It’s a Secret

Richard Quinn

SOME FOLKS SEEM HAPPY to tell the world how much they earn, how much they have in the bank and what their portfolio is worth. Not me.

If I were to share my income and net worth, I’d expect some serious consequences, and not just from local thieves. In fact, I’m so cautious I have a plan not to tell anyone, except my wife Connie, if I win the lottery.

To be sure, overt sharing often isn’t necessary. The way we live can be revealing enough. Having two homes and spending much of the winter in Florida is a clear sign the Connie and I aren’t living solely on Social Security. Still, there are plenty of good reasons that I and others don’t reveal everything about our finances.

Getting judged. Will we be seen as rich and out of touch, or average and unsuccessful? Some folks may even fear being judged poor and deserving of pity.

Embarrassment. Could revealing details about our financial situation, including any debt, cause shame or guilt about lavish spending? Would learning about others cause us to question our earning power or life choices?

Power dynamics. Money can be seen as a source of power. Do we risk that by revealing more about our finances, which is a standard measure of success in our society?

Social norms. There are unspoken rules when talking about money. It might be considered rude or inappropriate to bring it up, even in casual conversation. “Nice to meet you. How much do you earn? Do you have a credit card balance? I don’t.” That’s going to be a short friendship.

Lack of knowledge. Many people don’t have a good understanding of personal finance and might feel insecure about that. Talking about money or investments could reveal their ignorance.

Comparison and competition. Talking about money can sometimes lead to rivalry, including among family members, which can be especially damaging. It might also create envy and resentment, and perhaps expectations of sharing.

Right or wrong, money is a key measure of success in our society. Sure, we can all list things that are more important. Still, what we earn, how much we spend and our net worth are yardsticks we all use. We even measure happiness using money. A recent survey found 59% of Americans think money buys happiness.

So, when it comes to our financial lives, mum’s the word.

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