Earlier this year I was asked to speak to a group of women at a screening of 50 Shades of Grey. Now I appreciate it may seem strange to ask an accountant to speak about money before a film that is almost completely about sex. Perhaps you’re thinking, I was the metaphorical bucket of cold water.
Whatever the reason, I was so glad to be asked. Not because I wanted to watch 50 Shades of Grey but because of the connection between sex and money.
Once upon a time sex had an almighty ick factor. It wasn’t talked about and nice girls certainly didn’t want more of it. Thanks to Sex and the City and other books and movies that dealt with it irreverently and cleverly somehow sex became OK to talk about. Not just over cocktails where you hoped you wouldn’t remember the conversation in the morning but over brunch. Sure you might not talk about it with your mum but somehow the ick was removed from sex because the shame was lifted simply by bringing the subject out into the light of day and talking about all of it: not just the polite parts.
I, for one, would love money to be given the same treatment.
Now some might argue it already has. The Wolf of Wall Street certainly idolised money and there have been many books and movies before and since where the making of money has been lauded.
But what about the vulnerability associated with money? What about the shame? What about the ick factor that means we wont’ ask a girlfriend over lunch if she’s racking up a large credit card bill because she seems to be doing a little too much emotional spending at the moment? Or we don’t ask a beloved relative whose husband has passed away if she is going to be able to pay the bills? Or we can’t admit that we want our business to net a profit of more than a million dollars a year and be wealthy?
A few weeks ago I met with a potential client and I think she beautifully described why we don’t talk about money. Early in the meeting it became clear she felt she wasn’t in a great place financially and was really embarrassed. She said to me that she felt incredibly vulnerable coming to see me and gave me a long explanation before she even talked finances about why that was. Eventually, just as she was about to talk numbers, she said “I feel like I’m about to get naked.”
That phrase encapsulates why I was so pleased to be invited to speak before a movie about sex. Because for the same reason that so many people are leaving the lights off in the bedroom in order to have sex, we’re also leaving the lights off on our finances because we’re ashamed to have anyone see. And often we don’t even want to see or acknowledge what a mess we’re in.
I think the reason there is such an ick factor associated with money is because of the extremes. If you don’t have enough money, you’re not earning what you think you should be or you have too much debt there can be enormous shame involved. In the same way there might be with sex. Perhaps it’s because we’re worried what people would think of us if they saw the financial mess we’re in or judge us because we don’t think we’re earning enough for the suburb we live in, where our kids go to school or the people we associate with.
Or perhaps it’s more to do with the other extreme. Yes it might be OK for a guy to say they want more money but is it still OK for a woman to say that, particularly if say, like me, she was choosing not to have a family? Does that make us selfish somehow or less feminine? Is there judgement involved with wanting to have more money in the same way that some women might have felt pre-Samantha to come out and say they enjoyed sex and wanted more of it?
Whatever the reason I think we need to acknowledge the vulnerability involved with talking about money and have the conversation anyway. To begin talking about all facets of money, not just the socially acceptable parts like buying property and by talking about it, to remove the ick.
We live in an age where mindfulness is embraced. I believe that when we extend that concept of mindfulness to our finances we’ll start to remove the emotion, to scrape away the ick and to see money for what it is. Simply a tool that enables us to live our lives, however we choose to live it: in the way that makes us happy and achieves our goals.
So rather than talking over cocktails or drinks about sex this weekend why not move onto talking about money: your goals, your dreams, how you’re going with them and where you’re at now. It’s time to turn on the light in the bedroom and remove the ick factor from one of the last remaining taboos. Let’s talk about money, baby.
Melissa Browne is an author, speaker, CEO of A & TA and co-founder at Thinkeres.inq.
Her books “More Money For Shoes” and “Fabulous But Broke” are available for purchase at MoreMoneyForShoes.com.au