Growing up, I was always told not to talk about religion, politics, or money. These three topics of conversation inevitably lead to hurt feelings, jealousy and/or a defensive stance that’s nearly impossible to overcome. My parents always told me that if I had to discuss these things, to stick to generalities. That way, no one knows every detail of my business (or I theirs) and no one can get upset over something silly.
I’m not sure that people adhere to this anymore. More and more I see people talking about religion, politics, and money, and not just sticking to the generalities. Strangely, it seems most common with money. People think nothing of discussing their exact salary, talking about their latest bonus, or telling everyone exactly how much they owe on their mortgage and credit cards. And while some of this discussion is on anonymous forums, much of it is in public or at family gatherings.
I’m alway flabbergasted when conversations like this come up. At the heart of it, talking about money specifics is nothing more than a way to measure yourself against others. Is it really in anyone’s best interest that you reveal your debt load or your bonus amount? You’ll either make everyone hate you and your big bonus, or they’ll feel superior to you because they made more than you did. If you talk about how you can afford a super pricey car, people may tell you to your face how nice that is, but behind your back they’re likely saying, “Well, just who does she think she is?” Or, worse, “Wow. Joe must be really financially irresponsible because I know he doesn’t make that kind of money.” Whenever these people get together with you again, they’ll remember those feelings. Like it or not, their feelings about you and your money will color the rest of the relationship.
I’ve seen it happen too often lately. A family member talks about their high salary and the others raise their eyebrows. You can tell they’re thinking, “Braggart.” Another talks about their debt load and you can see the thought bubbles go up around the table. “He can’t manage money, the irresponsible lout.” Someone gets a huge bonus or wins the lottery and people start scheming to get their hands on it.
It’s even worse because a lot of people can’t even keep their talk amongst family and friends. They have detailed conversations about their checking balances or car payments in restaurants or other public places where everyone can hear. They carry on full volume conversations on their cell phones in stores and movie theaters. I’ve learned more about the finances of complete strangers than I know about my own, in some cases.
Here’s the thing. While it’s sort of interesting to me to hear about other people’s finances (I am a finance nerd, after all), I really can’t imagine sharing this level of detail about my own finances with anyone. It’s no one else’s business how much I make or how much I have saved. I don’t want to risk alienating someone who makes less than I do. And I don’t want to open myself up to thieves who might suddenly think I have something worth taking. On the other hand, I don’t want someone to pity me, either, because I make less than they do. And I definitely don’t want someone wondering what makes me such a braggart or insecure fool that I have to talk about my money.
I prefer that my financial business remain private. I also prefer to base my relationships on things like shared interests and experiences rather than how much money I have or don’t have. I don’t want people feeling uncomfortable around me for whatever reason, but especially not because of money. I think my parents were right. Money shouldn’t be discussed in mixed company. Obviously you have to talk about it with your spouse and maybe your kids, but beyond the family unit, keep quiet. You’ll only end up hurting, alienating, or angering other people. Hurt feelings will get in the way of your relationships. And, trust me, complete strangers don’t need to know your business, either.
So, please. If you want to talk about money, or if someone asks you a direct question, stick to generalities. For example, if someone asks, “How much do you make?” you can simply say, “Enough.” Or you can always say, “I’m not comfortable talking about that,” if you have to and move the conversation along. The other person might get a little offended, particularly if they’re willing to drop specific numbers, but believe me, their offense will be nothing compared to their hurt feelings or jealousy if they end up losing the, “Do I make more than you do?” game.
(Photo courtesy of Danielle Moler)