Couple talking about finances

Money’s Hard and I Need Help

Jan 19, 2024
By Mariclare Cranston, Marketing Content Strategist

Why are people afraid to talk about money?

Finally, you and your friends get a night out. You grab drinks and start dishing: the job, the marriage, the pet.

But your money?

Nope.

That topic never comes up. And if it does, only the most general comments are made.

“I can’t believe how expensive groceries are now!”

“Did you guys see the new house for sale down the street from me? $400k!”

But under the surface of your banter is a shared desire to spill the beans: Money sucks and you need help. It’s embarrassing because, honestly, look at everyone else. They’re not constantly stressed about money.

Except they are.

Most of us are under the impression that everyone else is better at managing money. That is, of course, not true. In fact, 75% of working Americans are stressed about their finances.1

And once you recognize that you’re definitely not alone, talking about money becomes easier.

But why’s it so hard in the first place?

61% of Americans say they are more afraid of running out of money than they are about death.

We Can Blame Our Ancestors

Tim Brinkhof points to our ancestral need to blend in as one of the reasons we’re mum on money. In his article, “If we live in a capitalist world, why is it taboo to talk about money?” Brinkhof notes that income is an easy way to rank ourselves and others.2 Talking about money woes makes us stand out, and thanks to our ancestors’ communal lifestyle, we’re wired to believe that standing out impacts our survival.

Another historical facet to our unwillingness to talk about money? The tendency for societies with large wealth disparities to be unstable.Making money a taboo subject reduced disagreements – and skirmishes – between classes. And fewer internal skirmishes meant the society appeared stronger to outside threats.

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 Our Reluctance to Talk About Money Has Modern Causes, Too

So our deeply-rooted need for survival is part of the reason we’ve been made to believe talking about money is rude. But there are other factors at play:

  • Intense pressure to appear “put together.” A societal insistence – fueled by the golden age of social media – to have it all together makes it very hard to admit you don’t.
  • Lack of financial education in schools. You don’t know what you don’t know. And if no one taught you how to manage money, winging it may feel like the only way.
  • No one to talk to. When Google and TikTok become a go-to for financial advice, how do you weed through the nonsense to find the golden nuggets of truth? Coupled with a general frustration with large banks and mistrust of motives, it can be hard to trust traditional sources of financial guidance.

48% of U.S. adults dealing with financial stress reported sleep problems.

What’s the Harm in Not Talking About Money?

We’re all keeping our mouths shut when it comes to our personal finances. An overwhelming 62% of Americans don’t talk about money.3 Period. But what’s the real risk to that?

Bottling up emotion takes its toll on our minds and bodies, and it’s no different when it comes to financial stress.

Financial stress impacts your mental health. A recent study by Forbes found that among U.S. adults dealing with financial stress, 48% reported sleep problems, 40% had higher anxiety, 38% led diminished social lives and 34% experienced depression.4

Financial stress impacts your physical health. Physical manifestations of financial stress can include stomach problems, migraines, heart disease, and difficultly sleeping.5

Financial stress impacts your relationships. Disagreements about money can lead to lost trust and a buildup of tension within a couple.5

Should you and your partner get a joint checking account? Find out here

When you’re weighed down by money problems, you may be less capable of handling other stressors, too. Things that are typically non-events can suddenly feel overwhelming. Financial stress can make tempers short, decisions rash, and attention unfocused.

Almost 3 out of 5 people have faked their financial situation on social media to appear financially stable.

Here’s How to Get Comfortable Talking About Money

Take the first step. A survey found that 63% of us would be more willing to talk about our finances if our peers did, too.6 There’s comfort in that: by speaking up, you may help your friends and family feel more comfortable discussing their financial situation, too. You’ll create a safe space of continued discussion.

Remind yourself that money feels deeply personal…but managing it is a universal need.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Our fear of judgment – and our belief that talking about money is rude – is deeply seeded. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Talk about situations rather than dollar amounts. Shifting focus away from specific amounts may help you feel less vulnerable while also uncovering potential common ground.
    1. Example: “Everything is always due all at once and it stresses me out trying to pay it all and still have enough for everything else. Ugh!”
  2. Share something that frustrates you and ask for advice. Asking others what works for them is an effective way to open a channel of communication.
    1. Example: “I am constantly overspending at the grocery store! How are you managing that? I need some ideas!”
  3. Start an information exchange. This approach takes the onus off of any one person while still creating a way to share financial frustrations and solutions.
    1. Example: “Hey, I read the other day that the majority of people are worried about money! When we get together this weekend, let’s swap some ideas of what’s working for us in managing money. Maybe we can all help each other.”
  4. Get scientific! Use what you learned in this article to open a conversation. A startling fact could ease the way for a more in-depth talk about money.
    1. Example: “Did you know that people are afraid to talk about money because our ancestors had to survive in a communal setting?! Why do we hold onto such old beliefs?”

If your friends or family don’t get onboard with opening up about money, don’t get discouraged right away. Remind yourself that money is deeply personal but that managing it is a universal need. Starting that conversation may take time, but you’re building a safe space. And if you still need support outside of your friends and family, head to your financial institution. Many have financial coaches available who are trained in supporting you.

  1. “Majority of Americans Feeling Financial Stressed and Living Paycheck to Paycheck According to CNBC Your Money Survey.” CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/07/majority-of-americans-feeling-financially-stressed-and-living-paycheck-to-paycheck-according-to-cnbc-your-money-survey.html#:~:text=The%20survey%2C%20which%20polled%20over,to%20be%20%E2%80%9Cliving%20paycheck%20to Accessed November 9, 2023.
  2. Brinkhof, Tim. “If We Life in a Capitalist World, Why is it Taboo to Talk About Money?” Big Think. https://bigthink.com/sponsored/why-is-it-taboo-to-talk-about-money/ Accessed November 9, 2023.
  3. Spector, Nicole. “New Study Shows Majority of Americans Are Uncomfortable Talking About Finances.” GoBankingRates. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/new-study-shows-majority-of-americans-are-uncomfortable-talking-about-finances Accessed November 9, 2023.
  4. Horton, Cassidy. “The Silent Strain: How Debt Takes a Toll on Mental Health.” Forbes Advisor. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/american-debt-and-the-mental-health-epidemic/ Accessed November 10, 2023.
  5. Scott PhD, Elizabeth. “Financial Stress: How to Cope.” VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-and-preventing-financial-stress-3144546 Accessed November 10, 2023.
  6. Mangru, Vanessa. “More Than Half of Americans Are Convinced Talking About Finances With Others is Taboo.” SWNS Digital. https://swnsdigital.com/us/2022/04/more-than-half-of-americans-are-convinced-talking-about-finances-with-others-is-taboo/ Accessed November 9, 2023.

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