They also know how much I pay in rent, how much my car cost, my cell phone bill – some of them even know how much I have in savings. I have one friend I’ll literally send screenshots of my balance to when I hit exciting milestones. I have no qualms about sharing my financial details with the people I’m close to.
A lot of times, there will be a look of a little surprise on someone’s face when we’re in the middle of a conversation about money and I state “Well, I make X and I save X per month.” (Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of using x’s on a post about transparency. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about total transparency on the internet, although I’m aware that someone looking at my spending percentages could figure out fairly easily how much I get paid – fellow bloggers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.) After the look of surprise, the conversation usually gets a lot more interesting.
(And no, I don’t ask my friends how much they make unless they’re directly asking for my advice.)
I’ve been reading a lot of financial blogs in the last six months or so, and many of those were created by people who needed some sort of accountability to get out of debt or change their spending patterns. Almost all of them start with the same story:
“My family never talked about money.”
“When I asked questions, I was told it was rude.”
“My parents didn’t want me to worry about costs, so I never learned to budget.”
I got lucky with parents who always supplied me with a good home, plenty of food, and fun things to do – but made it clear when I wanted to go to a $500 summer camp at 14 that I would need to find some way to fund it (I worked out a trade where I got free camp tuition and then volunteered nearly full-time to help teach the younger kids’ drama camps for the rest of the summer). From childhood, I was naturally a saver, and we talked about money a decent amount.
So, that’s good. But there’s a difference between getting advice from established adults and working through things with your peers. It’s why we usually go to our friends for dating advice, not our long-partnered (or dating in a very different life stage) parents.
It’s our friends who are dealing with the same things we are. Trying to figure out affordable housing (and what that even means). Navigating how to balance saving for retirement vs. an emergency fund vs. student loans vs. do I maybe want to buy a house eventually? Determining how much is okay to spend going out and enjoying your youth, when you know you ought to be saving for less frivolous things. Balancing the responsibilities of young adulthood with the fun of young adulthood.
That’s part of why I started this blog – to talk about paying rent and learning to cook and going on fun adventures on a low salary, not to talk about daycare and mortgages and the financial concerns of real grown-ups.
From an early age, we’re taught that you don’t talk about money in polite company. And yet we talk, deeply, about everything else – our relationships, our jobs, our families, our hopes and dreams and the things we’re terrified of. And then money we just brush off with a “but it’s too expensive” or a “I can afford it”?
This is why people don’t understand compound interest. This is why people think a 5% savings rate is sufficient. This is why people don’t get how terrible consumer debt is. This is why people graduate from high school – and college! – not knowing how the stock market works. This is why people don’t know how much they need to retire. This is a problem.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s be honest about our struggles and share our wins. Let’s learn – it may be dorky to be fascinated by the stock market’s historical trends, but I’d rather be dorky than destitute.
If I’m trying to give someone real-life personal advice, I just don’t think you can do it without specifics. And I don’t see any shame in being honest about it. If someone started constantly trying to borrow money or thinking I should pay for them when we hung out, that would be a different story, but my friends are good people.
So they know what my paycheck is, and what I earn from tutoring and freelancing. No one needs to awkwardly edge around those kinds of questions with me – I’ll pull up my Mint.com account and show them as soon as I get a “err…umm…so like…how do you budget?” Because I want the people I care about to understand this stuff. I want their money to serve them. I want them all to feel comfortable and confident and empowered, and we’re not going to get there if money continues to be the ultimate taboo.
Do you talk to your friends about money?