By Thomas Kostigen
Personal finance is more difficult for people to talk about in public than the two most famous no-no’s: politics and religion. That’s saying something in the most divisive political environment in recent times.
The reason finance is apparently harder to discuss is the gap in understanding and learning, according to a widely circulated Wells Fargo survey. While it’s interesting to note that fewer people would rather have a conversation about money than death, taxes, and personal health, the most revealing finding—at least to these eyes—is a single sentence in the report: “Knowing what to do also appears to be a major barrier to a healthier financial life.” In other words, people are somewhat ashamed they don’t understand the financial markets, have a financial plan, or even know the basics of saving for retirement or how to control spending. It keeps the subject of finance repressed.
This sore point of feeling uneducated is certainly cause for concern and makes the discomfort of talking finance understandable. Moreover, when the topic arises (as it easily might), shame can easily turn into other emotional fallouts—defensiveness, arguments, anger.
Whether right, left, or center politically, it seems money is the greater divider among all. Happy holidays, then, would likely be better had if the subject of finance is avoided in a group. This, of course, doesn’t mean that financial concern should be avoided privately. Indeed, nearly forty percent of Americans say money is the biggest source of stress in their lives, and that they lose sleep over it.
Help and peace of mind can be had with the help of a financial adviser. But in a world where 25 percent of Americans would rather pay for a personal trainer than a financial adviser, that call for help likely isn’t an easy dial. To lay more evidence on the pile: 82 percent of people are more apt to have their car serviced that to hire a financial adviser; more than two-thirds are more likely to take a vacation than review their finances. Hence, Uncle Bob’s penchant for sharing his fishing trip photos while the turkey is being served rather than explaining how he and Auntie Jean plan to retire in Tampa. That said, Uncle Bob is more likely to discuss the matter than Auntie Jean. Sixty two percent of men feel comfortable talking about finances compared to just 50 percent of women. The reason for so many men and women staying mum about money is their lack of confidence in their investment knowledge.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” is an often-used heated refrain in the course of many family dinner conversations about politics and religion. But when it comes to money, it largely turns out to be a pretty accurate accusation.
There may not be room at the dinner table for talk of finance. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be talking about it…to an adviser. Or here’s an idea: Maybe a new holiday guest should be invited to dinner this year? It could be sneaky, like, “I’m bringing a new friend to Thanksgiving dinner—no, not that kind of friend—she’s a financial adviser.” At least it’d be better than listening to another fishing tale.
Thomas Kostigen is a contributing writer to http://www.myperfectfinancialadvisor.com, the premier matchmaker between investors and advisors. Thomas is a best-selling author and longtime journalist who writes about environmental, social, and governance issues.