In our culture, talking about money – especially money troubles – can be uncomfortable. Money feels like a very personal topic. And, like discussing politics and religion, it’s a topic laden with the potential for judgment and scrutiny.
Telling others our income or how much we save can come across as egotistical. And sharing our money issues, well, that creates feelings of uneasiness and vulnerability. So we keep our money problems to ourselves.
But should we hide our money troubles from others?
For many, it can seem easier to hide money problems than to face them head-on.
It’s difficult to talk about a topic that feels so vulnerable and emotionally charged. But, while it can be hard to start money conversations, doing so often relieves stress and brings you one step closer to finding solutions.
Why do We Hide Money Troubles?
It’s about more than just money. We avoid talking about money because money represents more than dollars and cents.
How we think about and use money reflects our personal beliefs, values, and goals. It can also influence the power and trust in our relationships. Early experiences from our childhood influence these issues (even if we don’t realize it).
It’s what money represents that makes it feel so personal and vulnerable.
Believe it or not, everyone has money shame at some point in their lives.
According to Brene Brown, “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.”
For example, here are some money shame phrases:
“I’m not good with money.”
“I’m not a saver.”
“I’m too dependent on my wife/husband/mom/dad for money.”
”I’m such a financial mess I’ll never be able to dig out of this debt.”
“I don’t deserve to make more money.”
“I can’t ever get ahead of my bills.”
When we connect money problems with our sense of self-worth, identity, and “success,” we feel shame. And with this shame comes the fear of judgment. So we try protecting ourselves with secrecy and silence so others, even those close to us, don’t think any less of us.
We’re afraid of judgment. We also fear our money troubles will interfere with our relationships, that our friends and family will feel different about us if they find out.
When we blame ourselves for our troubles, we can feel like we’re the only ones in the world with those problems. So we also worry no one will understand.
Research has shown money is the top source of anxiety among Americans, causing even more stress than our work or relationships. Part of the reason is, in our culture money is used as a measure of success – and no one wants to be seen as unsuccessful.
Money problems cause anxiety, fear, and a feeling of uncertainty. But hiding debt, spending, or other money issues – and “pretending” like a problem doesn’t exist will only add to the level of stress. And that stress will inevitably spill over into other areas of life, like health and relationships.
Why Would We Want to be More Open About Money Problems?
Hiding money problems often makes problems worse. Not only that, but it puts your relationships at risk.
Financial issues are a top reason many people split up. Because you’re not just dealing with money, but emotional issues, as well as values, beliefs, power, and trust. Managing the problems up front by talking about them will prevent more serious issues down the road.
You should even be honest with your kids. Kids can sense problems. If you’re stressed about money, kids can be confused and misinterpret your stress as a problem with them.
How you share money troubles differs depending on kids’ ages and personalities. But, let them know what’s bothering you and how you’re dealing with it to help them learn and grow.
What about people outside of your immediate family? Even hiding money problems from extended family, friends, or coworkers might not be such a good idea.
Each relationship is different and should be judged individually. But if you have supportive people in your life, telling them about your money issues can be super helpful. Just having someone who will listen and express empathy can be a relief.
How Discussing Your Money Troubles can Help
Realize you’re not alone. Money troubles are more common than we think, even though they feel very personal. When you share your issues with someone, you might be surprised to find out they’ve had money problems at some point too.
Get support. When you open up to someone you trust, it can bring a tremendous sense of relief. Having someone who really listens to your concerns can help lower stress. And, besides emotional support, you may even get suggestions or resources to help you navigate your money problems.
Recognize your money doesn’t define you. The people in your life who matter won’t judge you by your money troubles. They will understand your money problems are something you’re dealing with in life, not who you are.
Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — Bernard Baruch
Get help. By sharing with others, you can get helpful suggestions, referrals to resources, and maybe even some guidance and strategies for tackling your money troubles. Just opening up and having the discussion is useful for everyone.
Help others. As mentioned earlier, more people have money problems than you realize. By sharing with others, you help them understand they aren’t alone.
Maybe you can give them the space to share their problems and tell them what you’ve learned. Or you could work together to find solutions and create accountability.
How do you Start Talking About Financial Issues?
If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brené Brown
Dealing with money troubles alone is difficult. It’s also scary to open up and share them, even if it’s with someone who can help.
But talking honestly about money problems is a significant first step toward change. Being open can help you start to accept them and make a plan to address them.
Who do You Talk to?
There are probably people in your life who wouldn’t be supportive and helpful. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions before opening up. The idea is to get support in one way or another, not negativity.
Before you share openly, ask:
- Does sharing your money problems (with this person) put you at any risk, financially or otherwise?
- Do you trust this person?
- Will they listen with an open mind and support you?
- Is this the right time, or would it be better to set aside a specific time for this conversation?
- What if the conversation doesn’t go as planned? How will you end it? And who else would you be able to turn to?
If you don’t have people in your personal life you can turn to, seek out the help of a reputable financial counselor.
How to Start Talking
Test the waters. Do some reading on a money issue you’re dealing with. Then casually mention something you read to see how receptive the person is to a money discussion.
For instance, you could say something like, “You know, I read the other day that if you make one extra loan payment per year, you will pay a lot less interest on your loan over time.”
You could also ask an opening question such as, “What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever heard?”
Put it on the calendar. If you know who you will open up to about your money troubles (and you know they’ll be supportive), schedule a time to talk so you don’t procrastinate. It can be helpful to meet at a neutral place, such as a coffee shop.
Continue the conversation. When you’re open about the money issues you’re dealing with, it’s easier to continue to be honest and open about it. The more you talk about it, the less scary it is, and the better you’re able to deal with it.
So when your friends ask you to go out to eat, you can honestly tell them you’re trying to make extra payments on your student loan debt (or whatever problem you’re tackling).
You don’t have to make excuses or hide the reason you choose to skip a night out. You might be surprised at what could happen. Maybe they’ll join you for an evening in!
We all need to have money conversations. The more we discuss money, the less taboo the topic becomes. And as we continue to talk about it, more people will be open to sharing. Then more people will feel comfortable getting support to help solve their money problems.
Article written by Amanda