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How talking about money is like French kissing

Talking about money is like kissing.

Members of my family would sooner discuss genital warts than my income or investments.

And to be honest, like most Brits I find something admirable in this.

Talking about money all day gets dull and weaselly. Swapping business ideas or debating undervalued stocks over a few beers is my idea of fun, but even I don’t ask my friend if he can really afford the next round of drinks.

Tell people you dream of owning a Ferrari dealership in every city and you’re a potential Richard Branson. Say you want to buy a Ferrari out of your spare change, and you’re an evil, money-grabbing maniac, who’s no better than an… American!1

Yet in truth there’s a huge price we British pay for our national reticence about money – whether you’re at the bottom of the ladder struggling with debt, or further up and ready to take your wealth to the next level.

Talking about money can save your life

For too many spouses, the first time they hear about their partner’s mounting debts is when they become so big they threaten to bankrupt the family.

How can a partnership as supposedly intimate as marriage be oblivious to such a secret? It’s because our reluctance to discuss money means the problem grows hidden rather than being aired and hopefully solved.

Ironically, the conversation that follows a full revelation can bring a drifting couple back together. The other party sees that the unspoken money issues had created the distance between them; it wasn’t a lack of love but a fear of debt that was driving them apart.

How silly! What a worthless thing money is compared to love! What a ridiculous thing to split up a marriage!

Controversial, you say?

I’ll say it again:

What a worthless thing money is compared to love.

Money is just a tool. It’s a vital tool, certainly, and Monevator is about handling it expertly, so that it works for you rather than against you.

But money is just a means to an end.

Wealth is a way to enjoy a richer life. In contrast, a life rich in money but nothing else is poorer than that of a developing world farmer surrounded by laughing friends and family, provided he has access to decent food, health, and water. Just ask anyone who’s traveled widely.

We should speak about money when it threatens to overwhelm us. We should share our dreads, take the sting out of money, and figure out how to overcome cashflow problems as if they were no more emotionally-charged than mending a fence or choosing a restaurant.

Easier said then done, but that should be our aim.

You can talk yourself rich

I said an aversion to discussing money could also harm the wealthy.

This works in two ways.

Firstly, if you avoid sharing your ambitions about money, your brain could well interpret money as something to be ashamed of, and you’re unlikely to commit wholeheartedly to becoming rich.

Rock stars, great athletes, models – few were shy about revealing their ambitions before they achieved them. Saying they’d get there over and over helped them believe it, and they needed that belief to make it.

It’s often the same with the self-made rich, whether they’re famous entrepreneurs, or more modest Millionaires Next Door.

Secondly, nobody wastes money like the moderately well-off.

The rich may buy fancy watches and take holidays in the Virgin Islands, but as a rule they didn’t become wealthy by spending all their spare income on hedonism.

Such ostentatious outgoings are typically just a fraction of their overall wealth. Most money goes back into their businesses and investments, or else into unseen assets like property, art, furniture and their children.

In contrast, middle-class families can fall into a spending cycle that sees them seesawing in and out of the red. Yet should anyone close to them get qualms about their spending, the fear of discussing money – the knowledge that even bringing it up will cause an emotional row – holds their tongue.

Who knows? Your partner may be thinking exactly the same thing as you, but is equally afraid to say it.

You may both be longing for a more stable, less Keeping Up with the Jones’ driven lifestyle, but instead you could struggle with your finances into your old age out of fear of a conversation.

Money talks, bullshit walks

Don’t be afraid of talking about money, if you want to have any.

I’m not saying you need to grab your postman or your kids’ schoolteachers and tear their ear off about the joys of compound interest.

But among the significant people in your life – immediate family, key friends on the same ‘money wavelength’, and perhaps even your boss or certain work colleagues – money should be no more a taboo subject than sports or politics.

Don’t push it. Not everyone is on the same path as you, and it’s hard enough to change your own thinking, let alone your friends’ attitude towards money.

