Why Is Talking About Money More Taboo Than Sex?

It seems like many people think that talking about money is more taboo than talking about sex or politics. Recently, I was on Facebook and someone I know asked their friends how much money they were saving each month. It seemed like a pretty harmless question. They explained that they were asking for real numbers…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: March 18, 2022

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It seems like many people think that talking about money is more taboo than talking about sex or politics.

Recently, I was on Facebook and someone I know asked their friends how much money they were saving each month. It seemed like a pretty harmless question.

They explained that they were asking for real numbers because they just began saving and simply wanted to talk with others about saving money.

Then, someone commented with something like, “Sharing actual numbers is disgusting. Use percentages, if you must.”

The conversation continued, others chimed in, and it became clear that openly talking about money made some people pretty angry. There was an overwhelming amount of people who said the whole conversation was tacky and that money should not be discussed, EVER.

Why does talking about money have to be so secretive? Is it really that tacky?

Having a financial blog means I get some interesting emails about this sort of thing, some from people who think it’s crazy that I publish income reports and talk about money so openly. So, I’m very aware of the stigma that comes with talking about money.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by Ally Bank, 70% of Americans think that it’s rude to talk about money. Respondents said they were more likely to disclose their income (39%) over savings (30%) or debt (29%) to family and friends.

And, it doesn’t end there. People don’t like to talk about how much they pay in rent, their monthly mortgage payment, or even how much they spend on internet service.

Why does your internet bill have to be secretive?

Talking about money is even seen as taboo among close family members, even among married couples. According to a survey done by Fidelity, 43% of respondents don’t know how much their partner earns, and 36% are unaware of the amount they have invested.

Here’s one last interesting study that I’d like to bring up, University College London found that people were seven times more likely to talk to a stranger about sex, affairs, and sexually transmitted diseases than discussing their salary.

You’d tell a stranger that you have an STD rather than tell them how much you make?

This is just crazy!

I think we should all be more open about money. Money is a topic that influences all of our lives, whether we want to believe it or not.

Related:

Here is why more people should start talking about money.

 

Talking about money can help you.

If you are someone that feels money talk is taboo, then it may be difficult to understand how openly talking about money can really help you out. If you aren’t talking about money, you may not know:

  • How much of a raise to ask for.
  • How to negotiate for the best salary.
  • The average selling price for houses.
  • What you should be paying in rent.
  • Whether or not your expenses (utilities, phone, insurance, etc.) are normal or unusually high.

And, more than anything, without talking about money, it would be hard to realize that you need to improve your financial situation.

Many people don’t like talking about money because it becomes “too real.” They may even feel shame about their financial mistakes, or they may feel that they aren’t doing as well as others.

Well, you’re never going to do any better if you aren’t aware of your financial situation.

Being in the dark isn’t going to help anyone. It might actually hold you back because you’re just taking a random guess at everything.

However, if you know things like the average salary for a person in your position, you’ll be able to use that information to your benefit. It can help you negotiate a raise and start earning more.

Also, by knowing how much a person is paying for rent or even car insurance, you’ll know if you are paying too much. This can help you make changes that will allow you to start saving more money.

The list goes on and on.

Knowledge is power, and knowing more about money will help you!

 

Knowing your family’s finances is important.

If you take anything out of this article, it should be that fully understanding your family’s financial situation is a must.

There are many financial horror stories where one spouse doesn’t realize the other has hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Or, one spouse thinks the family is financially sound, when in reality, the truth is the exact opposite.

I’ve heard so many people say that they have no idea what their monthly mortgage or rent payment is, they don’t know how much they are putting towards retirement, and so on.

Even more shocking, some are completely unaware of how much debt they have and can’t even estimate how much they owe. Or, if they do make a guess, their spouse blurts out how wrong they are.

Sadly, this is surprisingly common.

A family who has regular money talks and budget meetings is more likely to be financially successful and happier than a family that doesn’t.

There are many ways for these talks to help you and your family.

