It’s Time to Talk Dirty… About Money


Note: This is a post from Joan Concilio, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

A few months ago, a financial company asked for tips on Facebook about promoting financial literacy in kids.

My answer?

“Be open with them. My daughter knows how much we make and how much is in the checkbook and how much things cost. She always has.”

I stirred up some debate, including from some well-respected financial bloggers, who said things like “Kids don’t need the responsibility of worrying about that information, especially if you have a child that worries.”

My contention was that talking about money has actually reassured my now-13-year-old daughter, even when she was quite young, because there have been few unknowns for her to wonder about.

Fast-forward to our Kickoff 2013 You Vs. Debt class, where we had a handful of students balking at the same challenge that throws people every session. We ask participants to have a 20-minute open conversation about their finances with one important person in their lives.

Many of our students are awesome at this. But we always get some resistance from a few members. Their contention is sometimes…

It’s not anyone else’s business what I’m doing with my money.

And when I put that together with my earlier conversation about family financial conversations, I find I’m getting pretty worried.

Underwear, but not money??

I know a lot of people who will post what I consider WAY too much information on Facebook. Underwear, sex, bathroom issues… these are all fair game.

But people get weirded out that my debt is public knowledge. They freak when they find out that I not only air my financial dirty laundry

I …


encourage other people to “talk dirty” about money too!

I not only talk openly with my daughter about our family’s finances, I try to model financial openness in all parts of life.

Absolutely and unashamedly, yes, I do.

We can’t keep this our dirty little secret any more.

I firmly believe that the “don’t talk about it” money mentality is a large piece of our culture’s financial trouble.

There are so many people who I know in person who’ve come up to me since reading my Man Vs. Debt posts and said, “Oh my goodness, I thought I was the only person to have that problem.”

Sometimes, questions come to me from people who’ve wanted to make better choices their whole adult lives, but they didn’t know who to ask for help.

I want to change that.

My audacious goal is to bring money out into the open. If we can air Viagra commercials during family prime-time TV, c’mon, we’ve got to do better with our money talks.


I don’t have a list of tips for you today, or a free resource, or a detailed guide.

I just have this challenge: Talk to one person this week about money.

What can I do to help make it easier for YOU, personally, to talk about money? I want to hear your comments on how it goes.

One conversation. That’s where it starts.

Are you in??

90 thoughts on “It’s Time to Talk Dirty… About Money”

  1. I’m in! I’m normally a very reserved and private person, so starting my blog and airing my financial info and life was daunting for me. I wondered how many people would be supportive and how many would balk at my sham of a lifestyle. So far, its been great! I keep my friends accountable and they keep me on track too. I don’t have kids but I agree they should understand why mom and dad might not be able to buy them a fancy Ipad, Iphone or the latest gadget.

    1. Michelle, that’s awesome!! And I think accountability is one of the cool benefits that I didn’t even mention. It definitely is a huge help to us as it relates to sharing our story here, but I think it’s an even bigger help that our real-life friends know our situation and aren’t encouraging us (unknowingly) to make bad financial decisions! It takes a lot of the pressure off!

      You rock – congrats for being willing to take that leap of faith!

  2. Joan, although I completely appreciate the intensions you have with this topic and I am behind the debt movement I think your candid nature telling people to give their kids complete transparency of the household income is wrong. Sorry to disagree, however let me tell you my story.

    I was 12, my mother was newly single after eventually kicking my bullying and abusive step father out of the family house. She had no one to confide in and told me everything about the household income, I went to school worrying about how the mortgage was going to be paid, how food was going to be put on the table. You are paying off your consumer debt and through hard work are earning enough through side hustles and freelance jobs to pay the bills and pay off your debt. Would you be so candid if ends didn’t meet? If you had to not pay one bill to keep a roof over your head or food on the table? I think there is a balance between the two, sure teaching the value of money, but don’t ruin a childs childhood with adding another additional worry to an already anxious and turbulent time for a pre teen and teenager.


    1. That’s DEFINITELY an interesting point, Jonathan, and while I don’t post too openly about it, that is actually how I was raised after the death of my father when I was 11.

      Again, it’s a personality thing – in my case, the things I IMAGINED about our finances right afterward were way worse than the truth, even when the truth was pretty ugly. So I was relieved when I saw the full picture, even though it included a lot of things like shutoff notices, not paying one bill to pay another, and more.

      I definitely see your point, and I think it’s the point the commenter on social media was making that sparked this discussion – but I think it takes out half the equation, and that’s that you don’t know what someone will think when they don’t know.

      For instance, it’s only guessing, but I look and you and see someone who tends to be very aware of things – can you say that if your mom hadn’t been open with you, that you wouldn’t have had the same picture (and again, maybe even thought it was EVEN worse?)

      Obviously there’s no way to know, but I think we do our kids a disservice if we’re assuming that not telling them keeps them “free” of those worries. But, as you say, there’s a balance, too, for sure!

  3. Jonathan, there is a HUGE difference between dumping financial woes upon a child and having an openness. Your mom obviously had some emotional baggage she was putting on you and it caused tons of stress. She could have handled that differently.

    My in-laws never withheld info from their first five children, but once the sixth came along all of a sudden they clammed up. That last one was convinced they were much wealthier than they were and attempted to live a life well above their ability. They gave in to the baby of the family frequently, which caused plenty of problems.

    My own family never talked about anything. No communication of any kind. That’s not exactly healthy either.

