Talking About Money Is A Gift To Everyone Around You

Not sure why you should talk about money - especially if you HATE talking about money? Financial conversations are super important! Click through for 4 reasons why you should have them + how to talk about money!

This is exactly the kind of stuff we talk about in my course Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is. Registration opens November 6th. Click here to get on the waitlist!


We’re at that point in the dinner party when we’ve moved from the dining room into the living room. Everyone’s on their third glass of wine. Shoes are off. I’ve given up trying to make my hair look decent. It’s the messy top knot part of the evening, ya know?

I’m admiring my friends’ new house and expressing envy over the woodwork. “It’s crazy to think we own a house now!” the husband laughs.

“Well, actually, your parents own 20% of this house,” the wife says good-naturedly. “And the bank owns the other 80%.”

We all laugh a little awkwardly and the conversation moves on because OH GOD WE ALMOST TALKED ABOUT MONEY. But I want to stand up and cheer.

I want to hug my friends and high five them and thank them. In the space of two sentences that wife did more for her dinner party guests than she could ever realize.

In two sentences, my friend essentially said: “It’s okay if you haven’t saved up the $50,000 necessary to put a down payment on a house in Minneapolis. You’re not doing anything wrong if – between school loans, 401ks, and health insurance premiums – you haven’t been able to sock away that much money. You’re not failures. You’re not doing it wrong.”
Honestly, talking about money is a gift to everyone around you. Click To Tweet

Why you should talk about money (even if it makes you uncomfortable)

1. You’re helping to normalize an incredibly important topic people are afraid of

People have better sex lives when they talk about what they want and need. Children are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol when they’ve talked about these topics with their parents. And – you can see where I’m going with this – we all benefit from removing the money talk taboo.

Everything is socially contagious! If you mention, oh so casually, that you finally paid off your school debt, you’re making it easier for your friend to ask how you did it.

If you share that the bank turned down your loan application, your sister can tell you which bank approved her loan.

If you admit to your BFF that you can’t stop buying shit you don’t need, she can either a) tell you you’re not alone b) help you create a plan to rein it in.

The more you talk about it, the easier it gets for you and for everyone around you.

2. You’re making it easier for people to get paid what they’re worth

There’s a reason companies don’t want employees talking about their salaries: THEY DON’T PAY EQUALLY QUALIFIED EMPLOYEES THE SAME AMOUNT. I’m sure you’re aware of the gender pay gap. There are also race-related pay gaps and introvert/extrovert pay gaps.

And we won’t know about these pay gaps unless we know how much people earn. Here’s a great article on how to have that conversation.

If you’re self-employed it’s just as important to talk about money with professional peers. How much should you charge solopreneur clients? What about corporate clients? Are your friends charging by hour or by project? Do they do spec work? Private Facebook groups are a great place to have these conversations or set up a slack channel with some of your online BFFs.

3. You might be showing people a new way to do things/think about things/pay for things

I travel. A lot. And you know how I do it? Credit card points, Airbnb affiliate credits, house swaps, house sitting, and rental relocations. (And obviously paying for it the good old fashioned way because travel makes me happy so I prioritize it.)

But if I didn’t tell you this, you probably wouldn’t even know rental relocations were a thing! Did you know about per diem tax deductions for business travel? Did you know you can use your HSA to pay for 30+ SPF? Did you know you can use the IFTTT app to scoop the best things on Craigslist before anyone else? Have you ever thought about how much you’d pay for something before you looked at the price tag?

See? I bet you didn’t know all of those! And if I hadn’t worked up the gumption to talk about money, you’d still be in the dark!

4. You’re helping people feel less isolated and/or failure-y

When I told my Money & Happy Facebook group “I’m an under-buyer. Like, I considered it a personal victory when I bought sandals that cost $90,” a surprising number of people raised their hands and said “Me, too!” (P.S. Here’s how to get better at spending money on yourself.)

And the same thing will happen to you if you mention that you shop when you’re sad. Or that you feel guilty for not having school debt when all your friends do. Or that you’re paying off a huge medical bill.

No matter where you are in your financial journey, you’re not alone. Click To Tweet But you won’t know that unless you tell us where you are.

Now, I know the thought of having all these money conversations probably makes you cringe. I know you’d probably rather tell the internet how much you weigh than how much you earn or how much your car cost. I also know you’re curious how your friend can afford to drive a BMW on a social worker salary.

As with most vulnerable conversations, it’s best to start by sharing your stories. Obviously, you don’t want to walk up to a new friend’s car and scream “Do you have a sugar daddy? How in God’s green earth can you afford this?!!!”

