Speaking of Money, A Taboo

Speaking of Money, A Taboo

Rather listen? Click the link:

Speaking of Money

Money is one topic where “Silence is NOT golden.”

This is what I shared this past weekend with a large group of Naval Special Warfare spouses, those “silent warriors” who make it possible for their partners to focus on what they do “out there” to keep us all safe.

So why the silence?

So many of us have bought into the belief that talking about money is taboo. It’s as if a conspiracy exists between our parents, our teachers and our culture. What’s baffling is that in past decades we’ve dropped the taboo around discussing sex, sexual abuse and mental illness. Yet the taboo around money has stayed as strong as ever.

But where did the taboo come from? And why has it remained so powerful?

In these difficult economic times, job loss and threats of foreclosure or short sales of their houses have led to so much financial talk. Even so, topics such as salaries and net worth are still off limits. Is it because these are seen as proxies for self-worth and self-esteem?

[One online comment I saw reflected that. It said, “I would never tell anyone my income. If I made less than they did, I’d be embarrassed. On the other hand, if I made more, telling them what I made would be rude, like bragging.” Could it be that we don’t talk about money because we think the other person might feel awkward?]

Or is it because the “exceptionalism” some claim as America’s birthright also includes personal success, “having it all” or “getting to the top”? And do we then consider ourselves a failure if we haven’t done as well as we think others have? Since no one talks about their finances, are we sure they’re doing all that well?

The taboo is certainly perpetuated, generation to generation, by the hush-hush tones our parents used whenever they talked about money. And any fight they had over it (that sounded so threatening to us as children) only added to the anxiety and potential danger triggered by it.

As adults, you’d think we’d get over those childhood triggers. But many of us haven’t.

Even psychologists and spiritual advisors say they hear all sorts of details about clients’ and church members’ private lives, but virtually nothing about their money concerns. (And it’s not as if religious texts don’t say plenty about wealth, poverty, making money, giving it away and so forth.)

Maybe people are afraid they might sound ignorant, so they hesitate to ask for help around finances. But remember, as we were growing up, very few of us were taught how money works. And most of us had to learn through trial and error. Yet somehow we’ve decided everyone else knows more than we do and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves.

Whatever the reasons, valid or not, we still are caught in the web of silence. And that silence can be devastating.

Most of all, that silence does nothing for our intimate relationships. In fact, the American Psychological Association conducts an annual survey called Stress in America. And it consistently ranks money as the #1 stressor in the nation. Beyond that, in his writings on how it affects family relationships, Professor Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University reports that conflict linked to money issues predicts divorce more precisely than any other type of disagreement.

So, taboo or not, it’s critical for couples to discuss money. Open, honest and non-confrontational communication about it is the only way.

Because of that, I offered a gift to the Naval Special Warfare spouses this weekend that hopefully will make speaking of money easier. I’m hoping it will defuse some of the stress around the subject that is compounded by their partners’ long absences. Here’s what I gifted them.

Let’s all break the deadly silence. Let’s tear down those artificial walls. Find whatever tool you can to make the money conversation an easy one. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Great article Sharon! It only makes sense that a subject that is ‘taboo’ to speak about publicly in our society soon becomes one to ignore even within our own minds. In our culture so much of ‘who we are’ is connected with how much money we earn which is sad to say the least but gives credence to why so many fall into the trap of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ mentality! And oh then the web is woven… 

    • SharonODay

      The “net worth = self worth” belief is a huge issue, Denny.  Yet all studies show that the happiest people in the world are NOT the wealthiest.  Instead, they’re the ones who are clear on what’s important to them and willing to adjust their focus, lifestyle and spending to achieve that … whatever it is.  But the constant barrage by the media of “what ‘perfect’ is” suckers too many people into thinking that the great life they’re living isn’t good enough … shame.

  • Great article and gift Sharon. The only time I heard my parents speak of money was on paydays and it was always the same…”where did it all go? I work two weeks and it’s gone in one day…what did you do with it”? And so I understand the taboo nature of talking or not talking about money…I grew up it being the blame game. Not so in our home…this baby-boomer has learned from the past and is going forward in a “speak about it” way thanks to your welcomed tips about speaking of money.

    • SharonODay

      So many of us have those memories, Carla, where money equated to stress, blame and difficulty.  It’s up to us now to decide that we don’t have to live our parents’ lives, as I know you’ve done.

  • Hi Sharon…Excellent article! In our instant gratification world our self worth unfortunately is very much a measurement of ‘what we are’ rather than ‘who we are’ and it is a web that has been woven….Thank you for continuing to provide Leadership and motivation… Hughie 🙂

    • SharonODay

      Hughie, granted it’s “a web that has been woven” … but one that can be unwoven simply through awareness … and a little determination!

