Recently I was catching up with a friend from college, and we started talking about money. The conversation soon turned to the communication or lack of communication around money that we’ve seen in some of our friends and contemporaries not just in relationships but also in friendships. She lives in DC and was telling me that her friends and current and past co-workers all know how much each other make and discuss offers they’ve been given for new jobs frequently. On the contrary, I realized that although my boyfriend and I have conversations about money and that my closest friend and I discuss money, many of my girlfriends and I don’t talk about money, and I couldn’t tell you how much they make. This got me thinking, why do we not talk about money?
Now she works in government, and many of her friends do as well, so they are in similar job positions, where it not only makes sense to discuss, but many of their salaries are actually public. On the contrary, my friends here in San Diego all have very different jobs, and even those of us who have our own businesses vary greatly in what we do. Because we have such different education and jobs there is certainly a difference in what we expect to earn, and I think that it’s less likely to be a topic of conversation. However, more so than that I think that people just don’t want to talk about money.
Talking about money can be uncomfortable and is often seen as an even more taboo subject than sex, but, I wonder, how do we expect to set ourselves up for success in our relationships if we can’t even talk about money with some of our closest friends. Additionally, she told me that she makes a point to discuss salaries with her female friends because she knows it’s important to know whether as women we’re making what we should be. Studies show that women are far less likely to advocate for themselves financially and often don’t negotiate for a better salary. By having these conversations with each other as well as their male counterparts, they’re ensuring that they’re not getting paid less and are probably more likely to stand up for themselves when negotiating salaries.
This got me thinking about why don’t we talk about money? What is it that makes money such a difficult topic for people and yet it can also cause so many problems in relationships and friendships. I think sometimes people don’t talk about money because they don’t want to be judged for making too little or too much money. They don’t want to feel bad about themselves or make anyone else feel bad about what they make. Even more so I think that we don’t talk about money because that’s what we’re taught from such a young age. How many of you can remember your parents ever telling you how much money they made when you were younger? It wasn’t until recently that I remember having this conversation with my Mom and I’m in my 30s. We were a family that talks about a lot, but money wasn’t necessarily one of those.
Too often we’re taught that you don’t ask someone how much they make, but I think that sometimes we should. Now I’m not advocating that you go up to a stranger and ask what they make. But I am suggesting that you think about sharing that information with someone in your life that maybe you haven’t, whether that be your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner or your parents or your friends. It may certainly be an awkward conversation at first but I think that the more that we talk about it the less taboo money will seem. I can’t tell you how many relationships I’ve seen end up in my office for divorce mediation because something with finances became an issue. I’ve seen one partner rack up debt without telling the other. I’ve seen someone spending money in secret on things they think their partner wouldn’t approve of and I’ve seen marriages fall apart because the finances were not managed in a way where both partners felt equal and one person came to resent the other on how they managed the financial situation. Not talking about money certainly hasn’t seem to help so I challenge each of you to try and change that however you can. I know that next girls’ night over a glass of wine I want to bring up this issue and see what they think.