    1. Essay

      If you are going to have a full financial disclosure, how will you hide the fact that more is going out than is going in. That’s a balance sheet black and white statement. It fair enough if the income coming in covers the outgoings and shows there is very little left, but if it’s not, should you burden that worry on a child.

      The experience was very worrying for me as a child, and at 14 was working 3 jobs to help out the household income. It was lucky I was an academically gifted student so didn’t have to work hard to get good grades, if I wasn’t that way inclined work could have stuffed up my future.

      The fortunate situation is that my mind has always been focused with money matters, so I am now 40, mortgage free after working long and hard to get in a financially secure situation. But this result could have been achieved without the anxiety and worry.


      1. I agree with your point that you should not dump financial worries on a child.
        However in my case, my parents would confide their financial worries in me, and never give me any real idea about numbers!
        So I had all of the worry, from both sides, wedged between them – and no numbers to go along with it. I ended up doing some pretty ridiculous things to try and save money – some that endangered my own safety. Honestly I probably still do…

        Even just a simple discussion about very basic budgeting would have been appreciated. Not down to every bill, but something like “this is a good monthly grocery budget, this is what that budget might look like to save some money this month.” Or “This is about how much we have planned to spend on clothes this school year.”

  4. I started using Mint for my finances and told my wife about it. She is now using it for the household accounts and has been surprised by the numbers she is seeing. Funny thing is, my daughter, who is grown and on her own called the other day to mention she is also using mint on her computer to track her financial progress as well.

    1. That’s awesome, John’e! I love that your daughter would call and have that conversation with you guys. That says a lot about your family’s openness. And I’m so glad you and your wife are having such success together too. I see too many people who aren’t even open with their spouses about the money picture!

  5. You are absolutely right. Talk about money and what things cost. i’m always curious and feel like I ask too many questions – but understanding what things cost helps me to know where my limits are and where I need to stretch.

    1. Loren, there are NEVER too many questions. And I think you’re right… if you don’t know how much things are, how can you see where the limits are?

      Good for you!

  6. You can bet generational wealthy families talk about money all the time. Why would you want your kids to learn about money when they are 20 and can rack up 10’s of thousands of dollars in debt that sets them years behind the financial curve. You could teach them about money much younger and give them a 10 year head start. Imagine if you knew 10 years ago what you know now about money.

    I’m sorry, but finances are an integral part of our society. We all want whats best for our kids. Swallow the pride and help them stay away from the slavery of debt.

    Besides, many folks will learn just how mature their kids are when their kids give up things voluntarily to stay within the family budget.

    Joan, fantastic post. Keep the conversation stirred. At the very least folks may rethink their position.


    1. I sure hope to keep talking about this, Jason – and you are SO RIGHT that wealthy families (truly wealthy ones, over time) are absolutely open about money.

      Now if only we didn’t see that as a prerequisite… that you must be wealthy for these conversations to be OK!

      I’m thinking there are several more posts on this topic to be had. I’m guessing I can count on you to read them! 🙂

  7. Talking to kids about money is a great idea. I desperately wish my parents had given me some more financial information growing (if only so I wouldn’t have followed their advice…). I still have no idea how much my parents make, nor how they keep a roof over their heads with all of the excessive spending they do. And, my young lack of financial savvy has lead to some nasty accusations that they won’t be able to retire because they sent me to college. If anyone had discussed loans, interest, payments, etc BEFORE taking out thousands in loans, things would be a lot different.

    1. Carla, that’s so rough… and that’s EXACTLY why I feel like this is so important. It’s funny, for “not talking” about money, your family definitely sent you messages about it, and if only they’d done so openly instead of through after-the-fact comments, you know??

      I applaud you for being willing to think differently now, though, because that’s what will make a difference moving forward. We’re cheering for you! 🙂

      1. Talking to your children about money should start early, before they are teenagers. You give them a commission/allowance (usually by age 5). Put money in giving, saving, and spending. Teach them about accountably. As they age and mature, if you feel comfortable taking about YOUR budget like Joan and I have done with our children. Then by all means, do so. Its about lifes teachable moments, NOT scarcing your child to death. By the time your kids are in high school, they should understand how a budget works. Our daughter graduated last May from college – DEBT FREE! She knew exactly how we budgeted for her college because we started discussing it in high school. She married in October. As a proud parent, she came to us with her soon to be hubby and we helped them to plan a realistic budget which included savings, and investments for their future.
        Joan’s (if I may take this liberty) point isn’t to scare a child, it’s to help them better understand life from the financial side of it. What the consequence in your life when you incur debt, save, etc. She is starting “talking to your children about money! dialog.”
        It’s really sad that parents can talk about drugs and sex BUT can’t talk about money.
        My parents NEVER talked to me about money growing up. About 7 years ago, I had to completely handle my moms finances. She was in a bad way financially. She would NOT talk to me. She just told me “to handle it.” I talk to her the first of every month about HER money. I am the adult, she is the child.
        In 2007, we *hubby and I) graduated from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We have followed that plan since then. As of Dec. 2014 we will completely be debt free incl. mortgage because of the choices we have made. Both of our children know and understand this. They are also on the right track as well. Carla, it’s a Choice! Good luck to you. Wishing you and others who choose to talk with their children about money the very best!

        1. Cay, you have nailed it – and I am so proud of you AND you kids (and whoa to debt-free including mortgage, CANNOT wait to join you!!!)

  8. Hi Joan,
    Thank you for your honesty on the topic and starting a revolution! It IS really hard to start the conversations but people will soon realize that they are not alone and become empowered.

