Is Talking About Money So Terribly Hard?

Mike: Last week, This American Life did an episode called “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About.” Those seven things, according to the mother of one of the producers, Sarah Koenig, were the following:

1. Your period
2. Health
3. Diets
4. Sleep
5. Dreams
6. Route Talk
7. Money

The reasoning for not talking about most of these topics is because they’re boring—people don’t generally want to hear about your dreams, or your period, or the specific way you got somewhere. So the reporters and producers on the show attempted to take each of these subjects and make them interesting. They did six stories. The one story they did not do was money, because talking about money, they argued, is crass. This was funny to me because, well, that’s what we do on this site every day. But they skipped the money story! Do you think money is still this thing that’s really difficult to talk about?

Logan: Hha, yes! I do! Maybe really they’re just waiting to do a whole show on it. A musical episode. I’m listening now: “Talking about money is considered in certain circles as rude, not done.” God I love this woman’s voice. It’s such an excellent voice. And I agree with her about most things. No one wants to hear how you slept or about your dreams, unless you’re in the dream, and even then, hmm. “Route talk,” she’s so right. Cannot stand it. Okay what were we talking about? Money. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten very much better at talking about it, despite doing it quite often. I still find it hard. Don’t you? It’s hard!

Mike: Yes, I mean, it’s difficult. But I also think it depends on the situation. The conversation should feel natural when you do talk about it, because then it feels like you’re just tip-toeing around it. For example, my friends and I often get together and we’ll talk about how work is going, and they’ll ask for advice, like asking for a raise, and we’ll talk about our salaries and it’ll feel completely normal. Of course, it’s not something you just talk about with someone you barely know or are just meeting for the first time. I mean, you and I are 100 percent comfortable talking about money with each other: Student loans, credit card debt, salaries, who pays for what and when, how much you pay in rent, how we feel when it comes to money and our families—we’ve talked about it all. So it’s actually not hard between you and me. Why do you think that is?

Logan: Well you and I are friends and so we can talk about it fine. And neither of us are judgemental about it, and even if we were, we aren’t in positions to be judging each other. I talk about money with my friends and it’s not hard because we’re all generally in the same situation. But when I’m interviewing people for the site, even, I still have a hard time asking some questions, like, how much money do you make, or what was your upbringing like, financially. In part I’ve stopped asking those explicit questions all together. They make other people so uncomfortable—and that makes me so uncomfortable—that I’ve decided the actual numbers aren’t as important. Which maybe is against the point. I think starting out with this site I thought we should all disclose numbers: salaries, debt, rents, savings. But now I think that the numbers don’t matter as much as the feelings associated with the numbers.

Mike: Every time I interview someone for one of our “Doing Money” interviews all of those things come up, and I think maybe it’s easier because they’re coming into it know that I’m going to ask them to disclose everything. Numbers provide so much context! And the series is definitely our most popular, which I think says something. Being able to have a financial peek into someone else’s life is kind of fascinating. Though, yes, people want to be anonymous because it it is hard to just lay it all out there for the world to see. Though I will say that I conducted an interview recently with someone who just said, “Use my real name. I’m completely okay with it!” Stay tuned for that one.

I also think each generation that’s coming up is feeling more comfortable with having these kinds of discussions, or are trying to have more honest conversations about it, as we’ve seen from that story about Yale, and the one from the student at Duke. I also think it says something that you can talk about money with your friends, because our parents came from a generation where they didn’t really talk about it with their own friends.

Logan: The other day I was talking to a friend, we were talking about taxes I think, or credit card bills, something disgusting, and she said, god, I can’t wait until I have enough money that I don’t have to talk about it anymore. And I relate to that immensely. I think and talk about money all the time because I don’t have enough and I’m always worrying about it. And I’m so grateful that I’ve learned that talking about it is more healthy for me than keeping it in, and through talking about money I’ve learned that so many of us are stressed about it, it’s not just me, alone. And maybe that negates my friend’s comment—even the people I’ve talked to that have money have stress about it. But I do like to think about a time in the future when hopefully I can just live my life and not be worried about this all the time. I’d much rather talk about anything else. Except routes.

Mike: Totally—I wish they would have talked about it on the show! So, as you know, when This American Life was planning this episode, they got in touch with us to help them with that segment about money. And I worked with one of the producers for a few days figuring out what kind of story would work, and would be interesting enough to air. Unfortunately that segment did not air. But yes, hopefully they’ll do a whole show about talking about money, because it would be fascinating. Or maybe Planet Money will want to do one. Ira, send us their info!



10 Comments / Post A Comment

elefante (#3,286)

I’m always amazed at the hesitation I feel when asking people how much they pay for rent.

A-M (#4,317)

This American Life contacted you???!??!!! Oh my gosh you guys are so legit!

Meaghano (#529)

Just want to say that I have the same passion for normalizing talking about your period as I do talking about money.

EM (#1,012)

@Meaghano AGREED. I am surprised by that one. Every single woman of reproductive age I know enjoys talking about periods and discussing the merits and drawbacks of birth control pills and IUDs.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Meaghano hollaaaaa

questingbeast (#2,409)

@Meaghano Yeah, agreed! I mean, ‘boring’? What? It’s BLOOD POURING OUT OF YOUR BODY. I will never find that ordinary.

honey cowl (#1,510)

TALK ABOUT BURYING THE LEDE!!!! You got to talk to Ira?! Was it the best day of your life????!!!!

j a y (#3,935)

These chats are my favorite part of the site! I missed it last week and wouldn’t mind if there were more of them.

The money posts are kind of meaningless to me without numbers… The more the better! But names add nothing for me and I wonder if people would be more forthcoming with anonymity assured. So I’m all for that.

By the same token, I’d love for more meaningful numbers from Logan and Mike but since you are not anonymous, I understand.

Especially on the debt payoff monthly reporting, I’d love to know total debt alongside the progress so that I can feel the anticipation of slowly or quickly getting there!

I no longer have debt of any kind, and it’s the one thing I miss…

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@j a y I’m sure someone else will donate you their debt if you need the thrill again!

readyornot (#816)

Late comment, I finally listened to the TAL episode. Fascinating! But the crass-ness or difficulty was not the only reason they did not include the money segment. The reason was also that the mother admitted she talked about money all the time. Which I thought was funny!

I do think it is difficult to talk about money, though, for all the reasons that the comments sometimes get heated and a handful of mean readers sometimes take it out on Logan. Differences in income, family resources, individually accumulated wealth can make people uncomfortable, especially when they’re equated with self-worth. Also, different spending priorities make people uncomfortable. There are so many people out there who get defensive just when their friends choose to do zipcar and public transit rather than buy a car, y’know? And I will never forget the comments on the interview with the man who made $570K. He saw some expenses as built-in or not quite optional that many readers saw as incredible luxuries.

Money can also be a signal of other things. For instance, my husband and I live in a rented apartment, but higher ups in his firm think we would be househunting if he were serious about making a go of it there for the long term…dress for the job you want, or something.

So I don’t blame people for trying to avoid money discussion with strangers, sometimes, or people of another generation, but I think it is important to talk with your coworkers and your good, close friends, to build a sense of your worth and your goals.

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