Dealing with money scares the hell out of me. I guess it does most Americans; that’s probably why we’re so bad at it. With the generation above me looking at waning retirements and the generation below watching interest rates and college tuition rise at the same time, it feels pretty hopeless out there. Hopelessness goes hand in hand with embarrassment, it seems, because we’re just as afraid to talk about money as we are to deal with it.
Learning and talking about money openly and honestly is my generation’s version of overcoming sexual shame. After we ladies got the Pill, the world opened to us and no longer were we afraid to speak the unspeakable. It amazes me that I can know so much about a friend’s sexual history, exploits, preferences, and yet still not know how much money he or she makes in a year. This is crazy. I have some vague ideas and guesses about people’s income based on what they do, and the occasional stalking on Glassdoor, but I don’t really know any specifics. I’d love to outright ask some of them, but asking them for such an intimate disclosure feels wrong. It’s probably how our grandmothers felt when they wanted to ask what the missionary position was; I feel just that ignorant and uncomfortable discussing money.
This is the real shame. I feel like most of the really important information I’ve learned about dealing with life, relationships, careers, has come through discussion and advice from friends. So this is the first time I’ve really started talking about it with friends. I could really use advice on how people have managed to work their way around various loans, consolidations, credit history, interest rates, and the like. I never learned this in school. Why didn’t I learn this in school? Again, why are American’s so bad at finance? It’s not mandatory in school. Ridiculous. We should teach this stuff EVERY year in school from 9th grade on up. Mandatory. Nor did my parents ever disclose their income to me. I still have no idea what my dad makes, which is fine, but I wish they taught me how to budget a household.
It was strange when I first brought it up with a group of 6 girlfriends. It was one of my favorite bar discussions that I’ve had in a long, long time, with a depth and honesty I wasn’t used to. Instead of the usual chat about men, hobbies, jobs, we had a good discussion about debt. How they felt about it in the context of themselves and within their relationships. Ugh. Another thing: when do you have that discussion with the person you’re dating? How awkward is that? Hey, I’m really attracted to you…. so how much credit card debt do you have? Sexy.
Again, I think it comes back to shame: we don’t make enough, or we had medical bills, or an ex-boyfriend left and we were stuck with the rent, or our apartment building got bed bugs and we had to leave real fast, or it is the rare case of shyness, of not wanting to brag ’cause you’re doing well. Yes, some of my lady friends do well for themselves but would consider talking about their income as bragging or rude. Shame with a slightly different bent.
So I’ll just come clean. I have credit card debt (and student loans, of course). But I found out recently I also have good credit. Seriously? I really can’t believe it, which just again goes to show how bad everyone else is with money too, I guess. But I’d like to use this to my advantage and lower the interest rate on my credit cards… but how? Do I consolidate, opening a different credit card and do a zero balance transfer, switching it to a personal loan through my bank? I’d like my lady friends and myself to continue to share and be open with each other, so that when friends need advice we can know that’s it’s an okay subject to talk about, and you don’t need to be embarrassed. So there it is. If anyone has advice for my current situation, I’m all ears, or if anyone wants to share their situation, I’m all ears. It’s the same policy I take on dating. I’ll try to listen, offer an honest opinion if I have one, but above all I won’t judge you, or think less of you. I mean, can your financial woes really top that awful guy you slept with who was still married and had a drinking problem? That’s what I thought. You shared that with me. We’re still friends, and probably the better for it.