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Your money: How to discuss the topic that's more taboo than sex, mental health and politics

Key Points
  • An overwhelming majority of Americans say they experience financial anxiety, but won't discuss money openly with friends and family in ways that could lead to solutions.
  • Avoiding financial conversations, information, and decision-making will only make it more difficult to achieve wealth, and take a toll on physical and mental health.
Ziga Plahutar

In an era of unprecedented openness and ease of communications, where even the most controversial subjects can find their time in the limelight, there's one subject that remains perplexingly taboo: Money. So much so, in fact, that a recent study demonstrated that Americans were twice as likely to feel comfortable discussing subjects such as drug use, mental illness, or marital difficulties than have a conversation about their household income or debt.

This long-standing aversion to discussing money can cause us to miss out on essential conversations, information, and joint decision-making processes that can benefit our finances and reduce stress and worry regarding our finances. It can also engender unrealistic expectations about money; deprive us of support and advice from trusted friends and family; and cause us to avoid learning more about managing our finances.

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Our physical and emotional health can also suffer, as demonstrated in studies that indicate those with financial worries used painkillers at a significantly higher frequency. If fear or embarrassment are causing you to avoid seeking financial advice, help, or support, it can reflect in your overall quality of life.

How to break the money taboo

Learning to talk about money is similar in some ways to discussing other contentious topics, such as politics or relationships. We expect that it can bring forth uncomfortable emotions and conflict, yet many of us have learned how to do so, anyhow. There are some learnings from other difficult subjects that we can apply to our money conversations:

Money concerns are universal. Unless your last name is Buffett, Gates, or Rockefeller, it's likely you've experienced financial worry, and so have your neighbors and friends. In fact, over 77% of Americans report feeling anxious over their financial situation. Recognizing that most of us feel stress over our finances helps us understand that we're not alone, and would probably find a sympathetic ear when discussing money.

Draw on comfort with other "taboo" subjects. Most of us have learned how to discuss other subjects that previously seemed taboo – such as sex, relationship problems, mental health, politics, and so on. Draw on the confidence you've gained from speaking candidly about other subjects you once found difficult. What did you do or say to gain confidence with those subjects? Can any of those learnings be applied to the way you talk about money?

Understand Your money emotions. What emotions are you currently experiencing about money? Is it shame over debt, fear of not knowing enough, or something else? Identifying these emotional triggers can help you see your problems more realistically and not catastrophize.

Talk to the right people. Your money conversations can take many shapes, depending on what you're experiencing, feeling, and who's involved in your finances. Identify who you feel comfortable with that can help you make sense of your problems. Sometimes, that's a partner or family. At other times, that can be a professional, such as a financial planner.

Increase your confidence online. If you're still not quite ready to make the leap and discuss finances with people in your life, then consider starting online. Popular discussion boards, such as Bogleheads, can provide you with an anonymous place to air your concerns and receive feedback.

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