Shame. Fear. Confusion. Talk about money terrifies us for a few different reasons, but like almost everything we are afraid of, the fear generally turns out to be much worse than the actual experience.
When in a serious romantic relationship, or a business relationship, or even planning a weekend trip with friends, many people can avoid talking about money because they are afraid that they’ll be judged, either as ignorant for not understanding something financial, or judged for their money philosophy. You see this all the time when people talk about money, there is a constant pre-emptive defense that accompanies any money discussion. “Oh, well, I got a bonus at work so I deserve to treat myself,” or “It was on sale and I needed a winter coat so I had to get it.” While if you do need a coat it is great to find on sale, it’s the defense that is so frustrating, since it seems to say “Don’t judge my choice, see, it was on sale, I just got a bonus, it was a smart decision!”
Interestingly, this defense often comes up absent any kind of judgement, and around the smallest purchase. I’ve heard it while at a coffee shop as someone defends their choice to get a fancy latte when I get a simple cup of coffee, which is frustrating since I think it’s totally fine to spend $5 on a latte, and I would if it didn’t make my nose stuffy (cold milk doesn’t bother me at all, but a latte always drives my sinuses nuts; mysteries of the universe, I guess). But that “black house coffee” is seen as a judgment, and thus there is a need to defend.
My suspicion is that it’s not just some simple Freudian explanation like “her father must’ve shamed her spending as a child,” or something else so easy. I think that as a society we have a widespread shame about money. Which creates a vicious circle; it’s shameful so we don’t talk about it and defensively hide our choices, but it’s everywhere so it comes up all the time and by avoiding talking about it we don’t learn about it. By not learning about it, we get more confused, and hide our own choices more.
The next time you do have to talk about money, be it a coffee choice or what hotel room to get, try just changing the phrasing. Don’t worry about removing the shame; that’s hard to do and will take a long time for anybody. But instead of saying “I work hard at work and want a nice room on this ski trip,” just say “I’d like a nice room, I like to stay in nice places.” Don’t bother to defend it. Just own it. If someone else wants to stay in a lower rent hotel, try talking about why, neutrally. It’s hard to do, but most of the important things in life are learned by talking to our peers in a judgement free environment.