The Conversation You’re Not Having, But Should Probably Start

“When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.” – Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The statistics remain nothing short of alarming:

  • 50% of Americans have less than one month of savings saved for emergencies.
  • One in four Americans has no savings at all.
  • More than 30% of households earning over $100K still live paycheck to paycheck.
  • Among indebted households, the average amount of credit card debt tops $15,000.
  • The average U.S. household debt is 136 percent of household income.
  • 57% of households do not have a budget.
  • Almost half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets.
  • In one survey, money more than sex, children or in-laws—was the most common conflict for American couples.

The statistics concerning our personal financial habits are downright sad. And yet, nobody is talking about it… at least, not in personal terms.

Money continues to remain one of the most least-discussed topics in our society. Just to be clear, there may be plenty of magazines, websites, and books written about money. But the topic is rarely discussed with any specificity in our interpersonal relationships. This truth exists for a number of reasons:

  • We have been conditioned since a young age to not ask the questions.
  • We have fears of looking foolish in our personal decision-making – that our spending will reveal too much about us.
  • We worry about stirring up envy or comparison among our friends and family.
  • We are concerned about how we will be perceived.
  • It seems easier to just go at it alone.

But our silence is ruining us. We have so much to learn from one another in all aspects of life – including money. And it is clear that not having the conversation is negatively affecting us as persons, as families, and as a society. Personal finance is a conversation we need to be having with one another. We need to find the humility and the boldness to start asking the right questions.

Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Embrace humility and create a list of financial questions you need answered. How much money do I really need? Do I make enough money to purchase _______? How do I begin the process of getting out of debt? Should I be saving for retirement / my child’s college education? What is a credit score? How much money do other people spend on _______? Am I doing my taxes the right way? It sure seems like I spend a lot of money on ________, I wonder if that’s average? … You get the idea. Your specific questions are going to vary based on your lifestyle, but I think you’ll find the exercise to be far easier than you think.

2. Bring your best “I need some help” attitude. Find a friend you trust with these matters. Arrange a private moment to ask some of your questions. With an open mind and heart, begin asking any appropriate question from your list above. Take the high road of humility and ask for help using specifics – yours, not theirs. Keeping the focus on yourself will keep the pressure off of them.

3. Look for other opinions. Not every person will be an expert on every topic. In fact, most of them will simply answer your questions based on personal experience. It may be wise to ask the same questions of 2 or more different people to get well-rounded responses.

4. Seek out an expert. You likely have included a few questions in your list above that will require an expert opinion. For example, my list includes questions pertaining to taxes, online business accounting, saving for a child’s college education, and health care costs. While there are other questions on my list, these specific ones require an expert opinion. Pay if necessary, but consider your network of friends first. You likely have a friend that will gladly answer some of these questions for free. People love to help.

5. Include your family. Assuming your family is healthy and mature, don’t hesitate to ask specific questions of them. If you see members of your family acting foolishly with their finances, approach the subject. Likewise, if you are the one who needs the help making wise financial decisions, go to them. They love you the most and will be glad to help. Similarly, if your parents are aging, personal financial status is a conversation you need to be having with them.

6. Look for community help. Many local communities offer classes on personal finance. If you need help, look into your options. Sometimes these classes are offered through a local Parks and Recreation department. Others times they can be found available at local churches or nonprofit organizations.

No doubt, money is a great source of anxiety for many. Our world is filled with people making unwise choices. And most of us have a few questions about personal finance we’d like answered. Meanwhile, the answers are all around us… we just need to swallow our pride long enough to ask.

Image: Bohman

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    That’s true. Traditions are general and forceful. Sometimes, it feels like because we don’t ask questions we are powerless. Some of us never realize that taking control over one’s life starts by merely getting involved in searching answers to questions that really matter. Thoughtful. Inspiring. Like it.

  2. says

    I think this question of “How much money do I really need?” is what so many people miss. The mentality of hoarding and amassing money it rampent but we often set our goals on sums of money that we don’t actually need. It would be like going into a restaurant and ordering everything just to be on the safe side. But in the end 99% of it is not enjoyed by you. Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Appreciate that thought Craig. I also think that many people believe the solution to their financial crisis is to just make more money… then they could get out of debt, start saving for retirement, or donate to a charity. Meanwhile, in many of these cases, people who are earning less are already accomplishing some of those things. < These are, of course, broad generalities that I am speaking about. Every case is different. >

  3. romney says

    “Almost half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets.”