    I started my blog back in September and was open about our crappy debt situation for the first time in my life. It was scary, but I recieved a great response from readers which encouraged me to keep going. For me, it was a little embarassing for people to know everything isnt rainbows & butterflies, but its the truth. And the more I am open about it, the more resources I am finding through other people being open as well.

    Thanks again!

    1. Sarah, you ROCK!! That is exactly what we’ve found too – and it is so amazing to see how much we benefit from hearing other people’s stories. I’m off to check out yours now, I can use the inspiration! 🙂

  9. Awesome post! I still find it astounding that so few public schools focus on personal finance. So it has to start in the household, in my opinion. Why teach the Periodic Table, algebraic equations, how to say “I need a tissue” in French, and the history of British royalty, but not how to balance a checkbook, compute an APR, or create a household budget?

    1. ALSO very true. These conversations needs to happen at home, among friends, at a personal level, for sure, but also at an institutional level.

      You’re 100% right on – our only “personal finance” education at my high school came as one balancing-a-checkbook unit in the same survey class where we learned how to highlight text as a means of note-taking and how to type more quickly. Thank goodness I had a mom who used me as her business accountant in middle school!!

  10. I think it’s irresponsible not to give kids some idea about family finances.
    But it’s also important to be consistent. Getting one economic message from one parent, and a completely different message from the other parent – is just awful.

    What I overheard you fighting about in the kitchen while hiding on the stairs doesn’t count.

    I realize parents get overloaded, and it ends up not being the first priority.
    I know my Dad would have loved to help coach me about finances for years to come, when I was older, when I was ‘more ready.’
    I know my Grandmother would have done the same.
    But neither of them get that chance. I don’t get that chance.
    And I absolutely identify with their financial styles more than any other family members…

    Teach your kids what you can, while you can.

    1. VERY good point, Jenny. And I think that (sadly) that whole “what I overheard you fighting about in the kitchen” is all too common. A lot of people seem to think that they’re doing their kids a favor and not talking about money, but really, they’re talking about money a lot – in what they THINK are more covert ways.

      I wish you’d have had more time with your dad and grandmother – but I think they would both be VERY proud of you now!! 🙂

  11. I believe there are levels of appropriateness to share with kids and others about my salary and finances, just as there are with sex and other “real world” issues. There are certain things that will always be private and I would prefer to remain private (I don’t share anything about my underwear or bathroom activities on FB either). Guess what? I don’t want to know about YOUR salary or finances, either.

    1. Kalena, that’s an interesting comment to leave on a financial transparency blog. I’d be really interested to know why you feel so strongly about money as a “private” issue – and what keeps you reading MvD, where we’re so radically transparent all the time.

      I feel like I can’t really wrap my head around why money would be so private, and I’m always open to hearing more about that!

  12. I have loved this site for quite some time. Some 20 years ago, I opened a home business, a home beer and winemaking shop with mail order. (We made a deal at least one of us would be home for the kids, so they had our values.) My wife had to work a job that was barely minimum wage. Starting the business meant that every penny went into the business. Our daughter was in 3rd grade, and our son was 2. They knew we had no money… all. We barely made all our payments, gasoline, power and utilities, much less afford food and extras. We all pitched in as a family. I got a large newspaper route at 3:30 am and drove 42 miles. I did it mostly myself, with my wife occasionally doing it. What the kids loved was going with us on non school days.. They carried papers, put rubber bands on them, threw them at doors. We had to have the papers delivered by 6:30 am. We took napes for a couple of hours, got up and did something fun…the park, going to old ghost town ruins, library, things that cost no money. Only on occasion did we walk to get ice cream, the kid cones were twenty-five cents.

    Years later, the kids are gone, Both are through college, and engineers in different states. When we get together, what do we talk about? The best time of our lives, when we all knew we were poor, and got to do everything together. Kids maybe don’t need to know every dirty detail, but they need to know the family financial status.

    1. Tom, that’s AWESOME. I love knowing that you guys made it a team effort – that is so cool! And then when you succeed, everyone can feel like, “Hey, I helped with that!”

      That was something that came up in a conversation with my mom today as we were discussing this post – she was saying how great it was to her that we were a team, and knowing that I was working WITH her and not arguing with her about things like moving, giving up our pets, and the other hard things we had to do to make ends meet after my dad died. Were there things I’d have really liked to do – or NOT to do? Absolutely, but my biggest memories looking back aren’t of “lack,” but of the cool stuff that came from being a real team.

      Your family is awesome!! 🙂

  13. I think it is great to be open about our finances. This is one thing I wish my parents would have been more open about when I was younger. I feel like I would have learned more about financial responsibility if they would have shared more about their situation.

    I have had always a vague knowing of how much they were making (or not making) but haven’t gotten a clear picture until recently. This is due to my not to long ago financial woes. I was reluctant at first but I am very open to them about it.

    A few of my friends and I are open about how much we make and what we spend it on. It is reassuring and refreshing knowing other people around my age (25) are open about their finances.

    1. Charles, I am THRILLED to hear that you have a group of friends willing to really be financially open with each other. You rock! I’m with you on wishing it had started even sooner – but it sounds like you’re in a much better place of transparency now.

      Keep rockin’!

  14. I am in. I am very open and honest with my money with my daughter who is only 3 years old. Normally she usually hears from me that mommy cant afford x (usually a toy of some sort) right now but, maybe later I can. Most of the time I do not get her toys just because she has quite a few thanks to grandparents. I know bad mommy. Lol.
    Too funny my husband who normally never tells me how much he has in his accounts actually told me how much is in each of his checking accounts.

