Talking openly about money may help us make more of it

couple calculating expenses
Gina LaGuardia

We're hardwired to fear talking about money. Chatting about it may help curb our money mistakes.

In today's share-all, social media-influenced society, it may come as a surprise that there are still some taboo topics many don't like to discuss. According to a new study, however, what we aren't talking about could cost us.

New research from TD Ameritrade shows that Americans would rather discuss politics, health issues, religion, and even sex over money and personal finances.

"Culturally, politics and religion are always debated. But no one openly shares what they do with money," says Valiere Simpson, TD Ameritrade's managing director of investor services.

Unlike politics and religion, money is directly tied to one's self-worth and ability to provide, says Kristie Jones, principal with Sales Acceleration Group. "Many feel that if you don't make 'X' amount of money, it's assumed you're probably not a hard worker or not that smart, so it makes sense it's not a comfortable topic for most."

Indeed, the taboo conversation tugs at our emotions and can leave a sense of embarrassment, says Simpson. The number one reason many individuals—especially millennials—hold back is for fear of being perceived as a failure.

"Many millennials are not proud of their financial situation, so if you happen to be the person who talks about financial accomplishments or just the simple topic of money, it is seen as bragging," explains Joshua Hastings, founder of, a personal finance site that helps young professionals rid themselves of debt.

Dig in to discover what's holding you back
Often, it isn't money itself that is difficult to talk about, but the meaning behind our money that causes us psychological distress, explains Nathan Astle, a board member of the Financial Therapy Association, which is comprised of professionals dedicated to treating the emotional, behavioral, relational, and financial aspects of well-being.

"There can be beliefs that our self-worth is linked with our net worth, which causes a lot of pain when we struggle to manage money," he says. And although it is normal to have aversive feelings to talking about difficult things like self control, feelings of security, and fear of failure—much of which is brought on by such discussions—it's important to be mindful of how our beliefs about money and ourselves are intertwined, Astle adds.

After all, it's a Catch-22. The less we discuss finances, the more likely we are to continue making wrong money moves.

So, how can we push past the stigma to discuss finances freely? According to TD Ameritrade research, it's something more than half of Americans (and 7 in 10 millennials) think society should do to be healthier.

Lose the emotional baggage to reshape your financial future
One key to transcending the taboo nature of money is by focusing on how emotional awareness can have a direct and lasting impact on your relationship with money, advises Kassandra Dasent, a Gen X financial consultant and educator.

"We all have beliefs and preconceptions surrounding money that can have a profound effect on how we behave with money and also fuel judgment and blame toward the financial choices of others," says Dasent.

It's no surprise that much of this stems from childhood.

We all inherit and interpret our parents' relationship with money without even realizing it, explains Ed Coambs, a North Carolina-based marriage and family therapist.

"Money perspectives are 'caught' more than they are 'taught,' so even when parents give explicit teachings about money, if they are not congruent with the way the parent actually behaves, it will create conflicting ideas about money."

"My family never discussed money growing up—not how much anyone made, what they owed, or even how much something cost," says Michele D., a New Jersey-based mother. It's a cycle she hopes to break as her two sons are edging ever so closer to adulthood.

"My husband and I speak openly about money with them. We discuss the importance of saving, and being mindful of how they spend," says Michele. "We even had our oldest son open up an investment account for his retirement."

That's a good money move, says Simpson. "How parents interact with their children and talk about money matters to how they see it in the future."

Break the silence to emerge beyond past money mistakes
For many, money is an expression of success—and could also be a lesson in humility.

"Whether you're feeling successful, very comfortable, or living paycheck to paycheck, you don't want to stand out," explains Wende Rhodes, TD Ameritrade vice president of branches.

It all has to do with our comfort zones, says Hastings.

"Just like discussing weight loss tips with someone who is maybe internally thinking they need to lose some weight, talking about money can make others 'feel' uncomfortable," he says. "That feeling is internally justified by their lack of financial success at that point."

And we're not just shutting down with strangers. Americans are least likely to discuss their finances, especially student loan debt, with their spouses. In fact, just two-thirds feel comfortable discussing their income.

Regardless of what you're uncomfortable about, it's important to talk to your partner about finances, says Rhodes.

"Share your successes and your mistakes. Oftentimes it may be difficult, but take small steps."

Look to the future to improve your financial position
The downside of not discussing money is that we prevent ourselves from learning from others, which can lead to costly money mistakes. Three-quarters of Americans admit to making a financial mistake, such as not investing in a 401(k) or foregoing an emergency fund, and point to the lack of financial education as the number one culprit.

Financial coach Lauren Rilling advises her clients to use the windshield versus rear-view mirror analogy.

"When you're driving a car, you don't focus on the rear-view mirror. That's no way to get to where you're headed," she explains. "Instead, you focus on what's ahead and look through the windshield if you want to arrive at your destination."

With money, it's important to acknowledge your starting point, Rilling notes, but then focus your effort on moving forward instead of dwelling on the past, she says.

"This frames the conversation in a much more positive tone, which is so important if we want financial discussions to be productive," says Rilling.

When you're willing to discuss finances more freely, you're opening a door of exchanging ideas– successes and mistakes—points out Simpson—something millennials say they want to do more of.

Janice, New York-based mom of three boys (one of whom is in college) admits to being very open about finances with her family.

"That's the only way we can help each other financially if need be—by being honest."

Honesty—and baby steps, advise experts like Leslie H. Tayne, financial attorney and author of "Life & Debt." "It's impossible to change society's views overnight," says Tayne. Instead, work on getting more comfortable talking about your own financial situation, she encourages.

"Having open discussions about money can be very beneficial to everyone involved," she says, "it can teach you things you never knew about money just by sharing ideas and stories with someone else."

Open up your financial world with frank discussions
"The difficult reality is that breaking the money taboo is not a quick and easy formula," says Coambs. That's why he and other members of the Financial Therapy Association work with different psychological processes until they can figure out what works best for clients struggling with dollar dynamics.

A simple start, suggests Rhodes, is to broach the topic with a financial advisor. If people can share what money moves worked for them and what didn't, it wouldn't be this unknown, scary thing, says Simpson. "When more people talk more openly, it creates a healthier environment."

You'll be happy you did, she says, adding that clients who engage in TD Ameritrade's education tools have a much higher advocate score which would suggest they find greater satisfaction when growing their financial literacy.

"Sometimes personal finances can be overwhelming, so it's important to create a safe environment," says Simpson. "When seeking out financial education, you're able to transform into more engaged, confident investors."

Survey Methodology
survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade from February 13-20, 2019, among 1,006 U.S. adults aged 22 and older with at least $10,000 in investable assets. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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