    How is this a terrible problem? Why stockpile money and possessions for AFTER your death? (except for necessary funeral expenses and so forth). Seems like the ultimate in minimalist money management to dispose of your assets as you approach your death.

    Yeah, I can see what you’re getting at, but this figure itself isn’t really the problem. More people than ever are living to a ripe old age, and should manage their money in a different way to a younger person with a family and debts such as a mortgage. Sure its nice to leave some money behind for your children, but if you don’t have all that responsibility anymore, why not live a little?* Go on that cruise! Sell the house and buy that campervan!

    (* obviously, within certain sensible limits!)

    • says

      Hey Romney, thanks for the comment. I think the reason that statistic jumped out to me is because most of these people are not seeking the “ultimate money management” of disposing of all assets before death. If they were trying to accomplish that reality, maybe this would be an encouraging statistic. But that is rarely the case. Instead, it more often represents the life result of poor financial choices. < Again, speaking in broad general terms, of course. >

      • Midge Van Etten says

        I have to agree with romney! What assets are left at the end of your life is definitely not a fair indication of a life well lived. Is it a poor financial choice to share what we have in our older years with people/family when they need it? We have no debt, no real savings, we own our home, and have what we need to get by. When we have a little extra, it gives us great joy to share it. I would certainly rather die poor and happy without regret then have my life judged by what’s left in our bank account. We just may sell our place and buy that RV!

        • Corissa says

          If what romney and Midge Van Etten were saying was true for more people, it wouldn’t be a troublesome statistic. Too many people are buying things that they can’t afford, and this number expresses how little of it they actually own. It’s not about having lots of money and assets left over upon death.

      • Sydney says

        I actually thought this was a great and shocking point. 10k in assets will barely cover a funeral/other after death expenses.

  4. Zen Presence says

    For anyone wanting to truly get a grip on their finances I highly recommend “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin. It is much more than a financial plan. It will change your understanding of your relationship with money.

    Dan Garner

    • Cheryl says

      This book truly changed how I thought about money–realizing that every thing I chose to do was a “trade”–my time/life in exchange for things (material things, living expenses, experiences)–I was never the same person after that. Understanding that money is only a “tool” and I could control that tool was empowering. I highly recommend this book also!

  5. Victoria says

    Too many of the questions are looking sideways at who ever is in line of sight. Search for and look at a role model that is doing what you want to do, such as get out of debt. To follow a role who is NOT out of debt (because they are average), is not going to help. Be intentional and focus on the exceptional. Others have done it. “Your money or your Life.” is a classic.

    • says

      Appreciate this comment Victoria. In the original draft of this post, my second tip (talk to friends) hinted more at seeking out mentors who’s financial life was in order. Unfortunately, this is difficult to assess without actually engaging in the conversation. It’s tough to know who is actually a good financial role model without beginning the conversation.

  6. says

    Growing up fights over money were as common as sunny days in Dubai. I learned early on that money is an evil necessity and that the only way you dealt with it, is to avoid thinking about it.
    Eventually, of course, I learned better. i realized how to be the master of money rather than its slave. I am still learning, but asking questions, reading books, and observing how other richer folk deal with their money, really helps.

  7. says

    I say this again, only because it is so sad to see people enslaved to jobs they don’t like and the endless cycle of trying to be happy through spending….Check out the “Your Money or Your Life” program by Vicki Robin. If you don’t want to buy the book, there is enough info online to get started. Understand money as a representation of your time spent, how much of your life energy do you waste on trivial items ?

