‘Can we maybe not talk about money tonight?’ my boyfriend asks me. We’re in the back of a cab on the way to a friends house for dinner and his question is a pertinent one.
Money wasn’t always an obvious dinner party conversation. Historically we haven’t told our friends what we earn, or took to Twitter to challenge unfair pay, but an openness about money is surfacing.
People are offering up their salary to the internet and others are charting their debt repayments on Instagram. With public pay-gap audits making front-page news and personal finance podcasts charting, it seems the money taboo has been broken.
I understand my boyfriend’s reticence though, while money is getting more air-time, it’s still not the most comfortable of conversations. I recently wrote a book, ‘Open Up’, encouraging people to talk about money. Since letting people know that I’m up for an awkward chat, the floodgates have opened – There is rarely a dinner party where someone doesn’t tell me about a recent pay-rise or reveal the extent of their past debts. I guess my boyfriend is tired of having to drop his own proverbial pants and explain how he afforded to buy a flat In London. (Like 59% of millennials he was helped onto the property ladder by the bank-of-mum-and-dad).
Speaking about money as a family isn’t always the easiest thing, although initiating the conversation can be hard, most people are glad they found the time – and strength – to do so.
Recent YouGov research found that 50% of UK adults believe that talking about personal money matters is taboo, even with those they’re closest too; the research also discovered that nearly two thirds of people said they feel better when they do talk about money concerns.
It often takes some kind of catalyst to start a money conversation, ‘I speak to my Mum about money a lot since my Dad passed away,’ Sarah, a Teacher in Norwich tells me, ‘As a family we’ve become really open. Over the past few years, my mum has lent and gifted various sums to me and my siblings. She always checks with the whole family first to make sure we’re all happy as she sees it as our inheritance (we always are!) My mum wants my father’s ‘death in service’ payment and the proceeds from our family home to belong to all of us, so she’s driven a lot of the transparency.’
Speaking about money as a family isn’t always the easiest thing, although initiating the conversation can be hard, most people are glad they found the time – and strength – to do so, as Lucy a Project Manager from London told me, ‘My husband went bankrupt over a year ago. Telling my Dad, a self-made, successful businessman was hard. I felt so much shame opening up about how bad our money situation was. However, those conversations made us extremely close, there are literally no secrets, huge amounts of debt have been disclosed to them. They haven’t stepped in and paid it off, but they also haven’t judged and have been pragmatic.’
Of all the conversations I’ve had about money, the most sobering one was with my parents. Both have recently retired and hearing about the reality of their pensions, spurred me to start paying into mine for the first time, aged 36. I often think of how many more years I would have ignored the fact I had no money saved for old age, had it not been for those chats.
Despite my own breakthroughs, I’ve seen that some subjects are harder to broach than others, especially where money and death intersect.
Yvonne a 68-year-old retired nurse explained her predicament, ‘So many emotions become tied up with money as you get older. Although I don’t have a lot to leave my two sons I need to talk to them about my Will. They have different needs as one is disabled and I want them to know this will be reflected in how things are divided, but they won’t have the conversation with me because it also means that we have to talk about me dying and they can’t go there.’
There’s another reason openness between parents and children is paramount – studies have shown that our money habits as adults are set by the age of seven-years-old. What we learn as kids can be hard to shake off. The social class we’re born into, how much money our family had while growing up, how our parents earned and spent money and even who they socialised with, all affect how we behave around money as adults. It’s why moving from one socioeconomic group to another, even if you have have more money and more privilege, you might still behave around money like it’s scarce. Equally, if you were shown love through presents and monetary things, then being frugal as an adult might be that much harder.
“So many emotions become tied up with money as you get older, although I don’t have a lot to leave my two sons I need to talk to them about my Will…”
Possibly you’re reading this thinking, ‘I’m not ready to talk about money with my friends, my partner, or my parents, it makes me feel too uncomfortable.’ If that’s you, it’s worth noting that topics that were once too shameful to talk about, subjects like our sexuality say, or our politics, or even periods, are now open discourse. Conversation is how we educate each other and pass on valuable knowledge. Imagine what you could share if you could get past the money taboo.
If you only ever talk about money in a high stakes situations, like asking for a pay-rise, discussing debt or talking to your family about your will, then money conversations are always going to feel really stressful. But if we can start introducing money chats into our daily lives, we might just have the vocabulary to advocate for ourselves when it really matters. Try it!