Taking the “taboo” out of Money
How to remove the stigma of poverty
Growing up, talking about money was taboo. No one discussed how much they made, how much big things cost, or whether or not you could afford something. Not being able to afford something was a given, but was embarrassing to admit. This was something that was passed on to my friends and I. I remember whispering amongst ourselves when an expensive extracurricular trip was offered in school. One girl turned red as she whispered, “My parent’s probably can’t pay for that”. We all stared at her awkwardly. We had nothing to say. We had no clue what to respond to that terrible admission. Never mind that my parents couldn’t afford something like that either. Never mind that, in retrospect, it would have been a struggle for many of my friend’s parents to pay for that type of trip either.
It was considered “socially-off” to actually ADMIT something like that. The words “I can’t afford it” were one of the most embarrassing things to say. Why? My guess is that my parents and their friends very much considered “struggling” to be shameful. A personal failure. Something that reflected badly on them as individuals. Not having enough money or even choosing to be frugal as looked down upon.
Fast forward and I am an adult and I am newly unemployed.
Money is tight and my husband and I are desperately trying to stay within our means and not go into debt.
My friend and I were brainstorming something to do on the endless Sundays with our kids. Her ideas all had some dollar price attached. Even her “cheap” ideas cost some money. I was about to agree to her plan when I realized how idiotic that would be. Was I agreeing to do something that I couldn’t afford just because I was too embarrassed to say that? Why was I so scared to say that money was tight and I didn’t want to spend money? Why should I spend money that I don’t have just because I was too embarrassed to admit that money was tight? Was I so scared of her reaction that I couldn’t share with a close friend that I didn’t have extra money to spend?
I took a deep breath.
“I would like to do something free” I said.
“No problem” she responded, “Should we check out this new playground I heard about?”
It was not as bad as I thought it would be!
That was it. It was not as embarrassing as I thought it would be. I was so used to conflating my money or lack thereof with my own self-worth- as if it was my fault that I was unemployed (newsflash: it wasn’t). I was projecting my own securities onto my friends and imagining what their reactions would be. Luckily, most of my friends had grown up and had come to the same realization that I did. Lack of money or frugality does not need to be a topic that can’t be discussed.
Once it was “out in the open” the conversations started. I realized that there were so many people who were in the same situation that I was in. So many of us were struggling. So many of us were doing our best to lead budgeted lives. So many of us were nervous about money. So many of us were anxious about our financial security. Once we realized that we were in the same boat, we were able to support each other. Share tips, recipes, and encouragement.
When we are raised that money shouldn’t be discussed, that not having money is some sort of personal failure, a moral failing or stain on our character , then we are depriving ourselves of an environment where we can share and be supported in our struggles or our goals.
How should I approach the topic of money
with my friends?
There is no need to bring up the topic unless you want to or need to. Don’t force people to share things with you that they would rather not share. Not everyone wants to be open or forthcoming about their finances, and that is their right. But you can talk about money in a way to remove the stigma of poverty.
- Do make sure to create an open and non-judgmental atmosphere when it comes to money.
- Don’t mock or pressure others into spending money that they don’t want to.
- Take the words “cheap” and “mean” out of your vocabulary.
- Respect others spending limits.
- Don’t commit someone to an amount of money before speaking to them.