    Here is an overview:

    Dan Garner

  8. Rosa says

    Hi Joshua

    I totally agree about community help, and also with Kathleen that it can be just as valuable online. I’ve had a lot of help with these questions from the MoneySavingExpert website (I’m in the UK) and its forum, especially the Debt Free Wannabe board – it enables people to share things frankly even when there’s nobody in their ‘real life’ they feel they can tell, and the board is very supportive, often thoughts are offered from people who are going through similar situations. My diary thread helps keep me focused and so do my DFW online buddies :)


  9. Rhiannon says

    Great post! I think so many people struggle with finances because they don’t learn how to manage them from a young age. I wish life skills such as balancing a check book and learning about loans and credit were taught in school. I’m teaching my 8 year old to save his lawn cutting money into three categories – savings, spending and charity. And he has to be mindful about spending – no walking into the store with a wad of cash burning a hole in his pocket, but rather take the 30 day approach and wait a few weeks to decide if it’s really worth his hard earned money.

  10. says

    I’m glad you linked to Dave Ramsey. I’ve been encouraging my adult children who haven’t already done it to take the FPU course. Two out of four are already making their budgets and sticking to them. The other two seem to be doing the right things already. Maybe this is because my husband and I talked about money and discussed responsibility and budgets all the time with them. If you have kids, start today teaching them about how to be responsible with their money!

  11. says

    Hi. This is my second time on your blog, I believe, but I enjoyed this article. My husband and I avoid debt. Other than a house and a car we aspire to pay off. But financial management is a tricky thing…there are people on one hand, who completely ignore it, and there are people, on the other hand, who let it consume them. I think this article fits for either though because it says, look, whatever you’re doing, think critically about it, talk it over with advisors and live intentionally rather than just flying by the seat of your pants.

  12. says

    Joshua, again thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling with my finances. I feel this is the missing link in my journey towards a balanced life. I have to work on my “I need your help” attitude because I’ve been so used to trying to figure things out on my own, especially in finances. I have made decent progress but it’s inspiration like this post, learning more about personal finances, and me finding what is deep within me that is causing this struggle in this aspect of life.

  13. says

    This design is incredible! You most certainly know how to keep a
    reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved
    to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

  14. says

    Its like you learn my mind! You appear to know so much about this, such as you wrote the ebook in it or something.
    I believe that you just can do with a few % to force the message house a little
    bit, however instead of that, this is excellent blog.

    A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

  15. Tracey says

    Will definitely be checking out Your Money or Your Life. I have read Financial Peace but still seem to struggle. We have had a history of layoffs through our 30+ years and catching up is tough. Our debt is not from new car or vacations, it is from broken water heaters and car repairs while raising 3 kids. Talking to family? That can be tough. Parents never spoke about finances (pretty common) and I remember being called an idiot once by a parent because we had put something on a credit card. Now I just try to follow they’re example (which I wish they’d share) behind the scenes :)
    Thanks for your posts. I wish I’d had something like this 20 years ago!

  16. Kim Johnson says

    If you would like to have a complimentary financial needs analysis done, contact a Primerica rep. Our company uses the same concepts as Dave Ramsey, Susie Orman and others, and after sharing the concepts with you, we also help you put them into practice. There is no obligation, but we have partnerships with the best financial products vendors in the country (and Canada, Puerto Rico). We are, in fact, the largest financial services marketing company in North America, but do not use paid advertising because we know that referral marketing is more effective. If you are serious about straightening out your financial house, do your due diligence and go to rather than Google. Remember that anyone can put anything on the internet; it doesn’t make it correct. You owe it to your self and your family to find someone who will truly care about you getting the right help; we are passionate about helping middle income families become debt free and financially independent.

  17. Thia May says

    Awesome, awesome post. I got into a bit of credit card debt while in college (a bit = approx $1,000. I know that seems like nothing, but in 1991, when I was paying for books and food and had about $75 a week left after college expenses and food, it seemed like millions). The stress and sleepless nights worrying about this was so stupid. I was worrying about how to pay off clothes, music, dinners out, beer. Insane! A few years later, debt free, but clueless, I stumbled onto “Personal Finance for Dummies” thanks to some kind man at Borders. (Side note: nope, don’t work for either company) That book was a life changer. It’s filled with definitions and common sense for spending and saving. Looking back, I think it’s what got me started on a minimalist path.

    Now, I’m in a relationship with a non-minimalist with lousy finances. We have just started talk about these very things. But how you wrote this and listed it out, I’m printing it out and bringing it to the table this weekend as we continue conversations about priorities and needs vs. wants. I never really believed anyone who said that money could be the biggest relationship changer/killer, but wow. It’s really the truth. Thanks again!!!

