Can We Talk About Money?
Last week, my local grocery store was going through a strike, so I decided to try ALDI. Yes, I had to put a quarter in the cart to unlock it, but my grocery bill was 1/3 of what I normally pay. I was so thrilled, I told just about everyone.
We love to talk about when we save money. But when it comes to how much we make at our jobs, or how to save for retirement, suddenly it’s a big secret. Then you’re not supposed to talk about money. It’s rude. It’s pushy. It just isn’t done.
Even couples have trouble talking about money. Can you imagine if two partners in a business never got on the same page? Yet we all know (or have been in) relationships where one person has to make all the financial decisions, or hides spending from the other person.
Probably the biggest secret is supposed to be our income. I was once chided at a job for trying to negotiate a raise. My boss asked if I had (gasp) talked to other people about salary numbers, and ended the conversation with an ominous statement: “Be very careful about talking about money again.”
That’s the kind of job people leave, because money is important. Money says you value my time and my work. Paying me less than market rate says that you think I’m less valuable. Negotiating for a raise is a normal part of business, not something to be ashamed about.
Whoever said “Money doesn’t buy happiness” was clearly never broke. Money can make things happen. With more money, you can buy more time. You can buy a better life for your kids, and more leisure. It’s certainly not everything, but without it, people suffer. So why not talk about how to get it?
Early on, I read up on how to invest, and started a retirement account in my 20s so it could grow over time. But when’s the last time I added to it? A few years ago. I don’t really know what to do with it. No one wants to talk about investing, so I don’t know how far behind I am.
Some of our silence may stem from shame. People might not have a lot of money, and don’t want anyone to know. Or on the flip side, people might have a lot of money and don’t want people knocking on their door for handouts. I can understand both concerns.
I’m not saying you should print out your bank account balance and show it to everyone you see, but in general, we should be able to talk about the following:
While you might not want your cubicle neighbor to know what you’re making, it’s important information for your network.
Say you ask someone in another company what you could expect to earn there. Wouldn’t you want her to be honest with you and give you a ballpark figure? Sharing income information can help decrease pay inequality.
Mortgages and other debt
If anything, people should talk about debt more, not less. I thought I knew a lot about mortgages, but I had a few surprises when I applied for a loan.
Many people also don’t know how to handle credit card debt. A common misconception is that you need to carry a balance in order to build up credit. Nope. You just need to keep the account open and make payments on time.
Retirement and investing
This is huge, and yet no one’s talking about it. One of my great-grandparents lived to be over a hundred. I’ll probably live to a decent old age. Yet, I don’t earn a pension. A chunk of my income is made by writing and freelancing, and that doesn’t come with a retirement package.
I don’t need to retire at 55, but I also don’t want to be penniless at 70. Can we, as writers, start talking about investing to retire? Please and thank you.
Talking about money is hard, but it’s also necessary. Without discussing what we earn and spend, we have no framework for what we should be earning and spending. Or saving, if we have the opportunity. Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic. Let’s start the conversation.