Listen now: Learn about the importance of having money conversations with your friends and loved ones even when they may be uncomfortable conversations.
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Hey, humans, I’m Michael Liersch, and this is the About Money Podcast, presented by Wells Fargo. I’m a behavioral scientist who loves openly discussing money to help humans better understand their money behaviors. By understanding our money behaviors, we all have the opportunity to make better money decisions.
We’re gonna have a lot of fun together, and start our first season with money taboos. For many of us, money was and still is a taboo topic to openly discuss. The question is why? We’re gonna address those taboos head on. And break through money silence. So we can all get closer to our money goals.
In this episode, we’re gonna ask ourselves why is it important to break the money talk taboo?
When you think about money talk taboos, what do they lead to? Money talk taboos lead to something we call money silence. Money silence can lead to risk. Risk that we’re not getting the information or sharing the information that’s necessary to help make the best financial decisions.
So we’ll get to that in just a second. But first let’s focus on what money taboos are on our minds in the first place, because typically to get past this type of money silence or money taboos, it’s best to acknowledge what’s holding us back in the first place. So when I talk to clients. When I talk to human beings in general as a behavioral scientist, people reveal a lot of these ideas to me. And I’m gonna give you some of the top ones that I hear. And maybe you can relate to some of these.
One of the most common is that money talk is just gauche. So talking about money is not okay, because it makes me uncomfortable and it makes other people uncomfortable. It’s not normal. So don’t do it.
Another thing I hear a lot about is that talking about money with family and friends, it can disrupt harmony. It can disrupt unity. It can make people get in arguments and disagree, because what we’re doing ultimately is airing dirty laundry. Maybe a family secret. Or revisiting bad choices or decisions people have made. And making them feel badly about themselves. Or maybe it’ll reveal serious personality conflicts around spending, around saving, around investing. So let’s not do it.
Another one I hear a lot about is that talking about money will reveal that we have different reference points when it comes to money. So maybe one of us has more money than the other. And that’s gonna make us feel uncomfortable or badly about ourselves. So let’s just hold back on that conversation and be silent about it.
A final one that I hear a lot about is that money talk can be embarrassing, because maybe I feel like I don’t know enough about money. So I’m just gonna avoid it, because if I reveal that I don’t know a lot about it, especially when I feel like I should know about it, that’s gonna make me feel like I want to hide from the situation or conversation. It’s also gonna reveal something about me that I should have done or-or should have known about. And-and I don’t want that to happen.
And on the flipside, I do hear that too is that, I don’t want to talk about money because maybe I’ll come across as a know-it-all. And that’s not appealing to anyone.
And frankly, the list goes on and on and on. But those are some of the top ones. So I want you to think about, do any of those relate to you? Are those money taboos on your mind or on your family’s mind, or the people you hang out with it? Is it on their mind? And is that creating money silence?
Now let’s go to the bottom line here. Remember we talked about this idea that breaking money talk taboo is important because that silence ultimately can lead to risk. And so what is the risk of not talking about money and really angering ourselves? And all the reasons why we shouldn’t talk about it?
One of the key risks is that really at the end of the day, by not talking about money, what we’ve done is again inhibited the information flow around the best use for money. And also the mistakes we’ve made that we can learn about as humans. And also the successes, so the things we could be doing more about. And no one is born with absolute knowledge about how to use money.
Money is a totally abstract concept, just like language learning. And just like with language learning, you need to learn about money early and often, because if you wait too long, it’s very hard to ultimately ever become a native speaker in the language of money.
There is another issue too, which is that this money silence can create true risks in families about actually using money productively. So there’s research by the Williams Group that says the number one reason that families fail to transfer wealth across generations is because of a lack of communication which leads to a lack of trust in families.
And while that may feel counterintuitive and you think, well, why would lack of communication make wealth not be able to move across generations. Just think about in your own financial life. What if you had no access to information about money or finance in general from your family members. And every decision you made was in a sense for the first time. And it had to be purely based on your gut. Or maybe some things that you saw randomly. How would that make you feel? It might not be very empowering. And you could imagine that would probably lead to more errors than more successes.
So we’ve talked about a couple of those risks. And to inspire you to maybe get beyond those money taboos, not just within the idea of risk, but the opportunity is that when you think about money, you have to ask yourself what is it? Is money really money? Or is there something beyond that?
