The Last Taboo

Matt Trogdon

WE ALL HAVE microphones—be it our social media accounts, our podcast or our blog posts. We all have something we want to say, and we want the world to hear it.

Our venting can be shrill and insufferable at times. Who among us hasn’t grown tired of never-ending political arguments and culture wars? Other times our sharing is just inane: If you’ve ever posted a selfie while looking in a bathroom mirror, you’re guilty.

But every once in a while, someone’s venting truly surprises me.

This happened a few weeks ago when I saw someone share her net worth on Twitter. She was celebrating how far she’d come, and rightfully so. She’d paid off a boatload of debt and found herself financially right-side-up for the first time. But she shared her actual net worth number, down to the dollar. She just let it all hang out, so to speak.

There’s been a growing willingness to share personal information within the online financial community, including on HumbleDollar. People are tweeting about their investment gains, their portfolio performance, their ability to retire early, and so on. But this was the first time I’d seen someone broadcast his or her precise net worth to the world.

I can’t imagine sharing something so private. If my net worth was low, I’d probably feel too embarrassed to tell anyone. If my net worth was high, I’d probably worry about looking like a showboat. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but some things are best left to the imagination, no?

I imagine people who share their financial stats publicly are more likely to be successful. It may feel good to brag. It would be a wholly different and harder thing to disclose when times are financially tough. I’m reminded of this couple on TikTok talking about how easy it is to make money in the stock market. You simply buy stocks when they’re going up and sell them before they go down. Eureka!

I wonder how the couple is doing now? It was pretty easy to make money in stocks in 2021. It hasn’t been so easy thus far in 2022. I hope they’re doing better than this person, who nearly lost everything following the cryptocurrency crowd. You’ll notice that he didn’t use a real name or face when disclosing this failure.

All jokes aside, the best argument I’ve heard for sharing personal financial information publicly is actually somewhat compelling. The more we talk about our money, the more normal it becomes to talk about money in general. We may be turning into a nation of venters, but money stubbornly stands as the last conversational taboo. That might be to our collective detriment.

I grew up in a family where stocks and investing were common topics at the dinner table. I like to joke that each of my uncles had his own way to “play the market,” but that I’m not sure any of their methods actually worked. Nevertheless, those dinner conversations undoubtedly set me on the path to becoming a financial advisor. I was fortunate in that regard. Far too many Americans lack an understanding of basic money concepts, which limits their ability to succeed financially.

One of the questions I often ask potential clients is, “What was money like for you growing up?” I ask because our childhood memories and experiences with money can have a powerful influence on how we behave with money as adults. For example, I was raised by my grandmother. She lived through the Great Depression. We weren’t poor by any stretch, but she never let me think that money came easily. As a result, I still carry an unnecessary scarcity mindset with me at all times.

Often, people tell me their families never talked about money. I once spoke with someone who implied that he got his formative financial advice from coworkers. Unfortunately, that advice came in 2009, right after the stock market crashed.

His coworkers told him that the market was just another form of gambling, and dissuaded him from contributing to his 401(k), despite a generous company match. By the time we spoke, he’d missed 12 years of one of the best bull runs in stock market history. Had money been a conversation topic he’d encountered more widely, his financial position might be quite different today.

While I’m not suggesting we all share our deepest money secrets with strangers on the internet, I do believe we should talk about it more with our loved ones. If you’re a parent, I’d suggest sharing a little bit of your family’s financial situation with your kids. And if you’re a kid, I’d suggest trying to break the financial ice with your parents. If you’re in a marriage in which money remains an unspoken topic, I suggest you talk to your partner, maybe over a glass of wine—but probably not more than one.

Matt Trogdon is a financial planner with Craftwork Capital, LLC. He’s based in Washington, D.C., and has a special interest in helping Gen X and Gen Y families. He also serves as a workshop instructor for the Babson College Financial Literacy Project. Matt’s previous articles were Answers About LifePreservation Mode and What It Really Costs. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Trogdon.

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