People Are Funny About Money: Part 1 of 2

Yesterday, I came home from work and ate leftovers for dinner, while watching an old episode of Sex and the City. As per usual, the scene had all four ladies sitting around a table, gabbing and gossiping about their lives. I quickly realized that Carrie and Aidan must have just broken up, since she was worrying about how to come up with a down payment to buy her apartment back from him. After Miranda and Samantha both offered to lend Carrie whatever amount she needed, Charlotte chimed in with one of her classic, conservative comments.

Ch: “I’m uncomfortable with this situation. We shouldn’t be talking about money.”

S: “Why not? We talk about everything else.”

M: “People are funny about money.”

I can’t explain how automatic my reaction was to pause, rewind and replay those few sentences. This is an episode I’ve probably seen half a dozen times, over the years, and have never felt any one way about it. But now, perhaps because I talk about money everyday or because I’ve finally come clean with family and friends about my past financial mistakes and situation, it made me question why more people aren’t talking about their own personal finances.

As Samantha said, these four women are willing to talk about every other topic under the sun. From bad dates to detailed sexual encounters, nothing is off-limits. And other than watching them comfortably spend hundreds of dollars on shoes, very rarely is there a roundtable conversation about their personal finances. Sure, we know what Carrie charges per word that she writes for Vogue and that Miranda was able to buy her own apartment, but where are the surprise credit card bills and savings accounts?

The examples I’ve given are probably not that uncommon in most friendships and relationships. We love sharing our financial successes (a raise at work or a good sale price) but avoid telling people how desperately we needed that raise just to get by or why we put that sale item on 1 of 3 credit cards. The reason for this calculated interaction is simple: money is the last taboo subject. And anything else we can judge each other on (clothes, hair, etc.) is visible but credit card statements are easy to hide.

I can’t say I remember any other episodes where the ladies of Sex and the City addressed their personal finances in a way that made them seem real. Charlotte’s divorce got her an apartment, Miranda bought a second home, Samantha moved into a beach house in California and Carrie magically bought her apartment back at a higher price than she sold it for, after her non-wedding to Big (and who knows what that cost).

While it’s no surprise that this showcases a lifestyle the Average Jane could never afford, this particular episode raised an important question:

If we can’t talk to our best friends about money, who can we talk to?

  • I don’t really talk to my friends about money too much. They think I’m crazy with money talk haha. I wish I could talk to them though.

    • What kills me is that if everyone was willing to discuss their interest rates and saving techniques, the world would probably be a much richer place.

  • Why, the personal finance community of course! I try not to talk about money with my friends. Though I’ve noticed that since I’ve gone public with my blog, family members and friends have started to come to me with their financial news and questions. I like being a resource, but I don’t want to risk sounding preachy, so I don’t talk about it unless someone else brings it up.

    • I can relate to that. Many of my friends and I have always talked about money but I hate the idea of ever sounding preachy, especially now that my blog is public. I can’t help that I don’t want anyone I love to end up in the situation I was!

  • I bombarded my friends with money talk — some of them now actually come to me for personal finance advice. We need to stop being so hung up and secretive about money! That’s probably why a lot of people have debt issues to begin with.

  • I try not to unleash my inner money nerd on poor unsuspecting folks… but once my friend asked me a question about the Roth IRA and I could not stop talking! Hahaha. She may have been a little surprised by how animated I got.

  • So true, I don’t remember ever having an open conversation about money with any of my friends, it’s like the pink elephant in the room, sometimes. That could partially explain why people get in trouble in the first place – we’re watching these programs & admiring celebrities who seem to do nothing but shop & have nice things, but you don’t really see the reality of all that spending.

    • You never see the reality. In another comment, someone mentioned the one time Carrie’s credit card was declined. But it’s interesting that that was in the first season and was never showcased again.

  • I’m not sure why money is taboo. I’ve always been very open with my friends when talking about money, but I never seem to get that openness returned to me. I think people are afraid to reveal their financial situation because they are worried that others will value them (or devalue them) based on how much money they have. Its ingrained in society that money = success = value.

  • I’m dying to talk money with my friends, but I just don’t know how to politely breach the subject. I only have one friend who is truly open about how she handles her finances. She asked me for ideas once on how to afford a house down payment at the same time she’s maxing out both her 401(K) and her Roth and I’m not sure I was helpful… it’s hard to offer financial wisdom when you feel like your financial situations are very different.

