Is it tacky to talk about money?


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In "the good old days", there was no TV, no internet, no reality shows, no Netflix, no Stan, no Kayo, no The Mandalorian (the horror!), just sexism and billiards.

In the good old days, after dinner, the men would retire to play snooker and talk business while the women remained at the table to gossip about less important matters. This was the way.

And how has this post-dinner tradition progressed?

is it ok to talk about money

These days, after dinner, we turn on a reality show where the celebrity apprentices have to lose weight, cook, build a block of flats, play with Lego, be drug tested, be breathalysed and evade an international border patrol on the way to their own marriage to someone they've never seen, in the nude, in the jungle while all the time being criticised and pilloried by unidentified, intolerant sloths on social media.

Oh, for the "good old days" and their routine post-dinner collectives which, despite their sex-based memberships, served as an important but now absent forum to share private matters, something we don't habitually do anymore.

These days there is no forum for self-help and, can you believe it, some of the very few remaining, anachronistic institutions that still exist today to provide dinner and billiards exclusively to men overtly ban talking about business.

Talking money is now taboo

Talking finance with friends is now, it seems, officially taboo. Vulgar even.

These days "How to make money" is no longer an acceptable dinner party topic; it's just a crappy book title you pick up at the airport.

Personal financial issues are now private and advice on how to navigate your personal finances has become a bit like spin bowling or ruck work. No one ever lets on, unless you pay them, and when you do pay them, you're never quite sure whether you're getting the goods.

But it doesn't have to be like that.

When Oprah talks personal finance

Not that I watch American crap, which daily undermines my children's expensive education, but I once saw Oprah talking to a group of "desperate housewives" who had broken generations of suburban tradition and decided, quite out of character, to talk to each other about money.

They entered a pact of trust and confidentiality and it began from there.

The process was simple enough. Tell everybody in the group (select membership, no riff-raff) how much you own, how much you owe, how much you spend and how much you earn.

Nothing more sophisticated than presenting your family's balance sheet and profit and loss.

The biggest losers

Within minutes the frenzy started.

How come you are earning more? How come you are worth more? How come you spend less? How come I'm the biggest loser? Those who survived the suburban roulette stage, working out who the biggest loser was, extracted tremendous value.

They analysed each other, compared each other and in so doing began to understand the consequence of all their financial habits. They learned how other people viewed debt. Why some things they considered financially acceptable were unacceptable.

They learned they could negotiate with big financial institutions.

They learned they had choice. How to cut corners on spending. How to change habits and attitudes, plan, earn more, spend less, be assertive and, above all, how to take control. The collective empowered and supported each individual.

They gained purpose and credibility, simply by pooling their experiences and ideas, expanding on the good bits and collectively eliminating the bad.

In blissful ignorance

It was a simple gaining of objectivity, something that is, by definition, impossible alone and it was a very powerful argument for sharing financial experience with those you can trust.

But I just can't see it happening in my household, or yours. Much as I'd love to share my domestic financial details with other Jim Beam-swilling, indiscrete barbie gossips like myself, I'm not sure I trust them.

I'm not sure we really need to know who the biggest loser is. Relationships would have to change. Knock over the apple cart of financial truth and expect to live with bruises.

No, the Oprah Debt Diet is not for me. I am happy to live in ignorance and bash through on my own.

It's more comfortable that way. I am happy to be one of the many Australians who have no idea what everyone else's bank balance is. I'm quite happy to keep it to myself. It's less awkward that way. Less grubby. Pity.

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Marcus Padley (MAppFin, LLB, MSAA) is the author of the Marcus Today share market newsletter. He is an author, speaker and a regular on ABC TV and radio. Marcus has been advising institutional clients and a private client base for more than 32 years.