You can, however, tell people how you saved up for 11 months of international travel while earning $16 an hour. You can tell people that your car is a salvage you bought with a personal check. Tell people everything in your living room – no matter how cute – is from Craigslist or Goodwill. Tell people you were sweating when you sent the email asking for more money. <- all real things from my life.

It’s also important to know that people might get a little weird when you tell them your super cute sofa cost $90. They might feel ridiculous for having spent $700 on a sofa. They might feel envious of your Craigslist prowess.

They might just be struggling to overcome hardwired cultural beliefs that talking about money is tacky and crass. It’s not. Keep doing it. It’s a gift to everyone around you.

I want to hear from you! Tell us your financial secrets! Whatever they are, you’re not the only one who has them. Anonymous comments welcome!

P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

P.P.S. Yes, I’m aware that you can buy a house without a 20% down payment. I’m also aware that there are lots of cities where one should be so lucky to find a 3-bedroom bungalow for “only” $250,000. I don’t live in those cities and this is not the real estate Olympics 😉

photo by STIL // cc

39 Comments

Lindsay

yeeeeesssss! i recently had a conversation with coworkers about how much each of us made, and having that knowledge helped me negotiate for a promotion. also – one thing i love about new yorkers is that all of us ask everyone about their housing costs. it’s not tacky at all to visit someone’s apartment and be all “i love this neighborhood – AND you have backyard access! do you mind telling me how much you pay?”

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Yes. It’s so important to understand (and charge) what you’re worth!

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sherry Richert Belul

I love this so much! Thank you for your beautiful writing + for opening up this conversation. A few years ago I wrote an essay called “Do What You Love + The Joy Will Follow” (The word money was crossed out + replaced by joy) in which I outed myself and told people how much I’d struggled to earn money doing what I loved. It was so liberating for me to tell the truth about my story + the publication ended up offering me the chance to curate and edit a column in which I interviewed other working artists to open up the conversation about money, value, and worth. Money is such a huge part of our culture. We need it to live + thrive. Talking about it can help us let go of shame and come to new understandings about it. I am so grateful to you for all of your work/training/teachings. But especially this. I’m headed over to join your FB group right now!!! 💥💓💥

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Sarah Von Bargen

Thank YOU for being honest about your struggles, Sherry! Clearly, it’s super common. Excited to have you join us!

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Anonymous

I feel like it’s still a potentially sticky topic, especially when you’re in social situations where people have extremely disparate incomes. Like, I feel embarrassed to admit how much I spent on a vacation when a friend can’t afford a new phone. How do you navigate that aspect?

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Sarah Von Bargen

Oh, that’s a great question, Anon! In situations where you know your income is a lot higher than someone else’s I think we need to be muuuuuch more careful and sensitive. If it were me, I’d more likely to talk about the logistics of how I negotiated a higher salary (without maybe mentioning the actual salary number).

You can also try being more open about the more emotional/psychological aspects of your spending: “I know I confuse buying things with taking action. I always spend too much money on gear before I’ve even really committed to a new hobby.” That kind of thing.

But I’m really interested in what other readers suggest in this situation!

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Anonymous

I agree, this is tricky. Sarah, I like your suggestion about discussing “how I negotiated a higher salary” rather than actual numbers.
My husband and I have family members who have made poor financial decisions, and if they knew how much we make, people would be knocking at our door begging for handouts. But we both worked VERY hard to pay off our debt and get to where we are today. When people ask, we are very candid about HOW we paid off the debt, without sharing actual numbers. Perhaps the same strategy could be applied to vacation budget? “This is how I was able to save for this vacation” rather than “poof! I magically had tons of money so I flew to Aruba.”

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Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

I think it really depends on who I’m with, though, when it comes to money issues. I still have a long way to go with money conversations, because I’m always afraid and aware not everyone is in the best financial state and may not want to talk about it. And I live in Asia, where we’re not as open about our personal issues…

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
http://charmainenyw.com

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Sarah M

I talk about money a lot (mostly because I like to brag a bit about how cheap I am on things I don’t care about-HA!) except I’m TERRIBLE at asking for money for services I do/things I make when I know the people personally. It’s like, if I ask for anything over minimum wage it’ll be weird for our relationship. The only thing I can think of is that I am from the midwest and brought up with exceptional manners which includes You Don’t Talk About Money with Company, Ever.
I also think a phase you used, and I use, too, helps SO much with talking about money: prioritization. If it’s not a priority to me, it’s not getting my money. I also find using this word with others gives others freedom to decide to reject cultural norms…or at least to begin thinking about it.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! For me it also helps to think about how I’m helping Future Me by negotiating now. Or I think about how hard Past Me had to work to earn this money and how I owe it to her to spend it wisely/negotiate for a good price, etc. 🙂