    • I’m sure even just having the conversation with her was helpful! I’ve had lots of friends talk about money more with me, now that they know about my blog. I’m not a financial planner but sharing what I know and have experienced is the best I can offer my friends.

  • I have a few friends that are more than happy to discuss money with me. Others are very private about it, because I think they want to appear to have everything all together. I think when you are open about money, it releases a lot of stress off of everyone. For instance, if someone says that they cannot afford to go out to eat, but would be more than happy to invite you over for dinner. That relieves a lot of stress off of the people coming over, because now they know that other people have tight budgets, and can’t always eat out.

  • My friends and I talk about money to a certain degree. We all know we are trying to cut back, that’s the most important part so we can avoid pressuring each other to spend more than we’re comfortable with.

  • This is totally how I feel too, as you know. I tend to be pretty darn open about money (and everything else) but as someone said above, never really have that openness returned. Which then makes me feel vulnerable and like maybe they’re judging me or at least comparing us to their own situations. I’m actually trying to NOT talk about money any more to my friends since they don’t really reciprocate. Haha. But we’re in the midst of paying off our debt and it’s the main thing on my mind right now. So of course I want to talk about it! Only two of my closest friends know that we just paid off our student loans. I don’t really plan on mentioning it to anyone else at this point, except maybe our family when we go home to visit them tomorrow. They’d be really excited for us.

    Plus, since I don’t know my friends’ financial situations, I don’t want to inadvertently make them feel bad if they have a secret mess they’re hiding. I don’t want them to be jealous of us paying off our student loans and becoming debt free in September. So I guess I’ll just talk to you! :]

    • Hehe, you can always talk to me. But don’t stop mentioning money around friends either. If you’re ever worried about making your friends feel bad, maybe mention how difficult accomplishing a certain financial goal was. It makes it so much more relatable. <3

  • I suspect that’s why this pf community works so well. You have a group who is open and willing to share all the details.I’m not quite there yet, mainly because people i know too well will read it and that really scares me. It seems like once I put the numbers out there , there is no turning back. I’m vague about it, but actually putting numbers out there is scary. All of you guys who are completely open deserve a lot of credit.

    • I’ve found that nobody actually cares as much about the numbers as they do when I talk in percentages. If I say that I put 46% of my monthly budget on debt, people want to know how. The actual dollars and cents don’t matter. It’s the how.

  • Yeah I wish my friends could talk about money the way we talk about shoes. The one time some of my friends and I talked about money was when my church did a sermon series on greed and stewardship. All the small group discussion questions centered on the topic of money so I guess they were forced to talk about it. It was a great start to dialoging about money, and I got to show a friend how to open a Roth IRA. However, once the series was over, people stopped talking about it, but were less freaked out when the topic was brought up

    • It’s awesome that you got to show a friend how to open an investment! Moments like that are what I wish everyone got to experience at least once.

  • Great post. I only really talk about money with my family and BF, and have just started to talk money a little bit with my friends since they know I’ve got a personal finance blog now. It’s still sometimes an awkward subject, but I definitely think it’s important to talk about to eliminate that stupid taboo.

    • Talking about money with family is just as important as talking about it with friends. Some families are really hush hush about the subject, so I think that’s great.

  • This is a great post and you ended it the same way Carrie would end one of her articles. While I understand your question about why don’t people talk about money details more openly, I also understand that comment that Charlotte made. In many homes money is a taboo subject. Heck, in many social circles money, religion and politics are all taboo subjects. I don’t talk to my friends or family about specific money details. My father would be offended if I ever asked about his savings or retirement accounts. And he never asks about how much my work pays me, even though I know he is dying to. It is just the way we were raised.

    • I often forget about how the topic is treated differently in various cultures, so thank you for the reminder.

  • The only ones I talk to about money are my mom, my bf, and one close friend. But I agree with those above- I do feel like I would be “valued” a little less if my friends knew what my financial situation was. Or maybe they wouldn’t invite me to things because they would assume I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I’d rather make the decision myself than be left out! I feel like a lot of my friends have way more than I do, and I don’t want to be “The Broke Friend”. Weird, irrational, but true.

    • I think your fear about your friends potentially not inviting you to things is valid, as I had the same concerns, but I’ve found that most people still make the effort to invite you. And I don’t think you’d ever be the broke friends… maybe just the financially-conscious friend! ;)

  • I’ll admit, I don’t really talk to anyone (except my husband) about money – not friends, not family. We try to be a little bit open with our kids, because I don’t want them growing up to make the same mistakes I did (and still do make). But I know I make a lot more than most of the people I work with (I’m their manager), and I honestly think my finances are a bigger mess than most of theirs are.

