americans value individuality and don’t want to talk about our personal financial decisions.
In fact, 44% of American’s said that personal finance is the most difficult subject to discuss with others. This outranked politics, religion, and death.
But is that really for the best?
Is it helpful to keep money such a private affair, or does it actually hurt us in the long run?
These are the questions that have been running through my mind lately as more and more conversations around money come up.
Whether it’s at work, with friends, or with family, I’ve found myself talking about money more often lately.
This is probably just because I’m so excited about helping people save it, but it’s lead me to start asking questions about how much sharing is too much sharing?
Sharing Provides Context
The overall advantage to sharing is that it helps you and the person you’re sharing with have a better understanding.
When we talk openly about our salary, budget, investments, and spending habits we can learn from each other the best strategies for handling our money. Unfortunately for many people, they never hear first hand how people actually manage their money in real life.
There’s a lot of confusion out there because of this.
But when someone shares with you about how much they spend, or how much they bought their house for, it gives you context to help make your own decisions. And you can’t make good decisions without context.
A lot of wise investors aren’t willing to talk about their investment strategy. Instead, they point their friends and family members to books with a learn-on-your-own style.
The problem is that many people aren’t good at learning on their own. Many of us need help from others in a personal way.
I know that while I’ve learned a lot from books, one of the best things for me has been talking to my grandfather about practical ways to invest. If he hadn’t been willing to open up and talk to me, I might’ve never learned some of the things that I know now.
I’m a huge fan of sharing because I want to provide context and help others understand their own situation better, by sharing mine.
Here’s a great example:
I got married to Hanna when I was 20 years old and she was 23. I was entering my senior year in college and she was starting graduate school. Neither of us had a full-time job. I was working part-time and she was working 10 hours per week as a research assistant.
We had very little income, but we had no student loans, and lived off the money we had saved prior to marriage. We made it through the whole year completely on our own without any help from parents because of previous savings.
Now imagine I had a friend come and ask me about what I thought for him to get married while still in school.
And what if I told him, yes my wife and I did it so you should too. But what if I didn’t tell him that we didn’t have school loans, and had a lot of savings because I was worried he might judge me or be jealous.
That would actually hurt him more because he wouldn’t understand the full context of how we were able to do what we did. I have the opportunity to be extremely helpful, but it requires giving him the whole picture.
Sharing Promotes Fairness
The other major advantage of sharing numbers is that it helps keep things fair.
Imagine you were fresh out of school and interviewing for your first job at a well-known corporate company. Luckily, you have a friend there who has a similar position. Your friend tells you that they had a starting salary of $50,000 two years ago when they started.
This is extremely helpful because now you have context. You’ll be able to know if that company is low-balling you and trying to cut you short. But what if that friend was unwilling to talk about money with you? Then the company might’ve offered you $40,000 and you might’ve taken it without knowing how much you were leaving on the table.
Who does that help?
It sure doesn’t help you or your friend. It only helps the people at the very top of the company.
This is why the taboo of not talking about money is actually extremely harmful to most employees. Keeping it too private helps companies take advantage of people without them ever knowing.
In general, sharing is good for everyone, it brings everyone up.
Cons Of Sharing
The one problem with sharing is that we’re human.
And humans have a problem with judgement and jealousy. This is the reason that so many people keep their money private.
It gets awkward because we’re afraid that we will be judged. Or we’re afraid that people might get jealous.
Either way, we don’t want that and we try desperately to avoid both.
The biggest downside of sharing specifics is if you have people in your life who will become especially irritating.
You know who I’m talking about. The ones who will come begging and pleading the second they find out you’ve got some cash.
But that’s when you break out the shotguns
But, on a serious note, this idea of judgment and jealousy is very important.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to get rid of these two altogether. And trust me, I know how it feels. When people find out I run a personal finance blog, they immediately conjure up all sorts of ideas about me and how cheap I must be.
I get comments all the time about not spending enough and being too tight. And it can be really bothersome.
But here’s the thing: the people who want to judge are going to judge you regardless of whether you share or not.
People have ways to find out relatively how much you make. The easiest way is to simply see what you do for a living and combine that with the city you live in.
Because I have an engineering degree, people think that means I must be extremely wealthy for my age. It’s so frustrating because I can’t tell you how often people make comments about me “easily being able to afford” something because they assume they know how much I make.
It’s sad really.
They don’t even know I write about personal finance, and I’ve never shared my income with them, but they still feel the need to judge my spending habits.
Unfortunately, even when you don’t share, people are still going to judge you.
It’s just the way that it is.
You can’t get away from jealousy and judgement whether you share or not.
How To Not Let The Judgement Bother You
People openly judge my spending habits ALL the time. But there are two keys that I use to not let it bother me.
- I know that most of the time, they are just insecure about their own situation and want me to be the same as them.
- I am confident that I’ve researched the best options for me, and I know that other people’s opinions don’t matter.
Most of the time people really feel bad about decisions they’ve made in their own lives. It makes them feel better if they can watch others make the same mistakes. So when you’re different, it makes them feel bad about their own situation.
By recognizing this, you’re able to realize that the judgement isn’t really about you, it’s about them.
This helps you also become more confident in your decisions. If you’ve given it some serious thought and made a decision based on what you think is best for you and your family, you shouldn’t worry about what others think.
Most of them don’t have the life you want anyways, so why should their judgement of your financial decisions matter?
The answer: They Shouldn’t
Be More Open, But Recognize That Everyone’s Different
If there are so many benefits to being more open and people are going to judge you whether you are or not, it’s time to start sharing.
Now, let’s be clear, I don’t mean you have to go blast your money problems or income status all over facebook. I just mean that you can open the door to conversations about money with other people in your life.
Maybe you can help someone at work who’s struggling to understand the 401k options. Or maybe your cousin can help you figure out how to cut your monthly spending by an extra $100 if you’re willing to open up.
But there’s one important thing that I do want you to recognize: Everyone Is Different
Although I’m a huge advocate for openness, I recognize that everyone has different levels of sharing comfort. And that’s okay.
Ther are all sorts of different levels of sharing.
J Money is super open about all of his finances, he blasts his net worth all over the internet in hopes of inspiring and helping others.
On the other hand, I’m personally not quite that open. But I will share just about any numbers to friends and family during in-person conversations.
It all depends on who you are and who you’re talking to.
Remember, personal finance is just that, it’s extremely personal. It’s personal in the way that we feel about it, and it’s personal in the way that we find success with it.
But by sharing more, people are able to see the variety of ways to handle money, and find the way that works best for them.
The bottom line is that we’re all humans and we’re all on planet earth. That means we ALL have to deal with money. Why shouldn’t we be open and help each other out, instead of trying to learn on our own?
So what do you think, how open are you with your finances?