I mentioned in one of my posts yesterday that I sometimes teach financial literacy classes. I love, love, love teaching these classes, largely due to the fact that I enjoy talking about money. I am fascinated by how people think about money and the intersection of money and identity (all of those things we think our financial situation or other people’s financial situations say about us or them) and the incredibly powerful role that shame, emotions and willful ignorance play in our financial lives.
I can talk about shame and ignorance (willful and unintentional) because I am a recovered financial screw up who is quite familiar with those feelings. Credit card debt to the tune of $25,000 combined with student loan debt of $30,000 on a first job out of college salary of $25,5000 will afford one a nice long period of time to feel shame and panic about their financial selves.
I grew up poor and spent myself poor in college and early adulthood. The pervasive feeling of “never enough” that comes with being well and truly broke is something that takes a long time to shake off. Mr. Monkey and I are more frugal than not and we have a healthy income and a solid savings account and yet every month I feel a distinct sense of relief when all the bills have been paid and the wolf has been kept from the door for another month, though there really wasn’t any danger that we wouldn’t be okay this month or next or next.
Sometimes I look at the lives of others and wonder what their finances look like. The magnificent houses in the fancy neighborhood near us– how do you get to live there? What do those people do and how much do they make and what is their net worth? The friends who, like us, are figuring out how to save for retirement and pay off student loans while paying the shockingly high costs of childcare– how are we all doing it? The person at work who is in the same pay grade I am and who takes fabulous vacations that I can’t imagine being able to afford (though I wish I could)– where does that money come from?
I wish it was easier to talk to people about personal finances. Sometimes I think it is interesting that I know exactly how many sexual partners some of my friends have had but I don’t know what their salary is and bringing up sex would be more comfortable than bringing up money.
Why do you think money is such a taboo subject for so many? I keep circling back to the idea of shame, since that is what I felt about my money life for so long, but maybe I’m projecting. I believe that most of us have a natural curiosity about the financial lives of others. We secretly want to know what people make and how they spend their money. I see this all the time on some of the financially related message boards I visit. The posts where people post their budgets consistently get the most views. My posts yesterday got the most traffic I’ve had in almost two years and yet I suspect most of us never talk to our friends and loved ones about our financial strategies or goals.
What do you think? How comfortable are you with talking about money? Do you secretly wish you could see into the bank accounts of those you know, or is that just me?