Why Is Talking About
Money So Taboo?

Forget religion and politics – money continues to be the topic that Americans rate the most off-limits for conversation. What are some things that Americans would rather talk about than money? Well, according to Capital Group’s most recent Wisdom of Experience survey, they are:
In fact, out of a dozen topics, men and women across all generations ranked household earnings, retirement savings, and debt as the most off-limit topics.

Credit card debt is the subject that people are least likely to talk to strangers about, according to CreditCards.com, and they aren’t too eager to discuss it with family and friends either. When it comes to credit card debt, 30% of us are uncomfortable talking to immediate family and 48% of us are uncomfortable talking to friends.


So, why is debt, and money in general, still such an unmentionable topic? In one word – shame.

According to Larry Compeau, professor of consumer behavior at Clarkson University, money problems can cause feelings of embarrassment. These feelings increase when someone is unable to provide for their family or they feel inadequate compared to others. Debt, particularly credit card debt, is something we feel others will judge us for. But just like with anything secret, keeping money discussions forbidden only makes feelings of financial shame and stress more intense.


Hiding financial problems is a growing trend. People avoiding money problems are going as far as having bills sent to P.O. boxes or a different address to keep up appearances. Someone might spend money they don’t have to go out with friends rather than admit that they can’t afford it. In other cases, relationships are damaged when people turn down invitations from friends instead of talking about their financial troubles. Personal advice columns are filled with people who are hiding their financial worries — or being blindsided by their significant other’s secret money problems.


The feelings of shame around money aren’t exclusive to being in debt. In fact, even people who are better off are uncomfortable talking about money. Sometimes people feel bad about how much money they have, so they shy away from the topic. By not talking about money, those with wealth think they spare their friends or family without as much money from feeling bad. It also serves to shield themselves from the discomfort of viewing their own wealth in the context of a very disparate society.


No matter what the cause, it’s clear: American have trouble talking about money, and it often causes us to make bad financial decisions.


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