Money Taboo (or why people would rather share their sexual escapades than talk about money)

Money Taboo Social Media
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Not long ago, my wife asked me if she could share on her Facebook thread that we’ve paid off the house. My knee jerk reaction was a big N-O! Money is supposed to be taboo— people would rather share their sexual escapades than talk about money.

Along with sex, religion, and politics, having a conversation about money is seen as crass, rude, tasteless, or inappropriate.

For accountability and transparency, I’ve been sharing a lot of our financial details here in which we’re semi-anonymous. After all, this is a personal finance blog. But never on our Facebook thread where we have mutual friends we see in person.

This led me to think about why money is such a taboo topic in today’s society.

You’ll be seen as a walking ATM machine

Sharing how much you make can have disastrous consequences. It’s like an open invitation for broke family and friends to ask for money, and lending to them is never a good idea. The relationship always ends up strained, or worst, destroyed.

Many of us have had bad experiences with loaning people we have good relationships with at some point in our lives. I once lent to someone whom I thought was my friend. He promised to pay me back on payday. Payday came, and went, he was nowhere to be found. It became clear that he has been avoiding me.

For the same reason, many lottery winners want to stay anonymous— the number of distant relatives and close friends can double overnight. It’s no wonder, 70% of lottery winners go broke within a few years. That is if you don’t wind up dead.

Take, for example, the case of a Florida man who disappeared after winning $31 million in the lottery. His body was found years later under a concrete slab. The primary suspect was a woman who had befriended him after his big win and “fleeced him of $1.8 million.”

The fear of becoming a target by parasitic friends and relatives is why many people in the Financial Independence community embrace the concept of “stealth wealth”. You might see one drive an eight-year-old Toyota Corolla but stashed a few millions in the bank.

You were taught that money is evil

In Filipino culture, you can be easily labeled as mukhang pera (obsessed with money) if you often talk about your finances. It doesn’t matter that money is ubiquitous. As long as you have food on the table and a roof above your head, you’re not supposed to worry about money— God will always provide.

As a young Catholic kid, I often hear the following Bible verse recited in church service:

“Again, I tell you this. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24

I remember thinking, I don’t want to be rich— it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to go to heaven. You’re going to burn in hell because you have lots of money!

Of course, I know better now. The verse is often taken out of context. Jesus was talking about greed or the love of money, which is the root of all evil. Nobody can serve two masters.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is getting richer investing in the stock market, while millions of Filipinos continue to starve.

What is a well lived life?

Money shame and embarrassment

People who have not managed their finances well or are ignorant about money don’t want to talk about it due to shame and embarrassment.

According to this New York Post article, “People may be reluctant to talk about money because they are ashamed that they haven’t saved enough, or that they don’t know much about personal finance and so they don’t want to ask ‘dumb’ questions.”

For many people, success is measured by how much money you have more than what you have contributed to society. It’s sad because the way you choose to measure your worth will influence the kind of life you’ll live.

Not only will you feel like crap if you rely on your financial position to feel good about yourself, but it can also discourage you from making positive changes. Hence, many people fall into the debt trap trying to look wealthy.

Your employer asked you to shut up

When my parents bought a brand new car in the ’90s, my mom asked me not to tell the vehicle was bought with cash. She didn’t want to give our household helpers the impression they have plenty of money. It’s not that mom was stingy— she’s just afraid they might all ask for a raise.

Here in the U.S., many companies discourage or prohibit their employees from discussing compensation to the detriment of employees receiving lower than average pay. Keeps women, people of color, and other minorities from complaining because it’s harder to learn their true worth.

Many years ago, I had a Greek coworker who kept asking me, point-blank, how much I make. I told him he’s rude. “It’s not, where I’m from,” he explained. But when I finally told him, I immediately saw the look of jealousy in his face.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is why I don’t want to know how much my peers make and will never ask.

But go ahead, click that share button!

There are many pros and cons of talking to others about your money. Mostly cons, but let’s face it— we live in a society governed by money. There’s just too many lessons that we can learn from each other by simply being open with our finances.

“My friends can share that they’ve bought a new car, but I can’t share that we’ve paid off our mortgage??” my wife protested.

“Okay. Okay. But make sure you tag me,” I replied.

I eventually relented. We all need to celebrate our victories. It boosts our well-being and allows us to express gratitude.

Besides, you don’t know whose life you’re going to inspire or change.

Wow! Good job Menard. What a milestone. It must feel nice to no longer be tethered to debt.

As a Filipina living here in the Philippines, it was difficult to snap out of the deeply-ingrained “money is evil” and talking about it is wrong mentality. My parents eventually came around but I still have lots of aunties who keep mum about money and their struggles with managing it.

Thank you, George. Felt really great especially during challenging times like this. People back home just don’t talk a lot about money— that is until someone asks you for some.

I can only imagine that feeling of no mortgage payment! It is funny how we all handle money as if it some are flaunting it. I disagree with that perspective, as I see money as a tool.

However, I completely agree with not allowing others know your true monetary status. Unfortunately, people take advantage of others. This is especially true when the person is nice and cares for others. That is the way the world turns though.

The same effect occurred between a coworker/friend and myself while I worked in NY. I told him how much I was making just before I moved back home. Apparently he was making much less. This sparked something inside of him. He ended up moving on shortly after I left to a better paid position, so I guess you can say it helped him out in the long run?

It certainly helps to ask around to know your true value, but only if you have the temperament– jealousy can affect your performance at work. Good for him. Jumping ship is the only way some people can get a raise.

This is late, but congrats on paying off your mortgage! What a milestone! I’m from the Philippines myself and I can relate to all of the points above, especially the one about being seen as a walking ATM machine. As I’ve once heard Mr. Chinkee Tan place it, “Money is very relative. The more money you have the more relatives you have.”

Personally, I haven’t had relatives borrow money from me since I have family members who are a lot more well-off, but I’ve had friends and officemates borrow anywhere from 2k to upwards of 70k and take their sweet time (1yr+) in returning it. Seeing their lofty lifestyles on social media while owing me money made me lose some respect for them that I otherwise wouldn’t have, so now I’m a lot more careful about how much spare cash I let those around me think I have.

Thanks, Nat. You raised a really good point about respect— something you could lose if you borrow irresponsibly even if you eventually able to pay it back. Glad to hear from a fellow Pinoy blogging about money. There’s just too few of us in this space; we’re like unicorns 🙂

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