22 Nov 2020

Why are we so secretive about money?

From Sunday Morning, 11:20 am on 22 November 2020

Money and how much we make of it is a touchy topic, and it’s more problematic than many think.

New Zealand Dollar Bar Graph (On blue background)

Photo: 123RF

A recent survey in the UK found 25 percent of people keep money secrets from friends and family.

In the same survey, which was undertaken by government-backed Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), more than a third of people said they stay silent about money worries, because they're embarrassed about being judged. Some 40 percent keep quiet about credit cards that others in the household don't know they have.

Millennials aged 25 to 34 are the most secretive age group, with nearly 60 percent of them hiding money products such as overdrafts.

This was revealed as part of a national campaign to improve financial wellbeing by encouraging people to open up about their finances.

But a lot of them don't want to, and it's the same in New Zealand.

The Commission for Financial Capability found that one in five people won't discuss them with a partner, and a big reason why is that these people are discouraged about how bad their money situation is. A full 20 percent of people have relationship problems as a result.

It's the 18-34 age group mainly, but high income does not prevent money conflict – 21 percent of people earning between $150,000 and $200,000 report relationship stress because of money.

New Zealander Olivia Fleming has been writing about money secrecy.

She's based in New York and has been a writer for some of the big magazines, and is currently head of content at The Helm.

She told Jim Mora that we live in a world where money equals power and our self-worth is wrapped up in how much we earn and what kind of wealth we come from.

“It goes back to what school you went to, whether you went to public school or private school - and whether you are set to inherit money. Or people who don’t earn much feel shame that they don’t earn as much as their friends, and people who come from a lot of money might feel shame that they got an easy ride in life.

“So, I think that people tend to shy away from opening up about their own personal finances because they don’t want to rock those dynamics with the people that they’re closest with. They don’t want their best friend or partner to think badly of them or differently of them for their own financial realities.”

Fleming said what goes on behind the scenes of someone’s financial success often goes unnoticed or unmentioned.

She said a lot of people have the financial backing behind the scenes from the Bank of Mum and Dad, particularly when it comes to buying a house.

However, they’re too ashamed to admit it.

“It’s also to protect their own self-interests, a lot of people don’t want to talk about how much they earn because they want to have a better chance of negotiating with new jobs and new careers, but it’s the rest of us that are being left behind - the ones that don’t come from money, the women who are paid less than their colleagues, who stand to gain more from us talking about money. I think it’s on all of us to talk about money so that we can lift everyone else up and create a more equal, dynamic and just society.”

Clearly a staunch advocate of transparency and openness when it comes to finances, Fleming believes the world would be a better place if others lived by her mantra.

“After years and years of being told this is not something we’re allowed to talk about, or that we shouldn’t talk about, my personality is naturally critical things like that and I refuse to stand for the status quo. I think that if everyone was more honest we would all be happier.”