    1. Rebecca, that’s awesome!

      My mom and I were actually having a conversation after I wrote this post, and she asked me, “Wasn’t it better that I told you, ‘No, we can’t afford it,’ than if I just let you think, I don’t know, mom’s just mean or stingy or something?” I had to admit it WAS better for me growing up, because I knew that Mom wanted me to have the things I thought were so important, but she couldn’t bankroll them (and so I learned to work for them myself, which is super-awesome!)

  15. I teach middle school. I think it is very important to involve children in the conversations so that they feel involved and I feel that they are less likely to be anxious if everyone is open. If you keep things from your children because you are afraid they are too young, it also sends the message that you don’t trust them with information and to make decisions for themselves.

    Many adults are in debt because these lesson were not passed down. When I have my niece and nephew for our outings, I tell them that I will be paying admission and food, and then I give them an allowance for the day. Any extras come out of that. Prior to doing this, they seemed to think I was rolling in dough, and it became expensive and exhausting and they didn’t know the value of all the treats and toys. Now they budget and calculate, and quite often, they decide not to buy it and keep all or part of the money.

    As they are getting older, I will set a budget for our outing and they can help me plan the activities and choose the restaurants (or whether we should do a picnic and then get popcorn at the movies).

    1. Cara, that’s super-smart! And I’m so glad you’re spreading this beyond just your immediate-immediate family and on to your niece and nephew. So many people would say, “Well, not my kids, not my problem” – I hear that sadly too many times!!

      You rock. I bet your students are among the best middle-schoolers out there – because you treat them like people, not “little kids.”

  16. My kids, now teens, have always known the value of a dollar. This way of thinking
    Was handed down to me from my parents. My biggest problem has been reigning in
    and teaching my husband how to stay out of debt.

  17. Hi Joan,
    This is an awesome point. When I was growing up my parents never talked about money opnely, although my mum always harped on about making sure you budgeted and scrimped and saved (kind of without any context – and now her early frugality has become the stuff of family legend, so very difficult to actually get any real perspective on). But I had no idea what was actually happening or how my parents managed. The only money things they were explicit about was child support (or lack of it) when they divorced, and how much of this they now didn’t have. And this “you don’t talk about money” has stuck with me – I find it incredibly difficult to talk about money, especially gracefully/tactfully.

    Fast forward to now, and I try my best to budget and be conscientious, (my Dad’s passed away) but my mother has this fixation that I’m hopeless with money (I’m 31, married with 2 toddlers, we’re on 1 income and we’ve only got mortgage debt, my small interest-free student loan of $4k and $500 owing on a bed, interest-free til August). She also has the attitude that MY finances should absolutely be transparent and fair game to talk to her about, but I should NEVER EVER ask her about money – it just would be SUCH bad manners, and is NONE of my business. WTF?!

    I wonder if this weird attitude about money comes a bit from a sort of class-system? If you’re rich (sort of middle-class rich, if you know what I mean, not SUPER WEALTHY – because they don’t seem to care who knows) you don’t want to flaunt it because that’s bad manners, and makes others who are not as well off feel bad/resentful (I’m pretty sure that in NZ for a long time, talking about money was a sign of bad manners/poor breeding – as everyone tried to appear of a “higher class” than they were). And if you are less well off/poor you don’t want to advertise the fact for fear of being stigmatized or being kicked out of the “in-crowd”/the crowd you’re with for being an “imposter”.

    This is a hard concept for me to convey, but I think basically between the class-system and the debt-encouragement-system, we’ve all been trained not to talk about money so people can’t judge us and decide we’re not as wealthy as the image we portray. Sort of keeping-up-wth-the-Joneses but not ever admitting that it’s all balanced on top of an empty core of debt that just keeps growing.

    1. Lady J, I think that’s a large part of it. There’s definitely a thing in our community where there are people with a little bit of money who LOVE to flaunt what they have by doing things like bragging about second homes or vacations, but bring up money? Psssh, that’s “not done.” Well, OK, but you kinda did, you know? That’s my thought. And like you said – some people think YOUR money should be fair game, but THEIRS is private. Um.

      And by the same token, I know there are people who are trying to convince people they’re doing better than they really are, so of course transparency isn’t their friend, either.

      I think all those situations are sad – because honestly, if your friends only like you for your money (or lack of it – which DOES happen sometimes) – then maybe they’re not friends you want to keep?

      I’m with you!!

  18. (I’ve had a bit more of a think about this and …)

    Also I wonder if part of the reluctance to talk about money is related to a reluctance to be judged (whether the judging is real or imagined). That if we reveal that we’re not managing on the amount of money we have, that people (like my mother) will say “but that’s ridiculous! you’ve got SO much money, how on earth can you cry poor?! You must be making foolish choices/wasting your money/frittering it away”. I know that’s definitely a part of my reluctance to reveal how much my husband earns ($90K pre-tax, but $15K of that is not income, but a company car instead), because it sounds like a lot of money, but once we’ve paid all our bills there’s not a great deal left for us from fortnight to fortnight ($200). And we often find it very difficult to balance the books at the end of the month (not impossible, but very difficult).

    I think for me there is a concern that the sympathy/empathy over how difficult it can be to manage would dry up/disappear if people knew how much my husband actually earns, because it sounds like such a huge amount.