  • You can work together and succeed. If you are both putting effort towards your financial goals, you can tackle them as a team and are much more likely to have a positive outcome.
  • A lack of money communication can lead to financial infidelity. According to an article on Forbes, 20% of those in the U.S. keep financial secrets, and 7% of people between the ages of 18-49 have a secret bank account or a secret credit card they keep from their partner.
  • Knowing your financial situation will help you keep a budget. Understanding your financial situation means you can create and keep a budget that works for you. You will know more about the amount of money you are spending, whether you are living paycheck to paycheck, and more.
  • Being aware may prevent everything from falling on one person. Everyone should be aware of their financial situation. It’s not fair for one person to manage it all, and you would be in for a rude awakening if something were to happen to that person.
  • Being involved can help you with your family’s goals. It would be quite difficult for a person to work towards their family’s financial goals if they weren’t aware of their financial situation. Being involved can help keep you motivated and know what’s going on.
  • Regular money talks can lead to less fighting. When you are open about money in your relationship, you are less likely to have financial surprises and money fights. This is because conducting regular money talks and budget meetings means you will both be aware of what’s going on.

Recommended reading: Family Budget Meetings – Yes, You Need To Have Them

 

Talking about money doesn’t have to be awkward.

You shouldn’t be afraid to have money talks with friends and family. It doesn’t have to be awkward, and you can talk about money in a way that helps everyone.

Here are a few suggestions for talking about money with your family and friends:

  • Talk about your financial goals and why you want to reach them.
  • Share how much debt you have and how you’re trying to change it.
  • If you know a great way to save money, share it with others.
  • Brainstorm ideas for making more money.

There are many ways you can start talking about money with others in your life, and it can really help out everyone involved.

How does talking about money make you feel? Is talking about money taboo? Should it be?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Talking about money does not make me uncomfortable but you are right that many people think that the money topic is a private issue. I think people need to have open conversations about money, especially spouses. Talking about money openly can help teach the younger generation to be wise with money.

    1. Counting Quarters

      I was at work the other day and one of my coworkers peeked over his desk and prefaced a question with “if it makes you uncomfortable or if you don’t want to answer just ignore me”. He then went on to ask how much my mortgage payment was and how I budgeted around it.

      It turned out to be a great conversation especially since we are similar in age and income. Since then we have had a few more conversations along the same lines and it has been really enjoyable talking freely.

      1. That sounds like a nice conversation πŸ™‚ I enjoy when people feel comfortable enough to have those types of convos.

    2. Counting Quarters

      I was at work the other day and one of my coworkers peeked over his desk and prefaced a question with “if it makes you uncomfortable or if you don’t want to answer just ignore me”. He then went on to ask how much my mortgage payment was and how I budgeted around it.

      It turned out to be a great conversation especially since we are similar in age and income. Since then we have had a few more conversations along the same lines and it has been really enjoyable talking freely.

    3. I agree Nicole! Talking about money can help everyone feel more comfortable as well as smarter about it.

  2. Jasmine

    I totally understand where you are coming from. I live in Finland and here it’s a known fact that you should NEVER EVER ask anyone about money or their financial situation. Though I don’t quite understand since I myself am pretty open about where my money goes…

    1. So interesting to hear about how it’s like around the world!

  3. FIbythecommonguy

    I don’t understand why, but agree that others see the topic being off limits and awkward. There are some friends that we can discuss this with, others we can discuss but not actual numbers, as mentioned above %, general numbers, and others I wouldn’t/haven’t ever bring the topic up knowing what the results would be.

  4. This is a great point, and so true!

    Even as a money blogger I’m uneasy about sharing my online income, even though I get so much inspiration from your reports and other bloggers – it’s just about how people you already know will view you I guess.

    Talking about money is so important though – for me, even just talking more to others about creating more streams of income and cutting down my spending has opened up so many conversations!

