Breaking taboos: let’s talk about the M-word

Breaking taboos: let’s talk about the M-word

Published on 30th August, 2019 at 03:17 pm

According to a 2014 poll, 61% of high-net-worth individuals surveyed felt least comfortable talking about personal finances with family, friends and colleagues compared to other hot topics like politics, sex, religion and health issues. More recently, YouGov research for Lloyds Bank in the UK showed that 50% of adults regard talking about personal money matters as taboo, and a quarter had lied about their personal finances to family and friends.

Local statistics are scarce, but according to the National Executive Committee of the Debt Counsellors Association of South Africa (DCASA), the taboo around money conversations isn’t more or less likely among any particular demographic in South Africa.

“We have seen clients rich and poor, old and young, educated and with little education and from diverse backgrounds, and there is no difference. Some talk about money in the family and some don’t,” says the DCASA.

Money is intrinsically linked to social status, which goes a fair way in explaining why it’s easier to talk about for some than for others. “The general population cares about how they are perceived; because we live in a capitalist society, how much we earn affects how we are perceived,” says Lubabalo Shepherd of National Debt Advisors. “Context plays a big role in this regard,” he continues. “For example, speaking to a financial adviser or debt counsellor about money can be seen as perfectly acceptable, while speaking about money to family and friends may seem somewhat unacceptable.”

Starting that conversation can be a challenge at first, but the rewards are plenty. Here are just a few…

Breaking taboos reason #1: It encourages responsibility in the family

Without accountability, irresponsible financial decisions, especially in families, end up affecting everyone. The DCASA sees this situation often: “In some families, the husband and wife don’t know how much the other earns and they don’t discuss money. This is pertinent in debt counselling because, if spending sacrifices need to be made, the children are sometimes affected.”

Shepherd also points out the importance of including children in the family financial conversations. “Speaking to your kids about money helps them manage their expectations. If you are struggling financially, they should be made aware of this to avoid any conflict in future.”

Vuyelwa Khumalo’s* experience speaks to the importance of this inclusion and how it impacted her education. “Had my parents been more forthcoming about money and what they could actually afford, I may have chosen a different tertiary institution closer to home.

While I understand that they wanted the best for me, I learnt the hard way then that ‘shielding’ your children from money conversations can cause stressful problems down the line.”

For Nadine Moodley*, it took her mom being medically boarded and her household losing an income for the money conversation to start happening. “Before that happened, we lived in ignorant bliss keeping finances from each other,” she shares. “My mom’s doctor’s bills began piling up, and one night my dad sat us down and had the financial chat with us. It wasn’t easy for him because he was raised to keep money private and to himself.” Moodley says this opened her eyes to how sheltered she and her sister were – breaking taboos was a turning point for Moodley. “We got whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it,” she says. “We had to work together as a family to make sure we didn’t run into major financial issues. To this day we still talk about finances,” she shares.

Being open about earnings is a particularly controversial topic, but Moodley says this has helped her in times of need. “When I got my first serious job, I told my parents how much I was earning so that they were aware of what my salary could and couldn’t cover, and they’d help out if I couldn’t pay for some things,” she shares.
Opening the dialogue and breaking taboos also starts the learning journey, says Shepherd. “Sharing money-management strategies with your family may benefit them, and you might learn from them too.”

All of the experts we asked suggest a family budget as the launchpad for starting this dialogue. “One family member lists all the incoming and outgoing money, then the family can sit down and look at what food, petrol, clothes, school lunches and the like cost monthly,” suggests the DCASA. “Not only will it give everyone a picture of the monthly living costs, but some savings idea could be suggested.”

Breaking taboos reason #2: it strengthens relationships

Even without children in the picture, couples will feel the reward of breaking taboos and working towards a joint goal, for which they’re both responsible.

“Speaking about money with your spouse will help you when planning your financial future,” says Shepherd. “It is a joint effort and requires both parties to come to the table,” he continues. For tips on how to improve your financial compatability, click here.

Financial planner Jyoti Gopee-Mothie emphasises how these conversations also contribute to the wellbeing of the relationship: “Lack of communication about money matters raises concerns and, if neglected over a period of time, this can see a deterioration of trust between partners.” But, if money matters are discussed regularly and openly between them, it will build trust and enhance security and stability within the relationship, she says.

Breaking taboos reason #3: it helps us pay financial health forward

“Make your kids responsible for how to spend a portion of their money on, for instance, their casual clothing or toiletries,” suggests the DCASA. “They soon learn that one brand-name T-shirt equals two or three generics.”

Breaking taboos and talking about money also boosts their knowledge and improves their confidence when it comes to handling money independently. “Slowly introduce little bits of financial autonomy to your children. Let them have their own money to buy these items, and discuss their buying decisions with them,” the DCASA continues. Look at the habits you’re teaching your kids (here are some that could be doing harm) and see how they’re shaping the idea of money in your child’s mind.

In cases where a breadwinner is solely responsible for a family’s financial matters, there’s the very real risk of a quick and scary breakdown of financial health if they pass away unexpectedly. “In this scenario, the children have not been groomed on financial matters. It then becomes increasingly difficult to emphasise the importance of capital protection,” cautions Gopee-Mothie.

Encourage your kids to learn more about money and how to manage it by introducing them to these apps.

Breaking taboos reason #4: it empowers us

Getting an expert’s input could be the best decision you make when it comes to your money. “Talk to a financial planner to get an outside person’s perspective on your family finances, and explain to them what you want to achieve,” suggests the DCASA.

Financial goals vary among individuals and families, which is why expert advice is important to get on to the right track to your specific goals. This starts with breaking taboos and getting honest: taking a look at your current financial situation by analysing your credit card, cheque card and retail accounts. “You will be able to understand your spending trends, and your financial planner is well equipped to assist with this exercise,” says Gopee.

To book a meeting with a qualified financial planner – and earn tier points! – click here.

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