    1. That was actually one thing I expected to happen when I started writing here – that people would say, “Oh, c’mon, you two make a combined six figures, of course you can get out of debt.” My point is that the income doesn’t change the result – just the speed. We can and have survived on $25,000 a year. Right now, our choice is to make more to pay it off faster. We’re blessed to have that choice. But I DID expect that people would be unsympathetic because of it.

      The funny thing was, I found that very few people said that, and in fact some people (especially those in areas of the US and world with a higher cost of living) are going, “Wow, you don’t make much at all!” I never expected that!

      I think you have nailed our motivation personally for talking openly about it. Because we “should” be doing all right. Because without debt, I believe we WOULD be doing more than all right!

    2. Don’t mean to sound rude so please don’t take it that way but, if me and my wife had about $75,000.00 to live on for a year we would think we died and went to heaven! Try living on less than 10,000.00 a year.

      1. DavenTrish, it’s all perspective.

        HAVE been there, and in many ways was much better off at that time than I am now financially (I had no debt at the time – we used cash only, even though there wasn’t much of it to be had.) Our expenses were also super-low at that time, so we were closer to in the black then than now!

        More money isn’t automatically a ticket to anything better. I’m ABSOLUTELY thrilled with how blessed we are now with the income we’ve got, but I’m willing to take that money and use it to be debt-free. Our plan once we are debt free is not to continue with the job path we’re on now. We will be debt-free and living on probably less than $30,000 for a family of four. That’s considered well below the poverty line (at least in my state), but that will give us a MUCH higher standard of living than I’ve ever had!

        And I can’t wait!!

  19. Joan, I think this is so important. As a child growing up, my parents were heavily in debt and I never had any idea. there was never any talk of budgeting and they didn’t say “no” to my brothers and I very often. As an adult, I still struggle with budgeting due in large part to these ingrained attitudes about money and debt. Logically, I understand the need to pay off debt and save for things I want. Emotionally, it’s tough to not give in to the desire for instant gratification and easy credit. I wish my parents had said no more.

    1. Mercedes, that’s a great point – you hadn’t “built your muscles” for that exercise as a child, so it’s harder now, is how I’ve heard it described!

  20. I completely agree that there needs to be more transparency when it comes to money. It is such a taboo subject! However, there is so much shame associated with my debt, I have a tough time telling my loved ones. So I just started a blog where I can share my story anonomously for now until I’m ready to share with family and friends.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I’m looking forward to sharing the lessons I’m learning with them to help keep them from getting in the same financial mess that I find myself in. You have one lucky daughter that will be grateful for all of the knowledge you are so generously sharing with her now!!

    1. Hey, anonymously is definitely better than not at all! I’m actually planning to give a talk later this year to some bloggers about anonymity and transparency – essentially, the “ways” you can be transparent even if you don’t give your name. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of that nailed – share the story and build your confidence!

      And thank you so much for the kind words – you made my day!

  21. Hi Joan, I think you rock!

    My hubby and I will have the mortgage paid off in July, and will be well on our way to financial independence and a planned early retirement; woo hoo! We are proud of ourselves because it took many years of saying “no” to stuff we could have “afforded” (luxury vacations, bigger & better cars, bigger & better houses, etc.) in order to get to this point. We also have had the benefit of having good, high paying jobs that allowed us to save/pay off debt, and and we don’t have kids (I’m positive if we had kids we’d be nowhere near being able to be debt free at this point in our lives — between daycare and after school activities and birthday parties and new clothes/shoes for growing bodies, holy smokes that’s a lot of $$$$!).

    I absolutely love to talk about my finances when asked, but I am always cautious to start a conversation about money because I don’t want people to think I’m bragging, or judging them. And, since we have high income jobs and no kids, I feel that our lifestyle choices are easy to attack … it would be super easy for someone to day, “No wonder you’re debt free; you both have great jobs and don’t have kids! I’d be debt free too in that situation!” What can I say to that? You shouldn’t have had kids, then? LOL.

    So, ironically, I think it’s probably nearly as hard for me to initiate a conversation about money as it would be if I had a ton of debt. Weird, huh?

    1. Kris, WHOO-HOO to that mortgage payoff coming soon!! I think you’re right that both sides of the coin are equally hard. And I definitely know the feeling. In our case, we do have one child, but we are surrounded by friends who have, often, 3 to 5 kids, and we get the same thing, “Well, if we just had one kid, we’d be able to pay off our debt, too!”

      I disagree – but I know it happens!

      And I say to you, bravo for making the choices you’ve made and being debt free. There are PLENTY of high-income, no-kids families with plenty of debt, for sure!!

  22. Growing up in the 1950s-60s I had no idea how much my father made or owed, but I was always very clear what we could afford and what we couldn’t. I think this was done in a low key way – so much so that I only remember a few things like his offer to pay for any fabric I wanted to buy to make my own clothes since he couldn’t afford to buy many clothes. Fabric was much less expensive then compared to clothing. We talked to our sons about money by trying to adjust what we discussed to their age and ability to understand. Things like clothing allowances helped them learn to budget. I think even more openness would have been helpful and not scared them at all.