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Laura

THANK YOU! This is such an important topic, especially #2. AAUW has great resources to help women learn more about the pay gap and what they can do to decrease it, including salary negotiation workshops around the country that I would highly recommend (in some cities they are free of charge!): https://salary.aauw.org/work-smart/

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Joyce

Umm.. all I can say is my mine is blown about using my fsa account for SPF 30. What have I been doing all this time?! Last year I went through every line item on lists of fsa eligible items but I missed that somehow. Other fsa eligible items: contact solution, bandaids, mouth guards (I grind my teeth at night!)

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Noelle

Uh, contact lens solution?? I’m almost out of mine; totally going to use the FSA for that 🙂

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Amy Morris

The travel bug bit me yesterday and I was browsing Airbnb for awesome places in New Orleans when I got your email with the affiliate link. Good for me, good for you!

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Sandra, Italy

In my little corner of Italy, my husband and I often wonder how on earth other people seem to be able to afford ANYTHING. Wages here are miserly and, on top of that, most people we know work at typically low paid jobs with a high percentage of stay-at-home mums. So how do they manage the SUVs, fashion labels for their kids, eating out frequently etc??? We’re both nonplussed. Add to that the fact that I’ve never heard anyone (except me) say “I’m afraid we can’t afford that” and that buying second hand (which we enjoy) is frowned upon. And, no, money is never talked about except in the context of bragging about your latest purchase. Is it some kind of Magic? 😆

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Sarah Von Bargen

Girl, I hear ya! I know plenty of mysterious situations like that here in the U.S.! Like, HOW CAN YOU AFFORD A HALF MILLION DOLLAR HOUSE when only one of you works and you’re 28?!!!

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Courtney

I think this can absolutely be a generational thing and some of us have learned silence from our parents. Posts like this and being very intentional about your internal scripts will help! I started a goal-setting monthly meeting with some girlfriends and we’re talking about money. One of us wants to pay off a mortgage, one wants to buy investment real estate, another is paying loans.. everyone has something and we’re all pulling for each other. It’s pretty great 🙂

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Ebony Campbell

Wow. Wow. Wow. When I turned 21 I got a windfall of 38k from my dad’s death and I spent it within a year. I had never used a budget, and as such I would find myself overspending, worrying, and being too scared to talk to a professional or even family members about my habits. I remember my toxic bf at the time just saying “you have all this money, you don’t need to worry” or “you need things to put IN this house you could buy… don’t worry about it” – instead of us being able to have candid, constructive conversations about it all.

Now that I have travel/cc debt that I’ve just consolidated into 1 5 year loan, so I feel like I have a plan… but I still feel uncomfy discussing it not because of my shame, but the way others try shame me and don’t self disclose at all.

This post made me feel less alone x

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Torrie

I personally love talking about money, which is why I follow a lot of finance-focused blogs (especially ones on frugality and early retirement). And although my blog doesn’t focus exclusively on money, either, I have done several posts (including a series) about all things money-related in our lives. I’ve found that just like you said, it’s a great way to make connections and make everyone feel more comfortable opening up about something that’s important for all of us.

We just bought a house (like, this week—our very first!) for $205,000 with only 3% down. We hadn’t intended to buy a home this early, but when we calculated that we’d paid over $40,000 in rent in the past six years and that we knew we were going to be in this area for at least 5-10 more years, buying a home just made sense (especially because we made sure to have a 3-6 month emergency fund in place before buying, which we didn’t touch (much, anyway) in order to close on the home. But what helped us soooo much in the process was that I had a few friends who were very, very honest with their numbers and what to expect in the homebuying process financially. It was a lifesaver!

Thanks for the post! Definitely checking out some of those travel links now.

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Noelle

I love this and am all for being a bit more transparent with regards to talking about money! I will tell anyone who listens how much we love YNAB (You Need A Budget) – it’s revolutionized our finances and is helping us pay down debt while also allocating money for things we’d like to save for (like, when we knew last fall we would need to buy a lawnmower this spring – we saved up and purchased a fantastic electric/battery-powered mower!).

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Sarah Von Bargen

That’s wonderful! So many of my students pair Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is + YNAB with great results!

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J.H. Moncrieff

When I spoke at my college as an alumni, one of the first questions the students blurted out was, “How much do you make?” There was laughter, but I saw the inquisitive eyes around me, so I told the truth.

