jennifer keenan

Things We Don’t Discuss: Money

Guest Post by Jennifer Keenan

Anyone else in the room grow up being taught to not talk about money? You know – it’s one of those taboo topics that was to never be brought up in conversation similar to politics, religion, weight or age. I faintly recall being told at a young age that you were never to talk about how much money you had, how much money you made, how much something cost or heaven forbid ask anyone else about either of those. 

It’s not until just recently that I started to wonder why. Why is it that we aren’t supposed to talk about money (or politics, religion, weight or age)? Why is it considered rude? And why do I feel uncomfortable when money in particular is a part of the conversation? 

Here’s what I’ve come up with as I’ve thought through it more. 

Power.

We live in a world where money = power. And I think our perception of that notion runs really deep in us. So deep that we put people that have money on a pedestal. The more the money, the higher the pedestal. They are immediately more than. When someone else talks about money, we are quick to feel jealousy. We immediately feel less than. We feel shame. And of course we would never want to put those feelings onto someone else, therefore, we avoid the topic of money. Avoid the topic, avoid the feelings.

There’s a lot more exploring (or noodling as Julie would say) on that topic alone that I’m working on. Analyzing more and more my feelings on the topic, why I feel that way and what work I want to/can do to adjust the narrative. But that’s more for another day, newsletter or conversation within the Compounding Courage Community. 

Today, I want to share how I believe that lack of conversation has affected me. And how is that? Well…we were taught to never talk about money – so we never talked about money. In all fairness – maybe we did talk about money, but I don’t remember it. It’s not a topic that I remember hearing around the house and I know we never talked about managing money or budgeting. 

It didn’t really come up in school either. I mean, there was that one lesson in Home Ec where we learned to balance a checkbook and there was that one time a financial guy came in to talk to us about saving for retirement or something. What he told us I have no idea, it was all gibberish at the time. By the time I got my first job at the age of 16, the knowledge that I had about money was…

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

And I wanted to be on the good side. So I worked a lot. My first job was 30 minutes away from my home and with being in sports year round I wasn’t really able to work during the week. But I’d drive the 30 minutes after practices on Friday to work 2 hours, to drive the 30 minutes home. And count me in for full shifts every Saturday and Sunday. 

When I was done with schooling, it was two jobs. Filling every day of the week with a shift at at least one of those jobs – a lot of times it was both jobs in one day. And if there was OT to be had – sign. me. up!

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

I became a saver of money. Spending money would actually make me nervous. And I’m not talking about big purchases (big purchases weren’t actually a thing for me) – I’m talking about regular, every day purchases. The amount of time that I debated about spending money to buy myself a t-shirt was borderline ridiculous. And the ultimate reason my now husband will NEVER go shopping with me. 

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

Another learning that I’ve had about my relationship with money – and more so the anxiety that surrounds it – I cannot handle the idea of wasting money. So, eventually when those big purchases did come and would require a loan where you are paying someone interest on that money it would make me feel physically sick at times. Like our first home…oy! 

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

I always had a good handle on my bills. Always knew exactly how much they were and when they were due by memory. Never a problem remembering to get something paid on time – late fees were never, ever a thing.

Until I had my first child.

I had a baby and my brain decided that it no longer needed to retain information like appointment dates or due dates for paying bills. It also decided it could no longer know the balance of my bank accounts or be sure I had the right amount in the right account to pay those bills. I very quickly realized that I needed help. But I wasn’t going to admit that to anyone or ask for help – that would require me to talk about money. And we don’t talk about money. My solution? A spreadsheet.

Yes, yes – anyone that has worked with me in any of the past 12 years or so surely just had a good laugh. OF COURSE my solution would involve a nerdy spreadsheet. And I use nerdy with love because I truly love a good spreadsheet and am proud of it.

I created a log of sorts that would (1) remind me of due dates and amounts for those bills and (2) predict future balances of my account to ensure I never ended up in a situation where I was wasting money on those late fees. 

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

For most of my adult life, not only have I been a saver, but I’ve been a worker. Working multiple jobs, all days of the week with the goal always being more money. And once I had kids and decided I couldn’t manage multiple jobs, I was looking forward to the next step at work that would make me more money. Looking ahead to the next promotion I could work towards or the raise that I wanted. Because that was the goal, right? More money?

Having money was good. Not having money was bad. 

But eventually, my focus started to shift. I was starting to realize that my passion wasn’t in the work that I was doing. My passion was at home, with my family. I had started to think that I didn’t want to work in the traditional sense anymore. I wanted to be home taking care of my family. But that would mean that I would not be providing financially for our family. And I was finally going to have to disrupt the belief that I had trained myself to believe…

MAKING money was good. Not MAKING money was bad. If I’m not MAKING money…does that mean I’m bad?

It took me a really long time to even bring up the idea to my husband. I truly felt for a long time that I was going to be a bad wife if I wasn’t also providing for our family financially. Prior to this decision for me to ultimately quit my job, my husband and I didn’t really discuss finances that much. “We” don’t talk about money, remember? But now…now we were going to HAVE to talk.

And now that I don’t have a steady job – we talk about it A LOT. I manage our finances. I track all of our incoming money. I track all of our expenses. I make spreadsheets and tables and graphs that show me our spending patterns. If I see a concern, we talk about it. We talk about our money goals. How much do we want to have saved? Are there things we want to do in the near future – trips or house renovations? How much is that going to cost? When will we have the money to be able to do that? How often are we OK with ordering food? How much can we spend on hobbies? We talk about it all. 

We’ve even started our second Spending/Shopping Ban! Inspired after reading The Year of Less by Cait Flanders. We are spending the first 3 months of the year not spending anything but for the necessities. The first time we did this at the beginning of 2020, it was extremely eye opening for both of us. It forced us to think and talk before anything was purchased. Is this purchase necessary? Is it truly needed? Can it wait? And this year I’m looking forward to it even more because we have started to talk about it more with our daughters. Breaking the Limiting Belief that talking about money is bad. Encouraging them to ask questions. Showing them how we manage our money. And hopefully, setting them up for success in the future.

I’ve been told by people over the years that I have a knack for managing money and finances. But really, I’m no expert. I’ve built processes overtime that have worked for me. Honestly, those processes were built out of fear. And although I am still working to normalize the conversation of money for me – the fear and worry is still there. But hopefully by talking about it more, it can soften the edges a bit on the fear. And with that, I invite you all to join in and continue this in the Compounding Courage Community.

1 thought on “Things We Don’t Discuss: Money”

  1. Yes! When you grow up in a house where are you don’t discuss money, you sign off on college loans not knowing the implications as they’re based on your parents finances. (Which will NEVER be your business) You have no idea how to budget for being a “grown up!”
    Thanks for this, it resonates, I get it.

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Julie Stephenson

Julie is one of the founders of Compounding Courage, a company that provides personal growth and leadership development programs. CLICK HERE to learn more.