By Michael Banks
There are few topics that are so taboo that a parent all but avoids discussing with their child. Money is one of them.
Money is a concept presented in a double bind across almost every culture. Having enough or an excess of money is associated with power and access, but not having enough money can result in psychological feelings of shame, guilt and limitation.
When I decided to cover an aspect of personal finance, I consulted my mother who cautiously said, “I would not reveal too much,” while I heard echoes of the sentence, “Oh we’re doing fine. You don’t need to worry about money,” coming from my father in the back of my head.
I grew up in a household where money was not discussed only until I went to college, and even then, it was only discussed in the framework of a college fund rather than about topics such as debt, income and money management — topics that young adults primarily look to their parents for guidance.
The money pariah is a pervasive attitude for parents throughout the United States. The Journal of Family Education found that 39% of parents in the United States would rather talk to their children about drugs and alcohol, while 27% feel more comfortable talking about sex and dating than money. Likewise, 11% of parents indicated they would never reveal the family’s income to their children and 14% of parents would never disclose family debt.
At the end of my senior year, I was deciding between two institutions for college: one that was closer to home and financially more affordable, and one that was further away and significantly more expensive. My parents sat me down and put a number before me saying “think of this number as a pie. Once the pie’s gone, it’s gone.”
When I was told about this pie, I had little knowledge of money management, cost-benefits, and cost-breakdowns that would help me weigh my two options. And I didn’t know to ask.
In the end, I pursued the option that would leave me with more pie at the end of my four years of college.
Young adults often face the same problem and concerns about money management as their parents, and often look to their parents as the primary source for information regarding money and personal finances.
In the latter, parents do not want to burden children with concerns about finances or give any reason for worry. This is understandable, but at some point, we all come face-to-face with the terms “loans” and “debts” — we cannot avoid them.
Reframing this conversation less in a them context and more around me has helped destigmatize the topic in my house.
Instead of asking questions like “how are we doing financially?”, I ask, “what are some fiscally responsible habits to practice in my early 20s?” and “What are some things to avoid so I can be financially secure upon graduation?”
With that in mind, it is best to encourage conversations about finance as an opportunity to learn fiscal responsibility, rather than money and familial access to it.
Michael Banks is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.