If you’re in a relationship then I think you need to be able to talk about money sensibly and straightforwardly with your partner. For me, that’s non-negotiable if I’m to avoid problems further down the line.

Friends and especially colleagues are another matter, and you need to be sensitive here.

Try bringing up the subject a few times, one-to-one with a trusted friend. Mention investing in one conversation, your hopes for your retirement income another. Maybe try bringing up debt, in as neutral a manner as possible, and see what they say.

Ideally, your friend will pick up the baton and you’ll have a new ally in your quest to become good with money. You can swap ideas, gee each other along when times are tough, and enjoy each others’ success.

However if your friend is resistant, don’t push it if you value your friendship.

There’s much more to life than money, and friends for all sorts of roles. You have to accept this friend isn’t going to be on your team when it comes to financial matters. If he or she starts ranting about the ‘lucky rich’ or bemoaning a lousy salary and generally being negative, tune it out and think about your share portfolio.

Your friend will soon take the hint and assume you’re another of the millions who doesn’t like to talk about money. The conversation will turn to football or gossip about some starlet. No harm done.

Pucker up!

One final point – when you’re comfortable talking about money, I believe you’ll encounter more opportunities to make it.

This isn’t some mystical mantra. It’s common sense.

If you can talk about money without judging the other person or getting emotional, successful people will be more than happy to chat to you about it. You’ll discover new business opportunities, new perspectives on investment, and you’ll become accustomed to living in a world where money is seen as a positive thing, rather than a problem or dread secret.

Ultimately, talking about money is like kissing. Don’t overdo it, and don’t shove it down other people’s throats, but enjoy it when you get the chance. And never be ashamed of it if you’re doing it properly.

  1. Important note to my US readers. Some of my best friends are American! I am merely discussing a national caricature. Blame television. []

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • 1 Forest August 28, 2012, 12:36 pm

    What a brilliant post! I know my partner and I understood and were open about money from day 1. So it’s never really caused any issues. She is American, I a Brit.

    I know exactly what you are saying about the uk. It’s that trait many have to keep calm and carry on, aka pretend everything is ok when it isn’t!

  • 2 Neverland August 28, 2012, 2:28 pm


    I bet £50 that there is no Mrs investor 🙂

  • 3 Steve August 28, 2012, 2:56 pm

    Very true! I became a convert to looking after my own finances about 15 years ago when I discovered the Motley fool website. I had a large gap in pension contributions and thought that maybe I should find out what a ‘pension’ really was!
    It can be sooo frustrating though. Talk about investments, asset allocation, pensions etc to someone and just watch their eyes glaze over. Maybe the problem is education. The ignorance about the banking system and pensions is downright terrifying.

  • 4 Mr. Money Mustache August 28, 2012, 4:30 pm

    I was intrigued by this quote:

    “For too many spouses, the first time they hear about their partner’s mounting debts is when they become so big they threaten to bankrupt the family.”

    Do people really have relationships like this? That sounds pretty scary. In my household, we actually make a point of running any purchase over $10 past the partner, just to see if we can talk each other out of it.

    It’s a nice motivator, because you’ll often be challenged to get better at something.

    “You want a new computer because WHY? Your video games run too slowly? Oh, poor baby. But congratulations nonetheless; if ‘play more video games’ really has reached the top of your to-do list, than I bow to you for running your life so efficiently and you really do deserve that new computer!”