So as a behavioral scientist, when I think about money, money really is something that has emotional and psychological value. That’s really what it is. It’s stored value. At one point in time, some human being created value. They earned it through a job or – or some other activity. And it was given to somebody. Or again, it was stored value that was traded between people. So it has meaning. And so using that meaning in a productive way and talking about it can actually be a good thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What becomes difficult, though, is people say: “I don’t know how to take action because I’ve never learned to talk about money since we’ve been so anchored in money silence and money taboo, I don’t know where to get started.”
So let’s move quickly to action. Where should you get started? I’m going to make a few suggestions. And I would encourage you to really think through these suggestions and see if you could get started. And frankly as soon as possible.
But as you think about what I say, don’t think you need to do it all at once. Don’t think you need to start big. You could start small. Money conversations start with small little dialogues that can lead to big, extraordinary outcomes over the months and the years that follow.
So here’s the action that I’d like you to consider. The first is to identify someone that you trust. A trusted collaborator is what I like to call it. So that might be a family member. So a spouse. A partner. It might be a friend. It might be an advisor. And-and identify them and get together with them for let’s call it 30 minutes an hour. Over coffee. Over a meal. That could be over Zoom. It could be in person. Whatever makes sense in the context of your life.
When you get together with that person, I want you to get together with them, with the specific idea of practicing talking about money. And you can make it fun. I mean, it might be weird at first, but I’ve done it myself. It can actually be fun. And you can lean into the dialogue. And – and it can lead to so much more.
So what we do in our family is have regular family meetings now, because I started in this way. And it led to having such a good time doing it, my wife, my daughter and I get together regularly to talk about money, sometimes every week.
So when you’re in that money dialogue, I’d encourage you in this discussion – this initial discussion, to start with something that’s called your money messages. And when you think about money message – messages you might say, Michael, what is a money message? And so what a money message is – essentially is, your associations with money based on your history. And so remember we talked about some of these money taboos? Those would be examples of money messages.
So for example, in my family, a money message – and it really turned into a taboo – was around spending. Spending is bad in my family. It is considered painful. I came from a family with very little resources. So we were not allowed to talk about spending or ask for anything. And I want you to think about, is that productive? And I can tell you in my life, it’s created a lot of conflict, uh, with my wife, with my daughter.
And so what we’ve decided to do is have an open dialogue about those money messages. Talk about it. Why do I feel that way? Because they don’t necessarily feel similarly. And by having that open dialogue, instead of us being silent and perhaps being in conflict without saying anything, which can lead to actually worse outcomes, what we do is we talk about it very openly. You know, why I feel the way I do. Why they feel the way they do. And then we can come to common ground. Or at least understand each other a bit more. So that’s what the beginning of this conversations is about.
What are your money messages? I’ll give you an example of one of mine and where that conversations can lead but you might have your own. And they don’t need to be negative. They can be positive.
Perhaps one of your money messages is that giving to the community is really a good thing to do. So you want to do more of that. Or maybe a money message you have that’s positive is that entrepreneurship and business ownership is fantastic. So you want to help others or help yourself. Start your own business. Or maybe it’s around education and you want to inspire others or yourself to really propagate that message of spending money on education being a good thing. So again, it can be positive or negative.
And when you’re sharing that information, with this trusted collaborator, what I’d like you to do is not just talk about the money messages, but start to take action on them. I’d like you to select one in collaboration with the person you’re talking with, and have them select one that you’re gonna actively either eliminate from your life or propagate, so do more of in your life. Are you gonna eliminate it or are you gonna propagate it?
And come back together let’s say in a week’s time or a month’s time. In another coffee chat or another, uh, meal together. To tell each other well how did we take action on that to eliminate or propagate it? What did we do? And start holding each other accountable for not only the conversation, but for the action around it.
And what you might see like it happened in my family is that as you hold those dialogues, it actually becomes really, a wonderful thing, because you learn from the other person. You honestly learn about yourself. And taking those actions and having that conversation highlights that the money taboos really in-in a sense may be holding you back from the information flow that will get you to a better place in your financial life.
So what I hope you do is take the action today to identify and get together with that trusted collaborator. Talk about your money messages. Come back together and see what you did to either eliminate it, or propagate it in your financial life.
That was it for this episode of the About Money Podcast. Please email us with ideas or topics that you’d like us to address at AboutMoney@wellsfargo.com. If you really liked the episode, share it with your family, friends, or anyone who listens to podcasts. Wells Fargo About Money is produced by Wells Fargo. I’m Michael Liersch asking you to talk about money today.
This information is provided for educational and illustrative purposes only.
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