People Are Funny About Money: Part 2 of 2

Before I start this post, I have to first say that the comments on Part 1 of this series made me both sad and inspired. I haven’t had much time to reply, as I just got back from a trip to Vancouver, but I read everything via email while I was away and found each comment more surprising than the last.

Some of the thoughts for that post had been in the back of my mind for months. I’ve mentioned before how I think the world could be a much richer place if everyone was willing to talk about money. Based on your comments and some dialogue over Twitter, I absolutely believe that is true now. And while Sex and the City may have avoided the conversation altogether, HBO recently premiered a new show that is finally willing to go there. Big time.

At first glance, Girls seems to have an unoriginal plot. The show follows four early twenty-something women living and working in New York City. Wow, haven’t heard of that before, right? But the difference between Girls and basically anything else on television is that it shows what it’s really like to be a twenty-something. There are unpaid internships, cases of HPV and very questionable relationships. It’s all awkward. And what I love most: it shows that there is debt.

In fact, the first episode opened with a scene I imagine many millennials can relate to: the protagonist, Hannah, being financially cutoff from her parents. While not all twenty-something’s are subsidized by their families, there is a good chance many were given opportunities to live at home during school, etc. and there is always a conversation about when it’s time to finally move out. This is the beginning of Hannah’s adult life.

That episode had more realistic personal finance quotes than I can ever remember hearing on its older sister (SATC), including:

“Do you know how crazy the economy is right now? I mean, all my friends get help from their parents.”

“I went to college too. You know where it left me? I have fifty thousand dollars in student loans. That’s how deep in debt I am.”

“I have enough money to last 3.5 days. Maybe 7 if I don’t eat lunch.”

But the conversation didn’t stop there. Throughout the first four episodes are a number of mentions of debt, money, pay, work, etc. And what kills me is the amount of criticism this show is getting. Is it something to gawk at? Hell yes! Because it has been described as, “White girls, money, whining”? No. The girl who plays Hannah is also the creator of the show and she is starting a conversation. And it is a conversation worth having.

It should come as no surprise that comedies like Girls and 2 Broke Girls are on television right now. The economy’s (both the U.S. and Canada) have been rough and it is harder and harder for young people to find work. And while Girls is decidedly more realistic than 2 Broke Girls, both have received an unimaginable amount of criticism. So, again, I have to wonder…

Why are people so uncomfortable talking about money?

  • I think it may be because, traditionally, money have been equated with value. Traditionally, people with more money are seen as ‘better’ or ‘more successful’ than others.

    And since money is so quantifiable, it’s like assigning a numerical value to your worth. People with positive net worth having a much higher value than people with debt and negative net worth.

    It’s understandable, then, for people who are in debt, to want to hide this fact, or cover it up with flashy purchases that may throw friends and family off the scent.

    People are self conscious about everything else pertaining to success and value, money goes right along with it, but money is even more touchy because while you may be able to exaggerate the value of your home or car, you can’t exaggerate or diminish the value of your debt.

    Just a thought. Also, I’m definitely going to start watching Girls. I love HBO.

  • I think money – having it, earning it, managing it – is intrinsically associated with control and power. The concept of “having it all” is so thoroughly ingrained in all of us that it leads to desperation. How many times have each of us gotten deeper into debt because we believed that we “deserved” the nice thing that was out of reach – but the very act of purchasing that thing is what made you feel back in control, if only for 10 minutes? To admit that you have debt seems to be equated with admitting fundamental life failure, and this opens the door to so many other issues, i.e. my friends won’t respect me, I won’t be included in future outings etc., people will know I’m not as together as I seem.

    Paradoxically, it’s *talking* about debt that empowers us. As a group, we are perpetually shooting ourselves in the foot by turning away from the one thing that will help. We empower ourselves by saying “no” to unnecessary things, and seeing both ourselves and our goals with clarity.

    For me, I found that learning through personal finance blogs were essential to my joining the dialogue. It’s get the best of both worlds: admitting that we need help without having to wear a scarlet letter. So, to the bloggers and fellow readers out there, thank you! You have improved the quality of my life immeasurably.

  • Hmm, I know I was living a lifestyle I couldn’t afford so when money was brought up, I avoided the subject because it made me think. When I was younger, we were poor so I never brought up money. Now? Well, I talk about it a bit (okay maybe a bit more than that) but only with certain people. People in the PF community obviously and my boyfriend. Other than that, people get uncomfortable talking about it. And maybe that’s because they have some of the same thoughts/actions that I used to have.

    I know I don’t like talking about it with my ex sis-in-law because if she thinks I have money, she also thinks that I can send it to her to help with my nephews. And it’s nothing against my nephews because I love them but I don’t have the money to send out even though she thinks I’m “rich” (her words).

    Talking about debt? I used to be uncomfortable with it because of the first reason I gave and also because it showed my poor choices. I’m not comfortable with it now but I am realistic. I did do poor choices but I’m also fixing them now. So I’m semi-proud of myself.

  • It’s funny you mentioned Girls. You know, I wonder if there isn’t this cultural subset that says, it’s FUN and CHIC to be a disaster in money and romance in your 20s and 30s, because the alternative means you are boring and staid.. I read this really great article on The Billfold titled Girls and the Hot Mess: that talks about this phenomenon.

  • Hmmm, I haven’t seen this show yet (to be honest, I didn’t seek it out since I heard it was bad :P) but this is super interesting that people are FINALLY starting to talk about money.

