Straight Talk: How I Faced the Money Taboo

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 piggy bank I could never bear to break or throw away.

Talking about money, though, brought up ambivalence. On the one hand I thought, “Money is like air, isn’t it? Doesn’t everybody need it and wouldn’t we all want to make sure we have enough of it? What’s wrong with that?” But on the other, I got the societal message that it wasn’t polite to bring it up. One of my first boyfriends, at age 17, said it first, broke my heart when he said money was too important to me. That didn’t help the shame of being overly focused on it.

Releasing Shame About Money

It wasn’t until my senior year in college, 1985, on 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 for 14 weeks. The professor had to pay as we went along for our lodging, meals and transportation – trains, planes, and auto-rickshaws. This was before much of India had credit card capability. He had to do it all with cash and travelers’ checks, and he had to make it last.

Near the end of the trip we were discussing our majors and what we hoped for our careers after returning to the U.S. 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.

How To Talk About It

It dawned on me that my special interest and passion was not something everyone else shared. In fact there were some who would happily like my help with it because they hated it. 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.” Although I didn’t take his suggestion, it told me I already had success. I owned up to the money taboo, got over it, and helped others do the same. (As far as that other unmentionable topic embraced by the relationship therapist, I’ll leave the help with facing that taboo to 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 Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly 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."

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