Many people shy away from talking about money. I was raised a good Southern girl, and one of the social norms that was drilled into my head is ‘Never discuss money; it’s not polite.’ I know that I am not the only one who has had this experience. Some feel it is a way to pry, some feel that it is insulting, and still others feel that it is simply in poor taste to discuss. For many years, I followed these guidelines, but once I discovered the world of personal finance blogs, I realized that maybe my attitude was uncalled for. After all, there were hundreds of comments and forums and chat rooms where people discussed money issues, why shouldn’t I join them?
Gradually, I started being more forthcoming about my efforts to save money and reduce my spending habits. It was difficult at first – I am a very social person and hate turning down an invitation. Much to my surprise, people understood. What’s more, I had several people compliment me on being forthcoming about my finances. My approach was polite but firm: ‘Sorry, I’m saving up for a month abroad and I’m really trying to limit any unplanned expenditures this month.’ Almost everyone understood my situation and could relate to it on some level. Not everyone has spent a month abroad, but many people have had to work towards saving goals – a new car, a down payment on a house, upgrades for their washer and dryer. They were compassionate to my plight and a few even asked for tips on how I was able to travel on such a limited budget. I even had one sweet, regular customer at the coffee shop I worked at give me $30 for my travel fund (“fun money”, he called it). My aim wasn’t to get donations to my fund; rather, I wanted them to respect my decision to watch my spending AND have them still like me!
As time went on, I noticed that being upfront about my financial situation had many benefits, one of which was that I wasn’t as affected by my peers’ rampant consumerism. They could keep their cutting edge technologies and flashy clothes, because I was going to see the world and experience things they could only imagine! There are a few other benefits that I have noticed by being forthcoming about your financial goals:
1. It helped me look for the best deal and reduce my costs.
In the summer of 2011, the apartment building that I was living in was condemned. I came home from work one night and the whole place was taped off with big “CONDEMNED” signs on every surface. I knew the building was old, but I had no idea it was unsafe! Unfortunately, this put me in a tight spot. I had to find somewhere new to live within my budget and FAST. My parents were generous enough to let me stay with them while I found a new place, but I knew I needed to get out soon – my lifestyle was/is so crazy that it wasn’t fair to make them put up with that long term. I spent every waking moment that I wasn’t working driving around, calling the number on every For Rent sign that I saw. Finally, I got in touch with someone who had something in my price range, but she couldn’t meet with me for two days. When I did meet her, she had already rented out the apartment in my price range, but had another one in the same complex that was a little more. She was charging $500 a month with no included utilities for this one bedroom. I thanked her, but told her that it was too far out of my price range. I explained the situation with needing a place fast due to my previous apartment being condemned and I told her that my previous apartment had been $425 a month with all utilities included except electricity (which was usually around $45 a month). She thought for a moment and said, “Well, could you do $450 a month?” That was in my price range, plus the apartment was much nicer than my previous dwelling. We signed the lease and I moved in two days later. By being honest and forthcoming with my landlord, I was not pressured into a place that was truly out of my price range, but I also felt that I had negotiated over something that not many people are able to negotiate. My estimate is that I have saved over $900 just by sharing my story and sticking with my convictions.
2. It helped me avoid temptations.
Since I was somewhat vocal about my financial goals, word spread that I was cutting back. I didn’t bring it up as a way to draw attention to myself or to dig for money, but when it came up in relation to the topic being discussed, I would talk about it. After a few months, most of the people that were close to me knew that I was trying to spend less and save more. This helped me become more accountable for my actions. My logic was, if people knew I was trying to watch my spending and they saw me “cheating”, they had every right to call me out on it. I didn’t want to be called out or considered a phony, so I needed to stick with my convictions. It was also beneficial, because if I had a weak moment, I could discuss it with friends. Since I work in a coffee shop located in a retail store, I see good deals happen all the time. Sometimes the power of the bargain goes to your head and you feel the urge to buy something unnecessary because ‘it was such a good deal’. Being able to acknowledge this and talk it over with a friend/coworker made it easier to resist. Typically, my friends would hear me out and then kindly remind me that although I might like that item now, if I resisted I would be able to be one step closer to my goals. Having that accountability was a powerful motivator when it came to avoiding temptations.
3. I was able to inspire others.
When I reached my goals and was able to travel, I always had people who were interested about my trip when I came home. During chats about my travels, people often times hinted at money (“It must be nice to have parents that contribute to these trips!” or “I bet your trip was nice, but I bet your credit card bill this month isn’t!”). Although sometimes the approach they took was frankly insulting, it gave me an opportunity to tell the curious that I had saved up for it all on my own, and everything was already paid for. Sometimes this fell on deaf ears, but sometimes it seemed to take root. The curious were suddenly much more curious; after all, I was able to accomplish things that they were still working on! If they were interested, I would share some of my tips with them. One of my friends has really padded her emergency fund with a few of the tips that I gave her and has recently thanked me for it. Knowing that I was able to help her a little was truly encouraging to me.
Not everyone will want to discuss money or your financial situation with you. You need to be tactful and not pursue the conversation if your listener does not want to discuss it. Oftentimes you will discover that since money is considered a taboo topic in many social circles, people find it refreshing when they can discuss it openly with someone else. You have the opportunity to save a little money, keep yourself accountable and potentially inspire others when you share your financial goals – it’s a positive situation all around!