    1. Juhli, that’s awesome – and a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Low-key is fine; acting like money isn’t an issue isn’t! Your dad’s solution about fabric was super-smart, and I applaud him for it; what a way to make the most out of your money, you know? Good for you, too, for talking to your sons often and openly!! 🙂

  23. Hello! I was one of those kids who worried about everything and because it wasn’t until I went to middle school and realized my family wasn’t as well off as I had thought that I stopped eating lunch at school and instead would fill up on milk. When I had my children they knew we were poor they also knew there wasn’t a Santa clause or an Easter bunny or even a tooth fairy. I didn’t spend a lot of money on things they didn’t need and we didn’t eat out a lot either. I did however try and get everything they asked for at Christmas but, they also knew that if they didn’t get something they wanted it wasn’t because they weren’t good enough it was because I didn’t have the money to buy it. The next year they would have it (what they wanted the year before or the newest model). I was and still am very honest with my children and would have appreciated my parents being just as honest with me about things instead of me believing we were better off than what we actually were. In my younger years I didn’t worry if bills didn’t get paid because I figured you can’t get blood from a stone. I paid the bills that I figured were important which were the rent, electric, and things like that and we received food stamps so, I went shopping once a month and when I would run out of something we did without. A few years ago I filed bankruptcy and I am back in the hole again mainly for lack of insurance. I have started to pay off old debts and so far I have paid off around $23,000.00 and I still have a long way to go but, with the Lords help I know I will be okay. I have invested in Iraqi Dinar which my children think was a bad investment but, I also never took money from other bills to buy it the money was extra that I had left over that I saved up. I am still pretty cheap as I haven’t bought any New clothes for over 13 years. Even when me and my husband lost weight and the clothes we had became too big to wear we had people give us clothes or we went to Goodwill and got a few things but, as far as getting something brand new we haven’t. I have also tried to be more “green” and I am trying to get rid of things I really don’t need any more. Most of the things I have came from my parents when they passed and even though they have been gone about five years I still have trouble letting go of their things- it took me four years to get rid of their clothing! There are some things I will never part with as I plan on passing them to my children but, the other things I think I am going to take pictures of them and then list on ebay or craigslist and let someone else enjoy them and that will allow me to free up some needed space. Sorry I rambled on!!!

    1. Trish, I never mind rambling – I love hearing everyone’s stories! I am so glad to hear that you’re trying to change the money patterns of the past, and especially glad to hear you’re getting ready to make the leap to listing those clothes so that they can bless someone else! Keep us posted!

  24. Wow, Joan, you stirred up a torrent of comments! I love it! While this is a touchy subject, it’s a much-needed conversation. The brilliant thing is that between your approach and the rich ideas presented by your readers, anyone should be able to craft an approach to try that fits within their comfort zone or pushes them a bit (preferred). If one approach doesn’t work, modify or try a new one until you find a way that does work. Last time I looked, doing nothing rarely brings success!

    My parents NEVER discussed finances. If it weren’t for the fact that I had an amazing mentor chip away at me over the years, I’d still be a financial disaster area. So many people don’t have personal mentors so sites like ManVsDebt are a gift.

    I blog at, also a site designed to help people transform their relationship with money. Keep up the awesome writing and cheers to cracking open a great discussion!


    1. Ree, thanks so much for the kind words! You’re exactly right – NOT everyone needs to blog about their debt. NOT everyone needs to show their kids a checkbook. But I think anyone can benefit by examining their level of openness and their mindsets about money. I would love to see more adults who aren’t afraid of the topic, and that has got to start with kids as well!

      I’m so glad to hear you had an amazing mentor to walk in that role for you, too!!

  25. Great topic, my husband refusses to let the kids know what is going on with are finances. I feel different about that because, when there is no money for gas to go to dance class. They will figure that something is wrong, right?! What I would like to know is what is the first step, how and what to bring up so that they have knowledge that mommy and daddy made bad financial decisions and now what to fix it.

    1. Tina, you hit the point I made in some of the other comments – even if you’re not “talking” about money, your kids (and your spouse, and your friends, and anyone else who is close to you) are going to pick up on some of the situation.

      I think the first step is figuring out your family vision. WHY do you want to take charge of your money? And that can’t just be “mom and dad’s vision.” Our vision is to travel, to spend time together as a family, and to have choices and flexibility. That’s WHY we want to get debt-free. And that matters to Sarah, too. She doesn’t want a mom and a dad who work 60+ hours a week (though she had that for a while). So she can get behind it. Then, it’s a lot of small day-to-day conversations. Comparing prices at the grocery store. Deciding to eat at home instead of at a restaurant. And TALKING about why, and how it fits in with the broader picture of your family’s values and dreams.

      I don’t know if I ever blatantly told Sarah, “Oh, we made bad financial decisions,” though I’m sure at 13 she’s figured that out. I think instead we said, “Look, here’s how things are now, and here’s how it sounds like we want them to be as a family. And getting there, well, that means this is what we do with our money.” I’m a big believer in “our” money, too, which is a whole ‘nother post!!!! 🙂

      Tina, you rock for being willing to take that step. I think your kids are really going to benefit by some slow-but-steady conversations about costs as it affects them – they probably could care less about the mortgage, but I bet they care about whether there are cookies from the store, or whatever the case might be for your family! You get the idea!

  26. Hi Joan,

    Thank you for such an important topic. One of the “elephants in the room” topics in human relations. At what age did you introduce your daughter to the subject of your family’s finances? I have a 6 1/2 yr old son, and there is no way he would benefit or understand most of what I could tell him, but I have started informing him how credit cards work, because I noticed he would observe sometimes (just pay for it with that plastic card mom). Thanks for your blog – I love it!