    I didn’t comment on your last post but I find it absolutely unacceptable that those close to me not talk about money. To me, money is a way of life and, after knowing me and how I LOVE budgets and am relatively good with money, most of my friends either seek out my advice or are completely unsurprised when I ask about their spending habits/income over coffee :P

  • Honestly yes I think it’s uncomfortable talking about money, but for me it’s even more uncomfortable when other people start talking about money. Most of the time they are trying to one up you.

  • I really need to check out this show. Sounds like something I would really like. I am really into New Girl right now which shows young adults all living together as roommates. Honestly I only know what 2 of their occupations are… the other 2, they are broke, and I have no idea what they do! It’s nice to see how people make ends meet. I want to see shows about this stuff, but not reality shows. People need to learn to talk about money and be open about it. It’s nice to see your post about SATC juxtaposed with Girls. It shows how the world is evolving in terms of money. Honestly, in the past – people were hush hush about their debt and financial problems. Now that it’s so difficult to get by, people need to address these problems. Just like needing to talk to a psychiatrist if you have a mental problem, people should talk about their financial issues with each other – good or bad!

  • I’m still trying to figure out if I don’t like Girls or if I absolutely love it. I know that sounds strange but parts of it make me uncomfortable but I also know it’s great for me to think about some of the stuff it covers. Maybe I’m a prude?

    • Nope, I totally understand. I think I’m so fascinated by how brutally honest it is that I have to say I love it.

  • I always remember my grandma saying it wasn’t polite to talk about money in front of others. Given that she grew up during the Depression, I think she was very keenly aware that some people don’t have much in the way of money and that it wasn’t polite to talk about it in front of those who may not have much money. I don’t mind talking about money with my immediate family, but even with some of my friends, I’m a little hesitant to bring the subject up. Mostly because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.

    As for Girls, I HATED the show. I wanted to reach through the screen and give all those girls a shake – when the one through a temper tantrum in the restaurant with her parents, I almost turned it off. The other girls set my teeth on edge – I guess I just can’t relate. If I ever acted like that, I expect someone would step up and put me in my place pretty quickly.

  • The thing that makes me crazy about most shows that do talk about money is how BAD most people are with their money. They do something stupid, and it leaves me anxious for the rest of the episode.
    On “Happy Endings”, one episode made me crazy because they accidentally lose a huge wad of cash by giving it to the wrong person. Instead of explaining the situation, it spirals out of control. I was going nuts watching that episode. Though, another episode, a husband loses his job, but was still spending as if he had his bigtime job because he wasn’t sure how to tell his wife/was ashamed. Eventually he tells her, but in the meantime I was mad at the husband on the show!

    In general, most shows (think, SATC, but really, many other shows), the idea of money doesn’t really come up. As in, somehow everything works out, even with a low-paying job and a lavish lifestyle. Apparently before SATC was giving us unrealistic expectations about the lifestyle we could have, Baywatch was the big “financial lie” on TV. That somehow being a lifeguard, you earned enough money to afford a huge apartment and great clothes/food/etc.

    With 2 Broke Girls, at the end of each episode, they show how much money they’ve made in their “cupcake business account”. And for most episodes, it stays the same, or goes down. I understand that they aren’t making much money, but I find it frustrating (but maybe realistic? honestly, I have no idea how much you can save working in a diner and living in NYC). And then they do dumb things, like buy one of Johnny’s paintings, then punch/kick it (because Johnny’s a jerk). I thought, “what a waste!”

    I do like that they think about some of the “lifestyle deflation” options that Caroline has to deal with and learn about. Thrift store shopping, couponing, etc. But it never seems to get them anywhere. I guess that’s maybe how things actually happen. Slowly, changing habits will help over time.

    Okay, you’ve got me riled up about TV now. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about this!

  • I think people are uncomfortable with it because they are living it everyday. Thy want an escape from real life when watching tv not a reminder of how screwed up things are right now. That’s some people, not all. I like seeing people on tv facing real life problems. Makes us feel like we aren’t alone.

  • I haven’t heard of this show but it sounds like something I would like to check it. But I don’t think we get HBO in Canada…

  • I haven’t watched the show yet, but I’ve had conversations with friends that sounds exactly like that. People don’t tell about the glamourous life of being a broke graduate working an entry level job.

  • I think people don’t talk about money much because it’s essentially invisible. We can kinda ignore it and pretend that money problems don’t exist. We are bombarded with advertisements, everyday, with major corporations telling us how to live our lives, that people might buy into it (literally) when they cannot afford it. But since money problems isn’t something that is plastered on our forehead, we can sweep it under the rug and not address the problem, and no one would be any wiser.

  • I have no problem talking about money, or lack thereof. Mainly because it’s just easier to say “I can’t afford it” instead of trying to come up with some excuse not to join a girl’s night or something like that.

    Having said that I never ask any of my friends about their money situations. If they bring it up that’s one thing, but asking seems rude.

    I kind of wish some of them would though, especially if they are struggling or budgeting. Then I wouldn’t feel like the constantly broke friend!

  • Well, I’ve never seen the show, but I think one of the reasons they are getting criticized is because TV is supposed to provide “entertainment”… and if the show makes you think, it’s not dumb enough for current TV (I’m tired of TV that treats me like I’m stupid!).

    And yes, any show that gets the conversation going is doing something good.

  • Roseanne, was another show that talked about money. And featured a working class family. It aired at a time when the economy was also down. It was criticized for being too realistic and a downer by some. It was one of the first sitcoms to really relate to the average family, though.

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