Why can’t we talk about money with our friends?

Old car in fieldPhoto courtesy of Wayne Stadler

Do you have someone you can talk about money with?

Notice that before you can answer that question, we actually need to specify what kind of conversation we’re having.

“Talking about money” can mean not only the nuts and bolts (how to budget, invest, save, etc) but also the more relational, emotional topics. The feelings behind the topics.

In a professional context, you may have a person who is your advisor on the nuts and bolts. (Hopefully this person is a fiduciary, and if you don’t know, you should ask.) But while this person provides a valuable service, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about your concerns and fears. I mean, you wouldn’t schedule a meeting just to talk about financial anxieties, would you?

In the personal space, it can be worse. Unless you know someone who’s really good with money, you may not have anyone to talk about the mechanics of financial health, plus, you don’t have anyone to talk to about our struggles either.

Why not?

You think everyone’s got it together except you

There’s this pervasive sense that “we don’t know what we’re doing” and that we’re failing in some indescribable way. Many of us have crushing levels of debt, and feel like we barely have enough money to get through the month. Some people have so little float in their bank account that they spend their money until their bank account is empty, and then have to hold their breath until their next pay check.

There is a lot of shame here.

Moreover, and painfully, there’s the equal sense that everyone else has it together. I mean, look at everyone! The pictures posted to Facebook on the trips to Hawaii. The fancy cars. And your friends who just bought that really nice place, one that you know you couldn’t afford.

Could you talk to that friend about your money problems? Could you talk about how scared you are? Could you do that when you see how well that friend is doing?

You probably think not. The power differential that would arise might affect your relationship. Much better to just say how happy you are for them and leave it at that.

Not just about money

Let’s put aside money for a moment. Do you ever feel like your friends are happier and living more fulfilled lives than you? You might feel like you can barely get out of bed in the morning and face the day, and try so hard to make it seem like you’ve got it together, while the people you know look like nothing bothers them ever.

But you’ve heard this story before: people are not as well-put-together as they seem.

To others, you probably look pretty good. Even if you feel like you’re melting inside, others don’t have built-in access to your internal reality, only your external display of it.

And that means you have no access to others’ internal reality either. The lesson is clear: don’t compare your internal reality to others’ external display of it.

Why would our relationship to money be any different?

Struggles are universal

So about your friend who just bought a really nice place. Yes, there’s a chance that they can afford it just fine.

But maybe not.

That car that someone bought that you coveted. Perhaps they are paying through the nose for that privilege, and that it’s been a stressful situation from the beginning.

The same lesson is present: don’t compare your internal sense of financial health with other’s external display of it.

Be the first to speak out

Silence begets more silence. Silence begets disconnection. (Notice that there’s the word “quiet” in “disquiet”. That’s significant.)

The only way to combat this disconnection is to speak up. To vocalize. To risk being the first one to say that you’re struggling.

And when people speak up, do others judge? Do others give a weird, uncomfortable response and then look away? Do others confirm what you’ve feared the most?

In my experience, I’ve found over and over that none of that happens. What happens instead is a collective sigh of, “I feel the same way.

You can scarcely imagine the relief in that moment to everyone involved. It’s huge. It’s overwhelming.

And to those who are worried that someone is doing “better” than you: struggles know no income level. People struggle no matter where they are. Is the person who makes $250,000 a year but has a million in debt better off than the person who makes $40,000 but who is debt-free?

I challenge you to open up about your struggles with the people you trust. They may be relieved to hear it, and waiting to share their own story of struggle. Imagine how more connected you would feel. Imagine how much better that would be.

It would be an honor if you would share a financial story here. Maybe practicing sharing in an anonymous and protected environment will help you gain the courage to share your story with the people who care about you the most.

Or, if you’re in Portland, I would love to see you at the next Portland Integrative Finance Community meeting. Please reach out if you have any questions.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on October 17, 2016