Why is talking about money such a taboo subject?
I just started reading Brian Portnoy’s book The Geometry of Wealth and he makes a perfect statement about this:
Most of us think that talking about money is: Embarrassing, not classy, inappropriate, confusing, intimidating, immoral, boring, or some combination of those. Spouses struggle with honest conversations, adult children and elderly parents find money discussions painful, and we rarely talk to, let alone educate, our children on the matter. Other studies show money is either the first or second most important issue behind divorce. Many couples would prefer to talk about infidelities rather than how they handle family finances or how much money they earn.
There’s a pretty good chance you know a great deal about your best friend’s marriage, health, and job, but close to nothing about his or her finances. What’s your best friend’s salary? Is he deeply in debt or has he saved enough for retirement? Does he have a budget?
This got me thinking about my friends and family and how I have no idea how much money they have saved up. All I’m exposed to is what I see on their Facebook or Instagram feeds regarding the new house they just bought, or the new car, or the month long vacation they just got back from. Do these people have real lives? When are they going to run out of money? Do they even care about retirement? Why don’t I have fun toys or go on fun trips all the time? FOMO sets in.
Imagine for a second if we lived in a futuristic world where our net worth was displayed in a hologram hanging over our heads. For the Black Mirror fans, there was a similar episode called Nosedive that used holograms to rate people based on their social media standing. After every interaction with another person, you would rate that person out of five stars based on their service, politeness, or generally how you felt about them.
Watch this three minute clip if you haven’t seen the episode to get a feel of how life would be in this futuristic world.
Now that you are feeling uncomfortable — which is the minimum requirement for any Black Mirror episode — let’s think again how our lives would be structured if we saw everyone’s net worth instead of their social standing.
Would we try to please everyone or just those who we knew had money? Would you discount the financial advice from pundits on TV or your own financial advisor? How would it feel walking next to homeless people who were asking for spare change? Would we be more cognizant of how we spend or time and money? How would you look at yourself if you were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? How would you choose your life partner? Would it prevent mass fraud and the Bernie Madoffs of the world?
So many questions come to mind. This could be a fun book/movie script. Don’t steal this idea in case I ever want to circle back and do something with it.
One of the main problems I envision in this futuristic world would be the likely increase in violence. There would have to be some kind of protections set up between the poor and rich. Maybe everyone would be segregated based on different levels of total net worth. A similar situation happens in the Black Mirror episode when the main character is prohibited from going on a flight to a destination wedding because her social score wasn’t high enough.
Time to come back from fantasy land.
Maybe there is a better way to discuss money with your friends and family without it being a taboo subject.
I still have no idea what my parents’ salaries are or how much they have saved for retirement. I have a general idea but not hard numbers. When I ask them about finances it gets awkward; they tend to shift gears and talk about something else. I just want them to be happy but also have realistic goals about retirement and I’m mature enough to have these conversations with them. When my children are old enough, I plan on having these types of conversations with them. When they go out into the world they will be more informed (less incompetent) than I was growing up.
I’m curious to hear some of your thoughts about this subject. Check out some of the fun discussions on this Twitter thread or leave a comment below.
I apologize to anyone who thought the title of this post was going to reveal some kind of bearish fantasy of mine.