Money Talk – The Last Taboo (and how much might a thing like that go for?)

10 Apr Money Talk – The Last Taboo (and how much might a thing like that go for?)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.4.22


When women get together, we talk about pretty intimate stuff. We’re not necessarily banging on about sex, periods and menopause all the time but if someone wants to chat hot flushes or borrow a tampon, we’re open to it.

And though we talk about men a lot less than they think we do, we might squeeze them onto the agenda somewhere after our professional wins and losses, what we’re reading, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

Tell you what we rarely talk about, though – money. I know a lot about my friends – their allergies, favourite holiday destinations, whether they like their martinis made of vodka or gin – but I have no idea how much money they earn or what is in their KiwiSaver.

Which seems, on the face of it, quite right and proper. I was raised to think talking about money was rude. “Vulgar” is the word I can hear being said in my mother’s best voice. Asking – or being told – how much money someone had was the depths of poor taste.

Which didn’t mean we didn’t know who was rich and who was poor in our town – mostly you could tell by the house or the car or the job – it just wasn’t a topic of conversation. And you picked up pretty quickly that you weren’t supposed to ask how much something cost, though a grown-up might make an occasional, desperately curious inquiry which would start, “If you don’t mind me asking… what does a thing like that go for?”

The only conversations we had about currency were to do with pocket money and also those Post Office savings books with the squirrel on the cover at primary school. For younger readers (anyone under 55 – hello!) this was in The Olden Days when my pocket money, for example, was 20 cents a week. Five cents of this was for the collection plate at church, five cents for the savings squirrel, and 10 cents was left to spend however I liked. Generally, I liked aniseed wheels, glow hearts and milk toffees.

Now, back when aniseed wheels were 3 cents a pop, there were a lot of things we didn’t talk about. Men didn’t talk about their feelings, women didn’t talk about exploring their sexual needs, and kids didn’t talk about gender as something that might be fluid. We’ve become open about many things now, but we’re still not chatting about money.

Perhaps we’re worried that we will look like we’re showing off, or we’re embarrassed to reveal we have so little. Tricky in a society where we equate wealth with “good” people making “good” choices, and poverty with – if not “bad” people – “bad” choices. Not wanting to be judged by our income or bank balance, we keep the numbers to ourselves.

But not talking about money has unintended consequences which, ironically, keep us from having more of it. It means we can be squeamish about negotiating a starting salary or asking for a pay rise and, when it comes to putting a value on our work, we’re flying blind.

So maybe after a couple of martinis (vodka, dirty) we might finally open up about KiwiSaver and share our mortgage repayment tips. Feel free to bring it up at book club by quoting Katherine Mansfield who declared, “I must say I hate money, but it’s the lack of it I hate most.”