    • Talking to your kids about money is huge. My dad talks to me about money everyday and it has drastically affected many of the decisions I have made in my life. If nothing else, keep that up!

  • I’m with the other commenters who just talk about money; quite often with my friends it starts a dialogue and more often than not, I learn something new. I have a handful of friends who are superb with money, and I actively seek out their advice and honesty.

    It’s worth mentioning, interestingly, that in the first season of SATC, Carrie has a credit card declined and an old friend steps in and saves the day, i.e., the purchase. The friend ends up being a “professional girlfriend” whose “friends” mistake Carrie for a prostitute. With that as a starting point, it’s no wonder they didn’t continue discussing money on the show.

  • I’m such a dork for asking you who wrote a post like this recently. I read it yesterday and apparently I already forgot that you wrote about it! I love SATC and I watch reruns all the time. I blame that show for getting me into shopping and shoes though, so it’s not a financially great show to watch!

    For me, talking with friends about money can be either good or bad.

    My best friend basically asks me for advice about money and when I tell her what I’m doing or what she could do to save more, she retreats and doesn’t like to hear it. So I can’t really talk about money with her.

    My other friend got me into saving and recommended a book, but she makes a LOT more than me and she probably doesn’t feel comfortable talking about how much she makes or what she buys around us.

    Others just have no clue about retirement or saving money, and when I talk about those topics, all I get are phrases like “you are such a grown up!” or “I am so bad at saving”… but I’m not sure if it means they want to hear more. :(

    • I’d just take being told you’re a grown up as a compliment and never stop sharing what you’re up to! If you attach an emotion to it, by saying some things are hard to do and start, it might make the topic and situation more relatable.

  • I would love to be able to talk to my friends/famiy about money. I think that I still feel uncomfortable about my debt/money situation, so that prevents me from talking about it a lot. Some of my friends are on a personal finance kick, but even then we mainly offer support and motivation. My other friends just don’t want to talk about it at all.

    • Support and motivation are much better than bias and judgment! I think it’s great that you can talk to some friends about money at all. :)

  • So true Cait! There are certain friends I can talk about money with and thank goodness for that! On the other hand, there are friends I’ve known for years and years and I would drop the fact that I was in debt because I just felt like it would be uncomfortable – although it really shouldn’t. Recently I had to opt out of a trip and I felt SO awkward telling my friend that it was because I needed to pay off my debt and couldn’t justify the expenditure. A friend that I’ve known for 18 years too!

    • I don’t think that’s anything to feel awkward about. It’s hard to say “no” to things at first, but I remember when I finally told people I couldn’t do things because I was paying off debt and most people’s replies were along the lines of, “I hear that!”

  • I’m all about talking about money with my friends…Some prefer to talk specific numbers, some would rather leave that out. By talking hard numbers with my friends and sharing information we have saved serious money! I am going back to school and had several conversations with my friends about just how they live on $400 a month (after fixed expenses). At the same time we were able to, with some number crunching over breakfast, get my friend out of a consolidation loan (at 14%), into my preferred debt method of a line of credit (at 5%). Breakfast finances ftw!

  • I’ve definitely noticed that friends (who read my blog) will make sure to tell me of their financial happenings (like paying off a loan, learning more about investing, other money improvements). I like talking about it (hence the blog!) and want people to be open to talking about it. I’m still trying really hard to convince both my sisters to open Roth IRAs (how many more blog posts do I have to write before they understand!?), but I do like talking about money.

    To be honest, the “last taboo” thing definitely depends on who you’re with. My mom will chat for hours about personal finance, but doesn’t want to think about sex, ever :P

    • Haha, that’s very true. My family talks about absolutely every topic imaginable, so there’s nothing that is taboo in our house… but I know lots of friends whose moms are like yours. ;)

  • I love S&TC, but it amazes me how unrealistic (especially Carrie) their spending is. I can only imagine the cc debt Carrie would have been in. Oh, and she was able to buy back her apt because she convinced Charlotte to sell her wedding ring (and made her feel guilty about it), which is a whole other personal finance blog (lending money to friends). I digress. I’m starting to talk more openly about money and spending with my friends, and I guess because I’m in more of a struggle (at least outwardly) than they are, they do appear uncomfortable. But just like S&TC, it seems no other subject is off limits. Not sure why that is.

    • Haha, I guess I was thinking about the SECOND time Carrie had to buy her apartment back; in the movie, after Big stood her up at the alter.

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