We have to talk about money. It used to be impolite to talk about money, but we also used to call Alan Greenspan* a genius. Times change. I don’t want to be rude, or improper, or make anyone uncomfortable but not talking about money is what got me here in the first place. Not talking, not planning and spending away is the surest path to financial ruin.
If you are in debt, don’t have a considerable amount of savings, and/or are in a low-paying job, you have to talk about money. It makes me uncomfortable to talk about money. I’m pretty embarrassed to admit that I have a such a high amount of consumer debt when I have the means and ability to be debt-free. But that’s what the American Debt Project is all about: I’m taking responsibility for my past actions, but I’m also talking about what I did and analyzing the world around me so I’m not doomed to create a cycle of debt for the rest of my life. The only way we can get out of our financial black holes is by doing our research, finding new ways to make income, reconsidering our spending habits and about 8 million other things having to do with money.
I know why I love trashy reality shows. Besides the fact that the stars are clueless nimwits who confuse delicacy and delicatessen, it’s also the underlying idea that money is no object for these people. Like the characters in an F. Scott Fitzgerald story for whom money is everything yet absolutely nothing at all, I watch people on-screen and wonder, what is that like? What is it like to never have to think about money? (Obviously, we now know that most reality stars’ finances are in shambles and the gaudy homes and tasteless wardrobes are simply a facade, but the message remains.) If I didn’t have to think about money, it seems like there would be a big gap to fill. If I don’t have to worry about bills, what is there to worry about?
I know that this line of thinking is silly. Lots of people are newly debt-free and discovering they still have plenty to think about. There are emergency funds, college funds, savings and investments to consider. Paying off debt is just the first step in a long, interesting road of personal finance. But now you can worry less and plan more for a more secure financial future. There are no guarantees in life, but it’s nice to know you’ll be able to pay for shelter, food and transportation, even if you lose your job or your business unexpectedly.
So we have to talk about money. It makes us uncomfortable, and finding out about other people’s finances feels voyeuristic (she has how much?!). But money needs to lose its taboo status and become just another tool for human development. I read something by a young woman saying she didn’t share her “very private finances” with her boyfriend. Why not? You’re in your mid-20s and clearly not a millionaire, so what do you have to hide? If you know you have much more or less than he does, will it be weird if he finds out you were hiding it from him? I’d rather keep my relationships private and my finances out in the open. Money is one of the biggest factors predicting divorce rates. Couples who fight about money are the unhappiest couples and you don’t want to be one of them right? And if you’re single, well, it’s even worse to argue with yourself about money.
*On a side note, I saw Alan Greenspan in Laguna Beach last year, and he was surprisingly small in person. Andrea Mitchell was much more imposing.