    1. Kate, honestly, I can’t say there was a specific age. I think it’s more that whatever was appropriate, I tried to be on-purpose about discussing. When Sarah was in preschool, she “got” that we couldn’t stop at the ice-cream stand on the way home every week, though she wanted to. That was a treat, because that cost extra money than we would normally spend for food. It has evolved as she’s gotten older, and her questions have gotten deeper, but it really was gradual – we just talk. All the time. And you’ll be surprised, I think, at how much kids grasp!

      The closest parallel, by the way, is that I’m not a big fan of the idea of one “sex talk” with kids, but rather an ongoing, open and age-appropriate dialogue… I guess I feel the same about money!

  27. Joan,

    I am new to the Man vs. Debt forum, but MvD really has a great community of people; I learn just as much from the comment thread as I do from the post that inspired it!

    I couldnt agree with you more about implementing a “full disclosure” approach to your debt. For me, the need for that stops once the debt is paid off, however, it remains an extremely powerful tool for reaching financial goals.

    Keep up the great work!


    1. Farris, thanks for the kind words! While I might not blog “about” my debt, I definitely still plan to be very open once the debt is paid off. Blogging during debt is kind of for me… blogging after debt is about trying to make sure no one else feels as alone as I used to!

      (And that goes for in-person conversations too; investing, retirement savings and the like ALSO shouldn’t be taboo!!)

      Keep up your great work as well!

  28. Joan, after seeing you and some other bloggers listing your financials online, I decided to do the same. In January, I started posting my financial progress around the first of each month. My wife and I have decided to start including our son in our end-of-month budgeting meeting as well. He is eight years old and has a good understanding of numbers and math, so we think he is ready to see everything. We’re also hoping he’ll get better at turning off lights, etc. when he leaves a room 😉

    I never really got any financial information growing up beyond, “we can’t afford that”. It wasn’t until high school that I realized we really didn’t have enough money to live like some of my friends. It was then that I decided to become a doctor, because they made a lot of money, right? Once in college, I realized that career choice should not be exclusively about money. Eventually I found a career I liked and oddly enough, it pays pretty well.

    I always knew my mother wasn’t very good with finances. She “borrowed” $5000 from me to pay for my younger sister’s wedding. It was not until she died that I realized just how bad she was. My older brother co-signed on a loan she took out and still owed about $12,000 at the time of her debt. Since he co-signed, he was liable for that debt. The rest of us children chipped in so he would not have to pay it all by himself. She probably owed over $20,000 on credit cards and had a car loan which was more than her car was worth. It was funny when my brother-in-law called up the loan folks and told them they could have the car, none of us were willing to pay the outstanding balance on the loan. The loan folks tried every angle to get one of us to take the car, but nobody wanted it, especially with a loan balance that was more than the car was worth.

    1. Paul, UGH on that family situation… I know you are not alone! There was a joke at one point on one branch of our family that “leaving an inheritance” for them was really “just not leaving them any new bills,” because even that was a stretch.

      That said, I’m so glad you and your family found a way to simply get clear of as much of that as possible. I did literally laugh out loud at the car story too.

      And I am THRILLED to hear about your plans to include your son in your budget meetings. That’s another big thing we do, and it’s been awesome. (And yes, Sarah turns off lights more, and is willing to wear a hoodie in the house so we can bump the thermostat down a little – she was NOT before she realized that the electric bill is one of our highest!)

  29. I’ll do it right here, right now. I study personal finance and I have a ton of debt. It is mostly medical debt due to a lack of health insurance, which I could probably *now* afford if I didn’t have all that debt. Catch-22, anyone? Every single person who saw me in the hospital (two trips) has sent their own separate bill. It’s insane. On the upside, I just paid off 2 of the small accounts last month. Only 12 to go. Hah!

    1. Dona, hey, 2 down is 2 down!! And I know you’ll tackle those other 12. 🙂

      My biggest “hates” are medical debt and tax debt. Even worse than credit cards, which I also have a deep, deep dislike for. Medical debt just seems like insult to injury – literally. I had my daughter (and some post-baby illness issues) to pay for with no health insurance, and I think she was 6 when I finally “paid her off!” (Kidding, of course, but you know what I mean!)

  30. Joan,

    You’re right! It’s absolutely critical that we’re open with our loved ones regarding money.

    Isn’t it funny how the topics of sex and money are alike? Neither topic gets much attention in school or our homes, but we somehow expect our kids to know “how to do it” once they grow up.

    And we wonder why so many adults are hopelessly lost in their 20’s and 30’s when it comes to their personal finance.

    Fortunately, my parents have been very open with me about money ever since I can remember. They not only explained what they do with money, but they also taught me why. They taught me both theoretical and practical ways to manage money. My personal finance situation today owes (figuratively) a lot to my parents’ teachings. I still talk to them about money to this day.

    Our relationship with money is greatly influenced by our parents, whether we want to admit it or not.

    Perhaps there’s little you can do to change the way your parents handled money talks. But it’s not too late to make a difference in your children’s lives.

    PS: Joan, your openness on everything money is awesome – keep it up!

    1. Ivan, wow, thanks so much!! And you have nailed it. The “why” is just as important if not more than the “what.” And again, yes, that goes back to exactly the same conversations about sex.

      If you want your kids to think twice about premarital sex, saying, “Because it’s bad” is a terrible plan. But if you get into the whys and the values and the practical ways to live out those values, then maybe you’ll get somewhere! Same with money. Either ignoring the topic or saying, “Just because,” or “No, I’m not buying that,” well, that isn’t going to go too far. Understanding, though, leads to exactly what you said – a theoretical and practical approach you can apply to your own life.