  5. Yes, I agree that a conversation about finances can help you in the long run. A lot of things revolve around money and how you spend it. Yes knowledge is power. Thank you for this helpful post. As far as growing this blog, what challenges did you run into? I remember a post about you saving money and paying off debt. What were some of the challenges as far as that goes? Thank you in advance for your response.

    1. I recommend looking at my monthly income reports where I talk about everything related to growing this blog πŸ™‚ https://www.makingsenseofcents.com/category/business-income

  6. Talking about your money goals is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Sharing a goal with a trusted friend is one of THE BEST ways to actually achieve that goal. For some reason it creates a higher sense of purpose/accountability.

    That being said, I get why people don’t talk about their finances. It makes people awkward. It makes people feel resentful if they’re saving/earning less. It makes people feel awkward if they’re saving/earning more.

    I try not to talk about specifics but I do talk about money all the time. I prefer to discuss my approach to money. My philosophy about savings/investing. I don’t need to share specifics but I can still talk to people about that.

    1. That’s still a great approach!

  7. I am not surprised at all by this what so ever. This was my hunch because even when I was a teenager I could smell the apprehension when money was brought up. It was like talking about your GPA or your exam score. Don’t forget salary!!

    I blog without anyone personally knowing I blog. Just my husband. I have no problems with strangers knowing my NW but not my parents or FB friends.

    Every point you make is absolutely true and every point was the exact opposite of what my parents did. It’s a point of pride and people have delicate egos. It’s utterly silly.

    1. I was an anonymous blogger when I first started out πŸ™‚

  8. I think not talking about money just makes every generation worse off. Parents won’t even talk about their family finances with their kids which just makes their kids grown up and not know how to handle money.

    I share our budget on my blog, which does occasionally make me a bit nervous because it feels personal. But I think everyone would be better off and more educated if we were all willing to talk to each other and learn from each other about money.

    1. Yes, it definitely makes others worse off!

  9. I think one reason why people don’t want to talk about money is because:
    1. They don’t want others to feel uncomfortable if they make more money.
    2. Those who don’t make a lot might feel insecure and upset that others are flaunting their wealth.

    I have to be honest that when someone asks me about my income or savings, I wonder why they even asked in the first place. Are they trying to compare themselves to me or are they trying to see what socioeconomic I am?

    I am not ready to talk openly about every cent that I earn or save, but I don’t have problem with other people doing so.

    1. I don’t think it always has to do with income, though. Sometimes people think just sharing how much they paid for a couch is something that should be “disgusting” to share. That’s just weird!

  10. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    Isn’t this weird?? I love how someone actually used the word “disgusting” when talking about money. It’s just a product of our culture–we’re weird about money because, what? We think people will rob us? That they’ll resent us?

    I’ve never been shy about sharing my numbers, but it’s created some sticky situations, so I can see why people don’t want to share them.

  11. Talking about money is Taboo in my family. I’m looking to change that. Discussing money will help my younger family members get better with it.

  12. Sarah

    The philosophy hails from the aristocracy and was adopted by other classes over time. While it is true that the subject is not openly discussed in general company, it is not correct that monetary concerns (and compatibility) were off topic. What the principle truly addressed is the social faux pas of inserting money into one’s dialogue as a means of flaunting, oneupmanship, or demeaning the other party.

    Good etiquette (in my opinion), is the recognition that comfort levels are individually derived. It is not my expectation that openness begets the same in the other party. And I think there’s the necessity of a modicum of prudence in either case. No one tells everything, irrespective of the transparency they present. And it’s that awareness which enables me to respect those who opt to remain quiet about subjects I may feel greater comfort in discussing.

    1. Thanks Sarah for sharing. Glad this is starting a great discussion πŸ™‚

  13. Sveny

    The funny thing is, that so many people don’t talk about money. But they do it in any other way and they don’t realize is. I mean, as you say the people don’t talk about their income, but they talk about prizes and how much something costs. And I mean, that also is talking about money because it gives us much information about how a person thinks and works with money.