The instructor later told me I was the only speaker to answer that question. Others had avoided it with a variety of cute, useless responses, like “Enough.” But if you’re studying to land jobs in a certain industry, and someone with the job you want visits your class, isn’t it valid to ask how much you could expect to earn? Why was that a question to be ridiculed or ignored? Seemed like a good question to me.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Good for them for asking and good for you for answering! <3

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Cynthia

When I was reading this (which I loved, by the way, and thank you for writing it), I kept thinking that talking about money is like being naked in public (like at a sauna or something). I have no problem with doing it if everyone around already is doing it, but it’s INCREDIBLY difficult and vulnerable to be the first to reveal yourself.

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Victoria Virgo

The sad thing is that not talking about money is one thing that keeps people divided. We believe others must be better off because they are able to afford lots of luxury but if we were able to talk honestly, we might discover how many sacrifices people had to make, that their unique upmarket look comes from knowing how to thrift shop.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yessss! Just today I thrifted five things that LOOK like they cost $50+ a piece, but actually cost $5.

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Mike

Great post. Bang on.

Beyond the “money is the root of all evil” arguments, there’s that other way to think about money, which I know you focus on heavily and massively to your credit, Sarah:

Money is a support network for love.

There’s the work you love, and you need money to do it – and at the beginning of any creative endeavour, before you get paid for your creative efforts, that money has to come from elsewhere. If all successful novelists were assigned job titles based on the work that paid most of their bills over their lifetime, I bet a lot of them wouldn’t be called “novelists”.

There are the people you care about and want to support. I love what Everywhereist’s husband Rand said in the comments in this post: http://www.everywhereist.com/quitting-your-job-to-travel-isnt-brave-its-lucky/

“It makes me really proud that, after years of Geraldine supporting us while I was trying to make something out of Moz, I’ve had the chance to reciprocate and give her the freedom to make this blog (and her upcoming book) a reality. There’s an amazing sense of pride that comes when you can repay a debt and kindness like that :-)”

So talking about money helps everyone do the things they feel they were put on the earth to do – and it helps us invest in the people (and ideas, and causes) we love.

Why would we *not* want to talk about money?

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Jenn Martin

I agree with this 100% – I had no idea how to handle my money until I got divorced at age 28 and was on my own and managing my money for the first time – and I was useless at it!

It wasn’t until a friend casually mentioned that her and her partner had saved 40k that I thought, hang on… I could do that. After that I was really motivated to be careful with my money, set a budget, save regularly etc

Talking about it with people totally demystified money for me, and now I always find myself talking about it, just thinking about my plans out loud. I am sure everyone is sick of hearing about the mortgage, the financial cost of running a car each day, whether is is worth having health insurance and contents insurance, which savings account has the best interest rate etc etc, but it has really helped me and I hope that the more I talk about my struggles (but also what I learn) the more other people can start to think more positively and can improve their relationship with money also.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Good for you! Whether they realize it or not, I’m sure your friends are benefiting from those conversations!

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The Lady

Wow. Sarah, I never really opened up about money and when I did (to admit I sucked and asked for help), my friends were so weirded out and offered “throw-away” advice that was never helpful. So, I decided to turn the table and become completely 100% transparent about my finances via my blog. It’s helped me TREMENDOUSLY to talk about my issues, my success, and my concerns. I’ve learned a TON from the personal finance community (that I had NO idea existed until I started blogging.) Sure, there are books but the real-world, up-close-and-personal perspectives of others is so amazing. You keep talking about money. I loved this post!

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Sarah Von Bargen

I’m so glad you found people who would talk about it with you, Lady!

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Jacq

I had an honest chat about money with a friend around Christmas time. She acknowledged that her car is likely going to need to be replaced in a few years and she’s started a replace the car fund! Excellent! We talked about 401ks and investing.
Another friend I stressed starting a Roth when we’re young, and she told me she did recently!
Salary is tricky in my field because company to company job titles are different. I’ve worked places where ‘Associate Scientist ‘ is below a PhD and other places an ‘Associate Scientist’ is a PhD with 5-10 years of experience, or like an Associate Director but managing labs instead of people.

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lyn

I agree it’s a gift to tell everyone how little I pay for certain things. But I find that not everyone appreciates that, so I tend to keep quiet about money if they seem to be more interested in paying full price. “How do you manage to pay so little” “Easy, you do this and viola.” “Oh great, but I still need my premium plan” – effort in sharing wasted.

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Sarah (Smile & Conquer)

I love this post, it’s such an important thing to talk about! Money is always such an awkward topic to bring up, even with your closest friends/family, actually…especially with your closest friends/family.

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