Sex. Weight. Money.
Three perfectly interesting topics you will likely never hear discussed around the water cooler at work or at your in-laws’ dinner party – unless your partner or co-worker happens to be Borat.
We all have topics that are off-limits.
In the old days, talking politics was the big taboo.
These days, we’re far more relaxed about exchanging views on the latest rumblings in Canberra. Change of Prime Minister?
It’s pretty much a regular Australian talking point, like the weather or the drought or the reappearance of the Christmas tree in Sydney’s Martin Place or Melbourne’s Federation Square every December.
Talking finance makes us uncomfortable
But as we’ve become more comfortable talking about politics, personal matters have arguably become more taboo.
We have a heightened sensibility about minding our own business.
If someone has returned from a cruise looking somewhat more portly than they left, we don’t ask about the free buffet. Their health and their waistline is their own affair.
We don’t talk about our own sex lives in polite circles, because doing so suggests that the other person should talk about theirs. That’s crossing a line.
And, if there’s one particular line that we are really reluctant to cross, it’s bringing up our personal finances in public.
According to a recent survey by comparison site Finder, money was the number one “uncomfortable” topic for Australians, with around 40 per cent of respondents reporting that they “always avoided” talking about money.
The same pattern can be seen overseas too.
A study by micro-investment app Acorns last year found that most Americans were more comfortable talking about how much they weigh rather than how much money they had.
Wealth still not something to boast about
So, why the particular reluctance to talk about money?
Perhaps we should blame Gollum from JRR Tolkien’s classic, the Lord of the Rings.
Ever since the tortured hiss of “my precious” became the universal catchphrase of the jealous hoarder, we have become all the more sensitive about the expressing our material instincts.
It’s not an uncommon problem.
In the UK recently, the BBC committed to publishing the salaries of its highest paid stars, in the interests of public transparency.
The information proved to be an intriguing read, but with unintended consequences: a year later, the public broadcaster conceded that an exodus of talent was partly attributable to the new policy.
Apparently, the more modest members of the BBC establishment were not enthusiastic about the new “open kimono” edict and duly headed for the exit.
If we’re well off, talking about money can make us feel greedy. On the other hand, It can also induce anxiety if we are suffering financial stress and haven’t adequately planned for the future. It can make us feel inadequate if we don’t have enough. It can make us feel downright unwell.
But a bit of honest discussion about money can also go a long way towards saving right, investing right and developing the right financial disciplines. In other words, the very habits that may stop money from becoming an embarrassing topic in the first place.
Why we need to change…and fast
Oddly enough, our reluctance to talk money even extends to those closest to us. Studies have consistently shown that money is the number one cause of conflict in modern relationships.
And the second most common cause? Lack of communication.
So by developing the habit of talking about money, you’ll be tackling two of the biggest relationship challenges head-on.
But in personal finance, knowledge is power, and sets you on the road to financial wellness.
Couples who plan ahead are twice as likely to secure better outcomes for themselves in the longer term.
Whether it’s setting goals, agreeing on a budget or not hiding the occasional splurge from your significant other, couples that communicate are able to develop both the confidence and the practical plan they need to build a future for themselves.
There’s a long way between Gollum and the art of relationship bliss.
The common theme, however, is communication about the things that are important to us.
So, whatever your “precious” may be, let’s get that tricky conversation started.