Don't Worry, We're All "Bad With Money"

I used to be convinced that among all of my peers, I was the only person who knew nothing about money. The truth is that we all knew nothing and still do not.

Best-selling author and journalist Gaby Dunn spoke at Scripps College on February 20. In 2016, the New York Times named her podcast "Bad With Money" as one of the top ten podcasts of the year. In it, she explores a lifetime of her personal financial woes. Dunn quickly realized a large reason that had to do with it.

We don't have conversations about our finances.

In the spring of my senior year of high school, all of my peers, including myself, began receiving acceptance letters to the schools we applied to. On the verge of starting our new lives, we excitedly talked about dorm rooms and majors. Aside from the occasional remark, we did not address the price tag looming over all of our shoulders.

Eventually, I began to assume that it was just me that didn't know the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans or what a low interest rate meant. Surely, if we all were confused, we'd be asking about it, right?

Dunn echoed how I felt.

"I always felt like there was a day in school that I missed," she joked before adding, "It seemed like everyone knew something I didn't know. Spoiler alert, nobody knew it."

She is right, of course. That became clear to me when I began to ask my peers about their finances. When it came to taxes, everyone groaned, but I was not sure if it was due to their actual experience, or if it was the appropriate social response we all adopted. When it came to affording tuition, everything was just as vague. A co-worker revealed that his aunt paid for his schooling, but that was all he knew. A friend mentioned that her parents could afford the tuition at the school she attended, while another friend shared that her parents took out loans for her and her brother.

Throughout those conversations, more questions emerged. What types of loans did you take out? How much money do you have in your savings? How did you go about filing your taxes? Even worse, were all the questions I was too embarrassed to ask.

Dunn touched on this problem, sharing:

"I just had no idea where to start. The reason we don't have financial literacy is because, one of the big things, is we don't ask the stupid questions."

The result is individuals burdened by their circumstances and isolated by social etiquette. We grow up with what Dunn cleverly calls a "Money Script", or our understanding of finances based upon the way we were raised. Some people overspend to compensate for disappointments in other parts of their life while others live paycheck to paycheck and wonder how everyone else seems to have money.

The kicker, to an already foreign, anxiety-ridden and confusing topic, is that we do not talk about it, even when there are answers available right next to us. We turn to family during a bad relationship, divulge secrets to coworkers during slow hours and seek out friends when our mental health waivers. So, what if we turn to those same individuals, and have conversations about money, too?

When we ask questions, we learn. Once we overcome the initial fear of asking that society managed to ingrain in many of us, we will begin to find strength and solutions in our shared experiences. This can be a powerful tool in our financial journeys, something Dunn urged the audience to consider:

"If you're not sharing information with the people around you, who most likely have your similar income, or similar situation or similar lifestyle, how is anyone ever going to learn anything?"