Welcome to 2019, where virtually no topic is off limits. We openly chat (or debate) with our friends, family members, coworkers, and social media followers about politics, gender identity, drugs, politics, you name it. But, despite this culture of sharing, we’re still not in a good place to talk about our relationships with money. That can—and should—change.
To better understand why money is such a taboo topic of conversation in the first place, I spoke with Bola Sokunbi—Certified Financial Education Instructor; money expert; and the CEO, best-selling author, and founder of Clever Girl Finance. Clever Girl Finance is a digital resource that educates, informs, and empowers women to make smart financial decisions.
Money is a Different Kind of Taboo
“Money is a measure of who you are.”
When compared to other once-taboo topics like politics or drugs, money stands out as the one thing none of us can live without—affecting every aspect of our lives. We earn, spend, save, and think about money every day in the forms of income, living expenses, shopping, food/drinks, student loans, debt, retirement, etc.
“Money automatically puts you into a category,” says Sokunbi. It’s “associated with people’s status and what others think they’re perceived to be.” Societally speaking, money—how much you make, how you make it, and what you do (or don’t do) with it—is a measure of who you are.
What Happens When We Don’t Talk About Money
When we have questions about money or find ourselves in trouble with it, many of us have a hard enough time admitting to ourselves that we need help—let alone asking someone else for advice. We feel shame and embarrassment. We think we’re stupid and “bad with money.”
And so we find like-minded people and take comfort in what we want to hear. We complain about our credit card bills to friends we know also have multiple lines of credit. And we tell each other lies like, “everyone’s meant to be in debt” or “you can never pay off debt.” Then we continue to make bad decisions, leading us down paths to bankruptcy or mental health issues.
Why Women Have a Harder Time Talking About Money
Women, in particular, tend to have a harder time talking about money with friends and family—and history may be largely to blame. Here’s the thing: “Women are coming into a space where our mothers and grandmothers couldn’t do things without husbands,” says Sokunbi. It’s only been a couple of generations since women were truly given opportunities to become financially independent.
When it came to financial decisions, the women who came before us were either excluded entirely or not afforded the same rights and opportunities. It’s only been 80 years since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a federal minimum wage that leveled the playing field for men and women—but only for hourly jobs. It took another 25 years for the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to make it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work. And there’s still a long way to go in the battle for wage equality.
“Money was not a conversation women had with their children because they were not participants in these scenarios.”
It’s not just income, though; it’s spending power and financial independence. Until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, women couldn’t open a line of credit or borrow money without bringing a man along. That’s less than 50 years ago! Your mom or grandma couldn’t buy a house or finance a car or apply for a credit card without her husband or dad or someone vouching for her.
It’s no wonder that many of us didn’t grow up talking to our mothers or other female relatives about finances. “Money was not a conversation [women] had with their children because they were not participants in these scenarios,” says Sokunbi. And that kind of discretion gets passed down from generation to generation because people are more comfortable talking about what they know.
We’re now “in this space where we have the opportunity to change the narrative,” Sokunbi says. “The dynamic of the household has changed so much. Women are breadwinners. They’re graduating college. They’re starting businesses.”
How to Change the Financial Narrative in Your Life
It’s time for us to insert ourselves into financial discussions. To have the conversations the women in generations past weren’t allowed to have. To educate ourselves and teach future generations how to earn, spend, save, and invest.
“It’s all about the approach,” says Sokunbi. “Make sure it’s a dialogue and not a battle.” Whether you’re the one asking for advice or giving it, the best thing you can do is go in with the goal of education—teaching or learning something about finance.
If you’re not yet comfortable with discussing money with someone in your life or you aren’t sure who that right person may be yet, there are plenty of free online resources available to you.
“What’s more important is that you find what works for you, make the effort to learn, and actually leverage what you learn.”
Clever Girl Finance is, of course, a great resource. You can access blogs written by Sokunbi and her team of financial experts, sign up for courses on specialized areas like building your savings or starting a business, listen to the podcast, or read Sokunbi’s new book (also called Clever Girl Finance).
Sokunbi also recommends checking out YouTube if you have a specific money-related question. Just be sure to do a little bit of research on the video’s creator/host—not everyone doling out financial advice on the internet should actually be doing so.
“There is no lack of resources,” says Sokunbi. “What’s more important is that you find what works for you, make the effort to learn, and actually leverage what you learn.”