  18. Jennifer says

    Thanks for posting this! The conversations need to happen, the problems must be faced, I agree. We are currently going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course and while the things we are learning may seem basic, they are important! I wish I had learned this stuff years ago. I am trying to be more open and honest with friends and family and have those candid conversations. It’s difficult, but so worth it!

    • Thia May says

      Jennifer, that was recommended to me just a few days ago. I think he’s got a couples’ class or something. You seem to like it. How long is the course?

  19. Elizabeth says

    Thanks, Joshua, for blogging on SUCH an important topic. I agree, there is a huge need for these kinds of conversations, and too few people having them. One person who has been tremendously helpful to me is Bari Tessler Linden, (, as she focuses, first, on the emotional healing that is SO often needed at the root of the problem (healing the deep shame, guilt, fear, etc. many people have around money). Then she helps create money systems that can really work, and stick for the long run. I know it was absolutely key, for me, to start with the heart and soul and emotion of the topic before I dived in to plans and numbers and systems.

    Thanks for the blog. :)

  20. says

    A lot of the problem behind this is that so few job now pay sustainable wages forcing ppl to live paycheck to paycheck. Proud to be an American. :/

  21. says

    Allow me to also endorse Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. This no-nonsense book provides great advice to stay out of the statistics mentioned above. There is also lots of tips on how to have meaningful money conversations with your spouse, kids and others close to you.

  22. says

    I realize this is an old post, but I just saw it for the first time on my Facebook feed. We’re going to be talking quite a bit about this at Christian Simplicity. We’re still getting things setup on the website, but this will be a significant part of the conversation there.

  23. Brigitte says

    I follow your page on Facebook and I truly enjoy the positive message and interaction of other followers.

    Ten years ago I was married and we were in debt with car, boat, credit cards, and more. I shopped to make myself feel good but the feeling never lasted. I decided to stop shopping for just one month. That led to another month, and another. Before I knew it a year had passed and I came to realize that my ex was not going to change his spending ways. Eventually he lied about money and hid money – which was the main reason for our divorce. I couldn’t live with the massive amount of debt he was acquiring and his deceitfulness. I took six months to slowly sell off everything. Car, truck, boat, motorcycle, canceled joint credit cards and banks accounts. When I walked away from our marriage, I had $1200. I moved to a new city and rented and apartment for $625 and a deposit of $625. That left me with $50 for groceries until my next paycheck. Times were tough for the six months. I had no bed, no sofa, no stuff. I bought piece by piece on Craigslist, and bought high quality kitchen products and clothes so I wouldn’t have to replace them. No more cheap junk.

    Today I still rent that apartment ($700), I have a car that I paid cash for, and I keep my living expenses to a minimum. Since then I have traveled to over 30 countries and have lived abroad in three countries. I have over $100,000 cash available and two retirement accounts with about $50,000, and $0 debt. I make about 35k annually, so it was hard work to pay everything off and set my finances on the right path. I recently turned 40 years old and I feel good about the control I took of my finances, and I feel more secure than ever.

    I encourage everyone to take a hard look and get honest about their finances. I have too many friends who make twice as much money than me and live paycheck to paycheck. They don’t understand how I made the change and have done all of my travels. They say “you’re so lucky” but it wasn’t luck. I just got honest with myself, made some minor changes that led to drastic changes, and committed myself to debt free living.

    I feel light. I sleep great. I feel wonderful. I live free.

  24. Maria says

    In my opinion financial literacy should become part of the curriculum in schools. It is sad that we as a nation cannot come to grips that the American dream should not be more debt and possessions but a feeling of security within the means that we have. Live within our means. For me it is too late I made many mistakes and am deeply paying for those errors. I am glad that there is hope for people that are opening their eyes and becoming more aware that there is more to life then getting into debt and obtaining possessions.

  25. G gagne says

    What does it really matter how much you have in assets when you die? Many successful people say that they’re kids should struggle and earn their own keep, in order to build character and integrity, rather than benefit from a substantial financial inheritance. I’m not sure why there’s such a focus in this society on postmortem asset valuation. What good is the money if you’re dead? Why give it to your kids when you started with no such inheritance? It’s an interesting paradox.

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