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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.

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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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kentlacey@sbcglobal.net
kentlacey@sbcglobal.net
9 months ago

My parents lived thru the depression and WW II. Neither had any education beyond high school. They never talked about money as they never really had any to speak of. Each pay check covered the next weeks expenses. But they owned their own house and raised 5 kids. Three of the kids went to college, back when college was not a financial ripoff.
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I took no interest in managing money nor retirement until my mid-40s and there was no real internet nor ability to manage ones savings.
It was only after quiting work at age 51 did I get serious about how to invest, and then it took 10 years to be skillful at it.
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Today, with full internet access and information everywhere it might be easier, but I think any newbie needs an “uncle” or knowledgeable person to advise them. Saving and investing for life is not intuitive. People need instruction. Heck, our society spends more time teaching kids how to brush their teeth, than time spent on how and what to do with money.

Catherine
Catherine
9 months ago

good points, and it is scary putting so much online. however, elements and precise details of people’s financial lives have become matters of public record, many of them posted on the internet without people even knowing that info is public. for example, anyone can check Transparent California to see Gov. Brown’s 2020 pension was $119,808.24 while seven who were “Assistant to the Governor” have pensions higher than his, some much higher. State worker salaries are also posted, by name, by year.
union worker pay scales are also published. that’s most teachers in this state. the value of one’s house, and taxes on that property, are public records, too.

net worth is less visible.

kristine hayes’ posts and comments below are spot on, in my thinking. people need to talk about what to do with what one has, and to understand that relatively simple and straightforward actions can create a stable financial base, and how long that effort will likely take. talking to relatives and friends is fine, assuming they are knowledgeable and successful, but big swaths are underinformed and not so successful, so one might need to look further for guidance and ideas.

this is not the old days where working class people worked till shortly before they died, and/or retired with something of an adequate pension and safety net.

it’s too bad every high school does not teach financial literacy. good thing there are sites like this one that offer more than product/service promotions.

kristinehayes2014
kristinehayes2014
9 months ago
Reply to  Catherine

Thanks for your comments Catherine. I think I’m proof that simple and straightforward actions can lead to a reasonable level of financial security. I don’t have any secrets. It’s always been about owning modest homes (my first house in Portland cost $60,000), having jobs that provided excellent benefits and job security (while not necessarily providing huge salaries) and avoiding debt as much as possible (my BS degree was paid for entirely with Pell grants, wages from my part-time jobs and scholarships). Nothing fancy.

parkslope
parkslope
9 months ago

I appreciated both Kristine’s and Mike’s articles and felt the financial details they shared added worthwhile context for readers. On the other hand, articles/comments that simply say something like “my portfolio is down x dollars since the start of the year” I find offputting because they don’t provide any useful context.

Jack Hannam
Jack Hannam
9 months ago

You touched on an important point, the fact that many people are unprepared to plan and invest for their eventual retirement, and are therefore vulnerable to well intentioned but flawed advice, such as that from the coworkers you mentioned. It would be useful to require a semester course dealing with this topic in high school for all students, which would particularly benefit those who choose to pursue a career outside the world of business or finance. Personally, I enjoy the personal accounts of various contributors here and elsewhere, always reminding me there are many paths to success, and different interpretations of how much is enough.

Matt Trogdon
Matt Trogdon
9 months ago
Reply to  Jack Hannam

Well said, Jack. Thank you for reading and posting!

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
9 months ago

We can learn a lot from each other’s financial situation, success and failures. Unfortunately, we do not often get the full picture. For example, this woman I worked for used to love to tell us about her stock winners but never talked about her losers. We may learn more from each other’s mistakes.

Matt Trogdon
Matt Trogdon
9 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Pinkard

Great point, Jerry. Thank you for reading!

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
9 months ago

I’m a fan of learning about financial strategies, what works and what hasn’t worked from others so that we can all benefit. The financial world and taxes are increasingly complex (IRAs, Roths, RMDs, HSAs, 529s, Child credits, Healthcare options, low interest rates, estate options, annuities, long term care, tax impacts, etc). Sharing also helps us all to stay the course in turbulent times.
My parents never talked about money, but I’m sure my kids are much better informed. My kids and much of their generation also better understand the value tradeoffs relating to life’s “time.” This concept of managing time is positively discussed on HumbleDollar and other Financial Independence sites.
I’m less of a fan of needing or sharing exact financial numbers.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Yeigh
Matt Trogdon
Matt Trogdon
9 months ago
Reply to  John Yeigh

Thank you for posting and reading, John!

kristinehayes2014
kristinehayes2014
9 months ago

Thanks for sharing your view. I admit I’m one who is willing to ‘hang it all out there’ as you say. Heck, one of the HD articles mentioned in your article is mine. I even wrote about this same subject on HD a few years ago: https://humbledollar.com/2017/03/say-it-forward/

My hope is that by sharing my salary, net worth and personal financial stories, I may help a reader or two realize achieving a reasonable level of monetary stability is possible, even for someone without a six-figure salary.

After working full-time for 30 years (in three different jobs), I make $72K a year. I paid my own way through college (ultimately getting a Master’s degree). I don’t come from a family with money; there were never any dinner-time discussions about investing or buying stocks. My parents worked hard just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

Everything I know about personal finance, investing and money management was self-taught. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’ve had a lot of success as well. I don’t live a lavish lifestyle by any means, but I’m finally reaching a point in my life where I’m starting to feel financially secure.

I hope my stories appeal to folks who come from a background like my own. If putting my actual numbers out there helps them relate to their own life, then I’m happy to do it.

Last edited 9 months ago by kristinehayes2014
Matt Trogdon
Matt Trogdon
9 months ago

Thank you so much for reading and sharing, Kristine. I appreciate you taking the time to write and sharing your story!

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
9 months ago

Your contributions to the site have always been marked by an admirable honesty — and readers have benefited enormously. Thank you!

R Quinn
R Quinn
9 months ago

I tend to agree with you. Sometimes info falls under the “more than I want to know category.” I think sharing some personal info is saying look how well I did or woe is me. I feel the urge to write that way at times, but I do my best to resist although in some cases such info does add interest to an article.

Matt Trogdon
Matt Trogdon
9 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Glad you enjoyed it. It’s a fascinating phenomenon for sure. I liken it to the online equivalent of showing someone how fancy your car is.

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