      You rock. Thank you so much for sharing your story – and for being willing to help spread the word!!

  31. We don’t have to be perfect for our kids to love us. They’re watching us anyway, so we may as well share the lessons we learn. My boyfriend’s son watched us struggle through job loss and debt. I learned way too many ways to cook potatoes b/c someone gave us a 100# bag of them. We talked about bills and prices a lot and we kept going to work and picking up side jobs when we could. As a teenager when he wanted extra $$ he bought a wrecked vehicle and sold all the usable parts on Craigslist. I wouldn’t recommend it as a side hustle, but he loved taking things apart! (He made a little over $1,000. ) I think being open about our financial struggles was the best way to go. Even when times are tough we still can choose how to deal with it.

    1. Candi, you are SO RIGHT – how you deal with these situations has the ability to bring you much closer as a family, if it’s done well! I’m so glad to hear that you guys have gotten through what you have (and I have to admit, I laughed at the potato thing… I had a friend one time who had a car-trunk full of potatoes and she and I split them; it was a major help at the time, because we were both short on food money, but even as much as I like potatoes…)

      You rock for being open!

  32. I’m a little late to this post, but I can’t agree more. Debt is consuming our society. A little transparency is probably in order. This is exactly why I’ve demonstrated our own slow climb out of debt over at our own place on the Internet. I know it made some of my family uncomfortable (on my behalf) at first, but I simply didn’t care. If someone who is otherwise smart and successful like me can be so stupid as to allow my debt to grow like it had, then talking about getting out of it seemed like a public service!

    On the issue of kids and money, mine still seem to think that it grows on trees, so I have some work to do! Great post as always Joan!

    1. Thanks, Mike! (And forgive me for being late to respond in turn!) I agree with you – there are those in our life who are very uncomfortable with what we’re doing, but we have just agreed to disagree, and like you, I hope we are doing a service!

  33. I completely agree with this. We do nothing, but a disservice to our children by not being open with them about finances, teaching them how they work and making sure they have the skills they need to be financially responsible. My husband’s parents hid everything financial from him growing up and he didn’t learn the skills he needed to be successful in his own finances. I had to teach him about budgeting, paying your bills on time and many other financial skills he should have learned from his parents. We need to start talking about money, teaching the necessary skills to be finally sound and stop this cycle of debt.

    1. Thanks, Kimmy!! I am so sorry to hear about your husband’s situation – but I’m so glad you guys are in it together now!

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  35. This is great! I am definitely challenged by this. I have always been pretty quiet about money. That is probably why I have gotten into a pretty big hole of debt. I have started doing some things to start getting out of debt. I think talking about it openly will help me mentally be able to deal with my debt problems. I would love to develop some relationships with some of my buddies where we can be honest about this and encourage each other to tackle or financial problems. Thanks for the honest words!

    1. Thanks, Shawn, for being willing to make a change in this area! We definitely agree that the biggest benefit is to you, as it really does change your own mindset!

  36. I’m very late to this post, but my two cents… I think you have to base your conversations with your kids on their personalities. I have two teens. The older is quite a worrier, while the younger is so mellow there is barely a pulse. They do not know our income, but we talk about what things cost, savings, budgeting, etc. College is coming up in 3 yrs for my oldest. We have strongly recommended commuting to the state university so as not to take on undergraduate student loans. She want to be a veterinarian and understands the loans involved with that. I prefer not to discuss actual dollar amount when it comes to our income and savings, but we have regular discussions about avoiding debt, etc. It seems to going well so far. Both kids are good savers and talk about needs vs. wants.
    Thanks for your posts, Joan. Great stuff.

    1. Maggie, you have to do what works for you! I am definitely glad you guys are talking about savings, loans and all that!

      I do think the personality idea is interesting… I have to think some more about that. I see people in our You Vs. Debt course who are very nervous – but who have very big debt problems because they were so nervous that they never faced up to what they owed or dug into their own motivations. That’s obviously a bit different with kids, but I have to wonder if it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy of worry. I don’t know! It really is great food for thought – I’m sure there is much work to be done in the psychology of all this!

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  39. I also have a teen who appears completely useless at thinking about saving and what the future might hold. This is despite many conversations about it. Have read the post and comments with interest.

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  41. I grew up with a feast or famine household. We didn’t learn anything about budgets, saving money, income and expenses etc… we learned that there were boom times when we had plenty of money and bust times when we lived on food stamps.

    I am all for laying it out for kids, open book accounting so they can see what the family situation is like and don’t have to wonder why they can’t have the latest phone or get a new car at 16 etc….

    Furthermore even if a family is well off they should learn fiscal responsibility. As an adult it’s way harder to develop good habits than as a kid. Part of the problem in the USA is that kids grow up with next to no real training in financial matters. They aren’t taught how to avoid credit card schemes, how to shop for the best deals, how to recognize value. How to be thrifty.

    I seen no good reason not to be open with your kids about the financial state of the household. If they are old enough to ask for stuff then they are old enough to help pay for it by being responsible partners in the family finances.

  42. Your article is refreshing. I don’t get why there’s a taboo wrapped around talking about debt. I think your approach of talking to your daughter about it from an early age is what we need as a society. The younger we are when we start talking about money management the better, this means that your child will be far more prepared for the future when it comes to finances than most people. I know my parents never talked to me about finances, let alone details about their personal accounts and expenses.

  43. I also have issues with talking about money and bills.
    I feel that it has to do with how I was brought up .

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