  • Absolutely love your posts Sharon. They make me think about money issues instead of avoiding them and in such a positive constructive way. Great stuff!

    • SharonODay

      Thanks, Carolyn!  That’s my goal … and so glad it’s being effective!

  • There is so much shame and guilt around money. And it is a huge source of conflict in relationships. It’s a silent killer of relationships. Once again, a fabulous post from you, Sharon! I really enjoys your blog.

    • SharonODay

      Lisa, as I said in my talk on Saturday: as long as we allow money to define us, it has the power to make us feel shame and guilt.  But when we shift to looking at it as a reflection of some decisions we made in the past … and know that we can make different decisions going forward … it loses that power over us.  That’s what I wish for all of us!

  • Terressajcortez

    Great post. I love reading all of your posts. You bring real issues to life in a posititve way. Thank you for sharing.

    • SharonODay

      I’m glad my posts put a positive spin on issues!  I find that’s the best way to get people to think about them … and move towards change at their own pace!

  • Nisha

    Money really can be a taboo topic, but you’re right that it shouldn’t be between couples. If people can open up about money and be honest, it can surely go a long way to keeping the relationship happy and healthy.

    • SharonODay

      Just as money problems can act as a potential divorce-magnet, Nisha, shared money values and open communications can also be one of the major underpinnings of a good marriage!

  • Hi Sharon!  So nice to read your blog. My husband also attend the Wharton school and got both his bachelors and his MBA from Wharton.  I lived the Philly life!  🙂  Great blog post.  Let’s connect on FB and I’d love to introduce you to my husband as well!

    • SharonODay

      I’d like that, Dorien.

  • Jamie

    Money is definitely one topic I do not enjoy talking about =)

    • SharonODay

      There are a whole lot of reasons why we don’t, Jamie.  The main thing you want to be sure of is that it’s not because you’ve unknowingly handed over so much of your personal power to money.  In the end, it’s just paper printed by Man, and not any sort of measure of your worth …

  • Norma Doiron

    “Taboo or not, it’s critical for couples to discuss money. Open, honest and non-confrontational communication about it is the only way.”  Love that line.  That is a conversation that young couples beginning their journey together need to have – sooner than later. Totally agree with you. Lets put it out there, right on the table!  

    • SharonODay

      Norma, the play-by-play ebook I gifted each person at that presentation is exactly that:  how to have those money conversations starting when a couple first decides it’s getting serious … then when their two lives are joined at marriage/moving in together … and then those topics that tend to trigger arguments the most easily throughout the relationship.  Such a great head start!

  • elaineshannon

    Great advice and interesting that I have had many people want to chat about money concerns lately…perhaps it is time to become more transparent. Also it should be noted that it is not always about the singular number on the bottom line. Abundance is not always tied to a number.     

    • SharonODay

      Elaine, if anything positive is coming out of the economic turmoil the country/world is facing, it’s that many more people are recognizing that they can’t ignore money issues forever.  And there IS an increased dialog.  BTW, one other thing I shared this weekend at my talk was the fact that everyone’s definition of happiness/abundance/financial freedom is different … so, as you say, it’s not tied to a number at all!

  • I can still hear my mother saying “It’s not polite to talk about money!” and she’s been gone for years.

    • SharonODay

      Helena, memories of those phrases are what keep that wall of silence up there.    But trust me, that belief didn’t serve your mother any better than it serves us today!  😉

  • Your work is SO important, Sharon.  We have to have an online or phone chat someday, we have so much to share with each other!!

    • SharonODay

       I’d love it, Sally!  Just message me where and when …

  • Open and honest money discussions between spouses are critical. We also believe in teaching our children about money, money management and making priorities, as well as being able to see us manage our family budget so they will learn and be prepared for adulthood in ways we were not.

    As for discussing my finances with other people, if there’s a reason for it, I have no problem. If it’s nosiness, I don’t share. Speaking of finances in general, strategies for being financially wise, whether something is a worthwhile investment, and all that, I have no problem with that.

    • SharonODay

      Marie, the most powerful lessons are the ones you are teaching your children through modeling: not just telling, but showing and experiencing!  As for others, you’re right: no indiscretion is called for, just comfort discussing money when appropriate.  Good for you!

  • Claudia Looi

    What a great gift you have given to the ladies who have silently “served” the country while their partners are gone for months or years. Great article Sharon.

    • SharonODay

      Thanks, Claudia!  With your strong international background, you’re doubly aware of the value of what their partners do for us.

  • Always a great topic to read about from you Sharon.   What a great gift to the spouses.  Priceless.

    • SharonODay

      Thanks, Carol.  It’s actually minuscule compared to the gift they offer us, isn’t it?  😉

  • Pingback: Killing the Joneses: Is It Time to Get Real?()