Straight Talk: How I Faced the Money Taboo

“I HATE dealing with money,” my professor said.

My original piggy bank

A relationship therapist I follow has a tagline: “The top two causes of divorce are sex and money, and I’m no accountant.” Could it be a coincidence that the top two causes of divorce are also the most taboo topics? I am often asked, “How long have you been doing this?” My half-funny, half-serious answer is, “I made my first budget when I was 9.” Money has been important to me as long as I can remember. I still have the same piggy bank from my childhood.

Despite my passion, when it came to talking about money with other people, I used to struggle. The rational part of me would think, “Money is like air, isn’t it? We all need it, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with talking about it, right?” On the other hand, one of my first boyfriends broke my heart when he said money was too important to me. I got the societal message loud and clear then: much like with sex, it’s not polite to talk about money, and you shouldn’t dare tell other people that you actually like talking about it.

Getting Over Money Shame

It wasn’t until my senior year in college during a semester abroad in India, that my money skills emerged as a source of self-esteem. Our group numbered twelve students from Davidson College and Duke University, led by a Davidson religion professor. The professor had to manage all the group’s expenses; our lodging, our meals and our transportation, while we went all over the country having the time of our lives. Of course, this trip came before much of India had credit card capability, meaning our professor had to organize the budget by keeping track of the piles of rupees and traveler’s checks he would go through.

Towards the end of the trip we were talking about our career aspirations when we got back to the US. I was majoring in economics and bashfully shared that I hoped to help people or businesses with their money. The professor said, “What? I could have used your help all this time with the budget for the trip!” I was flabbergasted and honored. No authority figure had ever said they would trust me to help with their money until that point.

“I would have loved to do that,” I replied.

“I HATE dealing with money,” he said.

It was then I realized two things:

  1. My passion for money help was not something everyone shared.
  2. In fact, there were some people who hated money so much they would rather I handle it for them.

How to Break the Money Taboo

However, just because I gained a level of comfort talking about money at that moment didn’t mean others automatically would too. I needed to learn how to talk about money in a way that was approachable, accepting, and simple.

Years later, when I was starting my own practice, I was glad when one of my former banking clients suggested I call it “Straight Talk Financial Planning.” Although I didn’t take his suggestion, it told me I had made progress toward my goal. I’m proud to say that I got over my own money taboo, and have helped others do the same.

As far as that other unmentionable topic mentioned by the relationship therapist, well, …I’ll leave that one for her.

How about you? What’s your comfort level with talking about money? Drop us a line, comment here, or schedule a call if you’d like to talk more.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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