  14. Some things really do seem backward in our world, doesn’t it?
    Money is sorta kinda taboo too in my family. Thankfully, we do talk more about money than the other topic (maybe it’s a southern thing). We will discuss percentages and stock tips but we don’t discuss real numbers. For example, my parents don’t know how much my wife and I make (although they have a fairly good idea) and I have no clue how much my parents make.

    For me, I wouldn’t mind telling my parents and extended family, except a few of my family members would tell the whole world. I don’t mind if family and friends know how much I make, but, I want to be the person to tell them. In person, so no facts get misconstrued and we can both gauge the tone of the conversation.

  15. Grant @ Life Prep Couple

    “Disgusting” seems a bit harsh. Especially considering how obsessed society is with how much celebrities and athletes make.

    I love talking about money but I don’t like talking about salary and net worth. I find it creates a weird dynamic with people. People make a million assumptions based on those numbers. I agree that it shouldn’t but it does. I hear people say stuff like “well their rich so they can afford it.” Well maybe they are rich because they are frugal so they don’t want to spend money like you.

    I would also hate for my coworkers to find out. Pretty sure that is against company policy.

    I will hopefully feel free to more open as I get older and retired from traditional work.

    1. YESSS! I completely understand what you mean.

  16. Mr. TYMP

    All of this and more! I agree with other commenters, some people are just oblivious that talking about finances is something we should all be doing. It’s like talking about sugar consumption in America, we all know it’s important, but the general populace doesn’t even think about it (thanks lobbyists).

    One other thing about salary that I didn’t see mentioned: one of my co-workers and I always let the other know what our year end bonus/rating is as well as if/when we get raises. By keeping track of each other’s pace, we can lean on management a little, “hey boss, John went x time between raises, I’m approaching x, so how about that raise?” I realize this only works in corporate type environments, but it has so far been pretty useful.

    That one Forbes stat “7% of people between the ages of 18-49 have a secret bank account or a secret credit card they keep from their partner”, I wonder what the breakdown is between 18-33 and 33-49. I feel like that is something people used to do a lot more.

  17. Catherine @ My Work Money Life

    You know I agree with you. It’s a harmless question to ask how much a person is saving. I think that if people wouldn’t be so uptight (and really terrified about what others might think about them) about talking about their personal financial situation, there would be more questions asked from those who really don’t know how to get out of their situation instead of mentally suffocating and essentially drowning in their debt or at the very minimum not saving for their financial future.

    I struggled with that too for years until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to start a blog and talk about it (and fingers crossed help me pay it off). Feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone so I just stuffed it down and just “tried to keep up with the Jones’”. That to me is more “disgusting” and really hurting yourself in your personal development.

  18. Kris

    I guess that people do not like to talk about money openly because it is awkward to discuss their salary, net worth, savings to others who have less/more. It can feel like it creates a competition.
    I myself would not discuss details on how much I make and have as well but I am open to discuss money in general like ways to invest, how to get out of debt like student loans, etc..to help others improve their financial situation. They do not have to tell their specifics on their earnings and other income but getting their money situated in the right direction is something I am more than happy to talk about

    1. This is great! Talking about money in these ways is so important.

  19. Great point and so true! I think people don’t talk about money because it makes them feel vulnerable and they don’t want to be judged.

  20. So true. I feel like unless something is super cheap it’s taboo to say how much. I just posted about how much we spent on a vacation and how much we spent on groceries and felt weird about it, but I think it’s helpful to others to know how much things cost, plus I’m also obsessed with how much things cost. Also, I too feel very uncomfortable about people knowing my income. Money and income is one way that assessments are made about people and I don’t want to be judged one way or another for it.

  21. I think it’s because money is considered to be quite a personal thing which affects people individually and can’t always be controlled, whereas sex is something that you can laugh about in public, albeit nervously!

    In fact, in Germany where I live, talking about salaries to another person etc is illegal, and people have been fired because of it, as it’s considered to be a violation of the Personal Information Act!

