The Money Merry-Go-Round
Think about the most recent discussion you had about money. How closely did it match the next most recent money conversation? Without realizing it, we engage in conversation after conversation about money that ends up talking around it. Money may have the ability to make our lives more comfortable, but we’re very uncomfortable talking about it directly. This discomfort often leads to heated, emotional discussions that talk about a lot of things, but probably only mention money in passing (e.g., we can’t afford it).
I believe we have an easier time talking about things, like buying a new jacket or taking a trip, versus discussing the money that those things require. So instead of talking about dollars and cents we talk about leather and beaches. We substitute things in place of money in our conversations and it leads to having the same conversation over and over because you aren’t really talking about jackets or trips, you’re talking about money. It’s the classic “we can’t afford it” conversation that we’ve all had at least once. The question isn’t really about whether we can afford it, but that’s what we focus on because it’s a fast way to end uncomfortable discussions that are really about money.
We’re Uncomfortable with Money
Like religion and politics, money sits in a place that makes us squirm when discussed. I wonder if it’s a reflection of the way we use money as a measuring stick and allow ourselves to feel guilty if we fall short in the money category. We may also have trained ourselves, based on past experience, that things get emotional real fast when money is addressed directly versus talking around it about everything except money. There are deep-seated emotional issues regarding money that very few of us have been trained to deal with.
Besides making us uncomfortable, we often assume that finances are complex and difficult to understand. At first glance, investing, mortgages, and even credit cards can appear daunting, and we have a natural tendency to avoid things we don’t understand. When we don’t understand things it leads to confusion, and we are genetically wired to either fly or fight in confusing situations. Most people are not comfortable with the current language of money. So instead of avoiding money discussions we need to develop a new language around money. We need to develop new ways of representing concepts and principles that we’ve previously viewed as too complex. Money is too important a topic to avoid so the complexity needs to be simplified.
The Best Money Conversations Are Life Conversations
Access to information and the ability to share it easily has made discussing money in our families, in our communities, and in society at large more acceptable. There is also a growing recognition among real financial professionals that great discussions about money are really great discussions about life. In order to make good financial decisions we have to make them in the context of our lives.
The next time you find yourself in a discussion that feels emotionally charged and familiar take a step back and ask yourself if it’s really about money, and give yourself the time and space for a real discussion. The only way we’re going to change the level of anxiety we feel about money is through meaningful conversations that focus on how we feel about it and how those around us feel about it instead of just repeating the same heated discussions out of habit.
This article is the first in a series that we’re calling Money Conversations.