    Ok, maybe my wife doesn’t actually taunt me like that, but that’s the voice that plays in my own head when an over $10 expenditure comes up. 😉

  • 5 david stuart August 28, 2012, 4:47 pm

    is buying a penny share equivalent of hiring a prostitute

    most of the time its a quick loss

  • 6 Cécile August 28, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Great post !
    In France we don’t talk much about money either… but I also think we get a lot less in debt. Money talk with friends is taboo, almost as much as religion !
    I always feel awkward talking about money with my bf. The only thing I know is that he has no debt and is happy that is stash is increasing. That’s good enough so far 😉

  • 7 The Investor August 28, 2012, 5:10 pm

    @Mr Money Mustache — They definitely do I’m sad to say. The article I link to above under ‘partner’s mounted debts’ provides some just released stats on the matter here in the UK. I’ve also seen it happen in real life. Most of all, I was once pretty active in an online financial community that among other things had a ‘sort out your debts’ forum — sort of a cross between The Samaritans and a Citizen’s Advice bureau.

    Once every fortnight or so someone would come along with what seemed insurmountable debts (several tens of thousands ahead of any assets, and often a multiple of income) but worst of all further prompting would reveal they hadn’t told their partner, which was often the worst part.

    I haven’t any hard scientific evidence, but it often seemed that bringing it up with the partner got things moving in the same direction. I was surprised, frankly, how forgiving a husband or wife could be. I’m sure sometimes they regretted it, but I saw examples to where the situation was eventually resolved and the marriage/partnership kept intact.

    This was before the credit crunch when everyone had to (apparently) be seen spending and not scrimping, so perhaps people would be more honest now, but I doubt it.

    @Neverland — Yeah, you’re right. 🙂 There have been several significant +1s over the years though, and I’m pleased to say they usually left in a much better financial state than they arrived. (I glowed with pride when one ex girlfriend from a fair time ago revealed to me her housing plans and significant deposit the other day. She used to be overdrawn every month!)

    @Forest @Steve — Thanks for your comments. (I’m still thinking over @David Stuart’s… 😉 )

  • 8 The Investor August 28, 2012, 8:41 pm

    @Cécile — Yep, a man with a healthy growing stash cannot be under-estimated. Even more so a woman! 😉

  • 9 Alex August 28, 2012, 9:38 pm

    Interesting post. But is that you in the photo?

  • 10 Julie at Nutmeg August 29, 2012, 10:29 am

    Great headline! I like that this post is really relevant to people of all income and wealth levels.

  • 11 dean August 30, 2012, 4:45 am

    Come and live in Cambodia, everybody loves talking about money here!! Having it, not having it, trying to get it, all very popular subjects of conversation. And now that the Cambodian Stock Exchanged (CSX) has arrived with a grand total of 5 listed companies we can take the money conversations to the next level.

  • 12 The Investor August 30, 2012, 7:45 am

    @dean — Have to admit that sounds ghastly. I think it’s good to not to be secretive about money, and to air problems and aspirations. But as an endless topic of conversation — eek!

  • 13 Willem de Leeuw September 1, 2012, 12:35 pm

    At the risk of misremembering, my mother had a saying along the lines of, “when money goes out the window, love walks out the door” which I thought was good for summing up the strains money problems can put on a relationship.

    P.s. why refer to yourself as a “Brit”? It’s such an ugly word. What’s wrong with “Briton”?

  • 14 The Investor September 1, 2012, 8:23 pm

    @Willem — Yes, I agree it’s a bit of a grim word but it’s established in the lexicon now I fear. To me, Briton is attractive but sounds somewhat Shakespearean (no bad thing in Shakespeare, of course!)

  • 15 Ash @ Sterling Effort September 2, 2012, 8:41 pm

    I just wanted to say that I loved this. Even all the comments are epic! I think it’s a massive cultural shortfall to refrain from discussing money matters. Hopefully it’s a generational thing and our society on the whole is becoming slightly more open with discussion of money matters.

  • 16 Dan September 7, 2012, 10:33 am

    Completely agree with Ash on this. The comments are on par with the article itself!

    I myself talk about money quite openly, I mean, it is my job after all to talk about this kind of thing. I guess when you work in the finance sector, like I do, you end up being happier to talk about your money with the people around you.

    I’ve been discussing so much with my partner over the last few months when it comes to finance as we’re planning to move to Australia.

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