    1. Hi Victoria,

      I just moved to Germany this year and was really surprised by this too! My husband’s HR rep was on vacation for a few weeks, and no one else was able to answer a question about his paycheck because it was top secret. He had to wait for her to get back to the office and address it personally.

      And at the same time, every new person we meets asks how old we are and why we don’t have kids, which feel way more personal to me than money πŸ™‚

  22. To me the most worrisome part of this is the secret account stuff. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I bet it’s not secret so they can dazzle you with surprise gifts.My husband and I have joint everything. However the only downside to that is that it’s harder for us to share the budgeting, bill paying etc. I’m not sure how people manage that?

    1. Yes, the secret account stuff is scary!

  23. Some people allegedly see the topic of money more taboo than xXx because they may not have much of it. Money is everything to some folk. If you personally ask me, I think it’s good to have. But a person can’t take it into eternity with them. People often judge a person measured by their net worth. Even if that person foolishly accumulated riches, people would still associate with that person regardless. If a middle class or poor man accumulates his or her money honestly and doesn’t flash what they have, then people are likely not going to want to be bothered with them b/c they’re not appealing to them.

  24. I think a lot of the secrecy is also because we’re a little embarrassed by our bad money habits. We may not want to broadcast to the world that we haven’t been attacking debt like we should or saving as much for retirement as we should. Even the best of us have some iffy money habits. I’d be embarrassed if the world knew my annual book budget or my husband’s annual video game budget πŸ™‚

    But keeping this info from your spouse is scary. I was shocked by your stat that 43% of respondents don’t know how much their partner earns. How can you plan your future together without that most basic bit of info?!

    1. Yeah, it’s scary that people don’t know their spouse’s income!

  25. As a child, money was a taboo. I wasn’t allowed to know how much things costs or how much the family received. Now as an adult, I try to be more transparent with my kids. I taught them to value money and save, and to save for a big purchase. I have one child who likes to spend and one who likes to save… hopefully I’m doing something right!

    1. Sounds like you are πŸ™‚

  26. It’s crazy I know. It reminds me of the movie ratings system – a film is rated R if it shows much sex, but if you blow a few heads off it’s all good!

    Same with the comparison you make here. We need to take finance and money out of the closet and get smart. We need to teach our children how to handle money and we need to start now.

    I WISH there had been a high school course on good money management. I could have used that more than knowing how to make a bong out of an apple.

  27. Dave @ Run The Money

    People hate feeling like they’re behind and often perceive others believe they’re better than they are. So, talking about money, politics, and religion are topics where people see the person talking as being on their soapbox. If their numbers, take on the issues, or belief or nonbelief in God are challenged, they feel threatened. So, as is often the case when we feel threatened, we lash out. Rather than deal with our own issues on the matter, we blame the person discussing it.

    Money is a game won or lost between the ears. Too many people don’t take it seriously enough and rather hide it under a rug. The staggering amounts of student loan debt and credit card debt are testaments to the fact that money is not a normal conversation to be had at the dinner table or the local Starbucks. Sad, but true.

  28. I have no no discomfort talking about money, and have no money hangups about the rich, etc. A few months ago I shared on Facebook that I as a woman had never been underpaid, and that I did not believe the 70% statistic was due to discrimination (which of course is a different topic). I had a few irate friends attack me and asked how did I know that I wasn’t underpaid, that I couldn’t know what others are paid because you cannot ask. I replied to them that I do ask, and that how do they know they are underpaid if they don’t ask? Make sense to me. They are just believing the government statistic. I think the government (or perhaps the employers) culturally have conditioned us not to talk about money because they don’t want the employees to challenge them. As your article says, I think this information is very important.

  29. Thanks for this post, Michelle. I have had this conversation with many of my friends, and one time, at happy hour, my two teacher friends shared their salaries and were shocked one was paid $10k more for the same job. It’s super important that we discuss income, rent, etc, so that we can be sure we’re getting paid fairly, and paying the right amount for things. I’m a HUGE advocate of sharing financial information, which I know makes me in the minority. Super important post!

