Personal Finance

Why is it so hard to talk about money?

Tom Monson, the Vice President of Simple Joe, Inc. was giving a series of free seminars on personal finance to some people in his neighborhood. Many couples and individuals were scheduled to attend but only two or three were showing up.

Tom and I discussed the situation and wondered why attendance was so low. Why were these people not making their appointments? We didn’t think it was the time of day. The time and place was very convenient to all the invitees.

We knew they had an interest and several of them had expressed a desire to learn more about finances directly to Tom. But when it came to showing up for the seminar they seemed to find other things to do.

As Tom and I were discussing this he commented on the behavior and attitude of some of the people who had shown up for the first two seminars. At the first seminar, Tom noticed that several of the husband & wife couples seemed a bit uncomfortable discussing financial matters with each other.

Much of Tom’s seminar involved recognizing and evaluating your current financial situation, setting financial goals and ways to measure your progress. But he was having a hard time getting the couples to discuss financial matters between themselves.

It seemed as if the topic of finances was taboo. They were perfectly willing to sit and listen to a lecture, but when it came to discussing the topic between themselves, they were hesitant and almost shy with each other.

Tom and I tried to guess at why this situation would be occurring in couples that had been married years. Some of the ideas we came up with were things we had never considered before because of our own situations and habits.

We also learned something about each other, the different ways we look at finances and the techniques we use in our own homes.

One of the first things we speculated on was the idea that maybe the topic of finances was always taboo for the husband and/or wife. Maybe they grew up in a household that did not discuss finances publicly. It was not a “proper topic for dinner conversation” or it was a private matter just for parents.

I have seen this in some people I have talked with. Many are hesitant to discuss finances for fear of revealing something about themselves or their situation that they may be embarrassed about. We all have made bad and even disastrous financial decisions.

No one expects anyone else to be a financial genius, but many of us seem to be too ashamed of our decisions or current situation to want to discuss the subject of finances.

While I am leery of discussing personal financial details with strangers, I think that a good healthy discussion of financial topics, ideas and plans is an ideal subject for conversation almost anytime.

I have tried to find ways to get people to discuss the topic of finances, money and jobs.

I like to ask people about their work: how their job is going, what they are working on currently, what is in the future for their company, and what they see as their future in the company. The responses can be very interesting.

Some people are really excited about what is going on, and some could care less. As long as there is that paycheck every other Friday, the world can go on its merry way.

I have had good discussions with the people who are excited and have had some quickly terminated conversations with people who could care less.

Another fun question that can get people talking about money is, “what would be your ideal job if you had all the money you need to live on and didn’t depend on your paycheck?”

You can tell the people who have though about this before and those who never considered it. Those who have a ready answer often end up revealing their lifelong dreams, ambitions or goals.

During the last few years (2001-2003) the subject of job security and layoffs has been a popular topic of conversation. I like to ask people what they would do if they were suddenly laid off. Could they find a job in the same field for the same money? Would they have to move to another state to look for a job? Would they have to change careers? Could they survive financially?

A method Tom has used in his seminars is to ask the couples questions about their financial dreams and goals. What would you do if you had all the money you needed? What would your life by like? What kind of things would you do? Where would you go? How would you fill your days? What causes would you like to support? What lifelong dreams would you try to fulfill?

These types of questions seem to be less threatening that “how can you reduce your expenses” and “what should you cut out or cut down on to save money?” By starting with a “dream-session” Tom has been able to get the couples to open up to each other and to the class participants.

The dialog starts to flow. Next up he will try to deftly turn the “dream-session” into a “reality-session” to try to get the couples to discuss ways of organizing and planing their finances so that they can achieve their dreams.

Maybe if they start with the goal in mind, they will be more inclined to talk about ways to achieve the goal rather than boring and confrontational subjects like budgeting and curbing spending.

Stay tuned, we’ll let you know how it goes in a future article.

About the author
© Simple Joe, Inc.
David Berky is president of Simple Joe, Inc. a marketing company that sells simple software under the brand name of Simple Joe. One of Simple Joe’s best selling products is Simple Joe’s Money Tools – a collection of 14 personal finance and investment calculators. This article may be freely distributed so long as the copyright, author’s information and an active link (where possible) are included.