In my culture it’s taboo to talk about your personal finances. I grew up in the UK, where the rudest thing you can do (apart from skip a queue) is to ask someone about how much they earn or what to do with money. It’s seen as showing off if you’re rich, or self-deprecating if you’re poor.
It’s even more taboo in the workplace, where knowing what your colleagues earn can be seen as gaining an advantage when it comes to salary and performance reviews.
But we know that not talking about personal finances leaves many worse off. It’s not taught as a school subject, so how do people get to know about finances if they’re not hearing it from their friends and family? It also normalizes toxic financial behavior that is promoted by loan companies and those that stand to gain from poor financial know-how.
So how can be the change you want to see in the world, and start talking about money?
Pick the right person
Just like any personal life choice, you can’t force someone to confront their finances if they’re not interested. Particularly if things aren’t good for them.
Start off with someone who is in a place where they might be open to the subject. Consider someone who is into self development as I found that my personal finances were the foundation of all the other kinds of successful habits I wanted to build.
Avoid work colleagues (even if you are friends outside of the office – it just gets too complicated), anyone you think might be a bit dodgy and anyone you have any kind of power dynamic with (e.g. boss/landlord/mentor). I wouldn’t exclude people you don’t know particularly well, as it can sometimes be easier to talk about personal stuff with relative strangers than family.
Open up with your insecurities first
The quickest way to building up enough trust to talk openly about finances is to share your vulnerabilities first. Perhaps start with a decision you’re trying to make, a worry that you have or a mistake that you made.
Don’t enter with a deceleration of your net worth with the hope of getting a comparison value, and don’t jump in with a concern that your ETFs are too exposed to the Asian share market in a period when silicon supply chains aren’t meeting demand….
Start off with the simple stuff that the person can empathize with, but make sure it’s genuine. Maybe you’re worried you’re not contributing enough to your retirement? Or you’re struggling to save for a house deposit?
Be prepared to share actual figures without judgement
As you start to normalize questions about personal finances you will start to build trust. Eventually, you’ll feel comfortable enough to share hard figures which is one of the most useful things you can do.
You can get a measure on what your peers and other people in your social circle are doing with their money, which is far more valuable than broad statistics. Figures from people you have a connection with are more real because it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that you could be in the same situation, or on the same pathway.
But don’t forget that personal finances are exactly that – personal. The financial position someone finds themselves in is a cumulation of lots of decisions and life events. Break-ups, babies, career changes and personal choice all go into that one dollar figure that you share, so don’t forget not to judge when you hear it.
Have you had any successful money conversations? How did they help?
Personally, I have a very close group of friends that I regularly ask about finances. Some I just ask what their current mortgage interest rate is, some I’ve poured over my entire personal budget spreadsheets with.