    1. Yes, it is so important. Thanks!

  30. Financial Muse

    I talk about money with my boyfriend and closest friend. With them, these are thankfully easy conversations. Within my family any topic relating to money has always been and will always be taboo. That is very unfortunate as I truly believe that speaking about any topics, even money, can turn into support, advice, and learning opportunities.

    I sometimes wonder if this taboo goes beyond generational differences. Maybe it is more related to people not wanting to feel inferior to others. Others who might make more money then them, budget diligently, have minimal or no debt, etc. No one wants to feel bad about the financial situation they are in. So instead of facing it and learning from others, people rather “pull the curtains shut”.

    1. It does seem like it may be generational differences – good point.

  31. Amy

    We used to talk about money more freely with one of our friends until he asked to borrow $9,000. Ugh! Sharing financial information can be a double-edged sword.

  32. Jorge @ The Frugalist

    I can completely relate to this. In my personal experience, I didn’t talk about money because I was ashamed of my financial situation (which wasn’t THAT bad) but everyone around me seemed to be doing fairly better than I did. I decided to let money speak for myself rather than speak about money. That is one of the reasons why I also launched a blog about money.

  33. I absolutely agree. Talking about money is SO uncomfortable in our society. We recently moved and our neighbor restarted in the same field as my husband around the same time. We ended up sharing the salary he has. Our neighbor makes far less, poor benefits, and works longer hours. While it was uncomfortable, they now know that making more is possible and he plans to look for a new job next year. How can you know these things if you don’t talk about it? Knowledge empowers.

  34. Great article, Michelle. I have written something on this very topic for the Baltimore Business Journal’s Enterprising Women’s Edition (it will come out in August.). I would add that women in particular find money taboo because they don’t know if they are on track compared to their peers and where they should by age 30, 40 etc. Discussing finances is often like stepping on the scale – it is very scary if you haven’t been focused on your financial health

    1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  35. Yes, I agree! I still can’t believe that someone thought it was “disgusting.”

  36. A lot of companies don’t like talk about salary because then many people might start negotiating or feel unhappy about their pay.

  37. Yeah, some (well, most) think I’m super odd for sharing my monthly income reports. Some just assume that only liars would share it, which is sad!

  38. Rose marie

    A lot of companies don’t like talk about salary because then many people might start negotiating or feel unhappy about their pay.

  39. It is a topic that has puzzled me off late, though personally I am in the camp of squirming if asked to reveal my income. I am happy to talk about what I spend on things but earning is still taboo for me.

    I believe a lot of the taboo is to do with your environment. If the people around you are not open about it, you will not either. In India, less than 5% people pay adequate income tax, making the conversation around money uncomfortable overall. Some of the discomfort also has to do with comparison which is never healthy.

    So, while I am still not comfortable discussing my incoming cash flow with strangers, I am open to being open about it with close family.

  40. Mommy Jhy | www.myfavoritelists.com

    I am a Financial Literacy advocate and give talks/ mentor people on handling money. Last year, a childhood friend of mine unfriended and blocked me on Facebook because according to her my FinLit-related posts are offensive and other people’s money is none of my business.

    Thanks to her I have decided to start a blog and write down my FinLit thoughts instead of micro blogging on FB.

  41. […] Many of you have asked me how much debt I have. While some may think that's a personal question or rude to ask, I don't think it is at all. Finances shouldn't be more taboo than sex. […]

  42. […] Why Is Talking About Money More Taboo Than Sex? […]

  43. Rahul Gupta

    Oh yes, I don’t think it is the right question to be asked in front of everyone and even in social media (FB). I don’t understand why people so bothered in someone else life, especially when it comes to incoming cash flow.

    I am kind of person who is not comfortable discussing my incoming cash. I can give people idea that, that much amount of money you can save from you monthly income (%) but not the actual numbers

  44. In my opinion, i prefer to talk about money in %. There is no need to project actual figure as it is too personal.