Growing up, a lot of my requests for video games and gadgets (not to forget, the expensive football boots in my early teens) were almost always greeted with a response along the lines of “we can’t afford this!” or “that’ll blow a hole in our budget!” by my parents.
However, I was never told what this budget really was. I never understood why, even though I secretly hoped we were billionaires and they just didn’t want me to be callous with money. I always thought that having this information would help me set realistic expectations on what I could expect from this life, at least financially. I soon realised that people, including my own parents, didn’t particularly like talking about this with their kids, or anyone else for that matter.
As I grew up and learnt about class, caste, social structures, I realised that money (and, anything that depicts it) is the central theme that these concepts revolve around. And, of course, people aren’t going to talk about the most important things, right?
Among the many taboos that exist in society, the one around money is an interesting one that’s not touched upon as often.
Mostly, because it doesn’t have a direct, visible impact on a specific group of people. While the taboo generally seems to have a negative effect on our money management abilities, having a conversation or two about it seems to be the obvious solution. However, the general perception of money makes this a somewhat awkward topic to broach, even with close, trusted relationships.
What if I make less than my best friends? What if I make more? Will it affect our relationship in any way? Will they judge me if they find out I spent 500 bucks on a banana shaped hat?
As I set out to learn more about this phenomenon, I realised that this taboo took different forms for everyone. And for some, it didn’t exist. A close colleague at work seems to have never experienced this issue with her family, as they discuss their finances and associated experiences with greater transparency. On the other hand, most of my other friends seem to have gotten the general “don’t you worry about it, let the adults handle it” response to any money related question or conversation.
Why is talking about money with our friends and family an uncomfortable issue? Do we subconsciously associate money with value or self-worth? Why do we do that?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But for what it’s worth, I can tell you there’s definitely a hint (maybe more) of self doubt that creeps in when all your best friends get those fat pay-checks right out of college and you get peanuts in comparison.
That said, I quickly realised (luckily) that such outcomes are mostly a function of skills, circumstances, and luck. But the journey to realise that the money you have (or not) isn’t an indicator of your self-worth took a while longer, one that included navigating through a complex maze of societal norms, expectations, world-views, as well as self-esteem and self-acceptance issues.
While this dialogue has the potential to morph into a slightly different “we-should-tear-down-the-capitalist-system” type conversation, I think there is some merit in holding onto this train of thought to better understand our individual and collective views of money through introspection and safe, empathetic conversations on this topic.
Breaking deep-rooted taboos like these is not an overnight task, but one that requires constant dialogue. We plan on continuing this dialogue by writing about our learnings, talking to people and learning from their experiences and perspectives.
I’d love to start one with you — how do you think and feel about money? What holds you back from talking about it with your loved ones? Reach me in the comments below or hit me up on Instagram, Twitter, or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) — I’d love to chat.
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