We need to talk about money

How many people know the nitty gritty of your financial position? My guess is very few outside the relevant professionals, like your accountant or mortgage broker, because it's just not the type of thing Australians openly delve into. Talking about money is variously viewed as impolite, garish or simply taboo.

Research suggests that when we do talk about money, we don't always give the full story.

A2016 survey of 1014 Australians nationwide, commissioned by Fox Symes Debt Solutions and conducted by Galaxy, found that more than one in two people have deceived a partner, family or friends about money. Two out of three people with children living at home hide debt and spending from their loved ones, compared with less than one in two people without children at home.

What we earn, what we spend, and how we manage our financial affairs are matters on which many of us are tight-lipped. And while there is certainly a place for discretion, particularly in this realm, I often wonder if there isn't value in lifting the veil of secrecy from time to time. Not merely because of voyeurism's allure but because without a little transparency we're flying blind.

For those of us who don't openly detail our fiscal positions, and have family and friends who are similarly inclined, the ins and outs of how other people manage their money is totally mysterious despite potentially being enormously enlightening.

Personally I am always intrigued to discover what other families spend on food, electricity and all of the general expenses households face. When these topics come up I always find the responses from family or friends to be either reassuring or instructive. Reassuring if we're in the same ballpark for certain expenses, and instructive when it emerges that we are possibly paying far more for our phones or internet than we need to.

But when it comes to the big picture of how other people make their money work, it is rarely discussed so making a comparison is impossible. And yet, that is arguably where being able to make those comparisons would be most valuable.

While it's easy to compare notes on what you spend in a week to feed your family, opening up about what you earn, how you and your partner managed to piece together a deposit, or how much credit card debt you have are not subjects we usually explore.

In recent months I have come to learn a little more about the bigger picture of a few friends' financial positions and it wasn't because they left their bank statements on the kitchen bench. It was because money is a major source of angst for lots of Australians and when an opportunity for a private conversation arose, it came up.

I was relieved it did come up because for the first time I was able to appreciate their circumstances, and put our own in context. No two families are the same but I found it enormously reassuring to discover that the lion's share of the house deposits people had saved, had come about because of inheritances or gifts from family. Previously I had assumed there was some financial wizardry I wasn't aware of that helped individuals piece together enough for even a modest property in Sydney.

According to the annual Stress and wellbeing report by the Australian Psychological Society, finances is rightat the top of our list of worries.Research by the Centre for Social Impact, conducted for National Australia Bank, showed that two million Australians are experiencing severe or high financial stress, while a further 10 million are living with some level of financial worry. It is unsurprising given money is entirely unavoidable on a daily basis and its impact is anything but inconsequential.

Which makes it all the more curious - and unhelpful - that we don't talk about it.

Sharing your bank balance with all and sundry is hardly advisable, but nor is keeping your true financial position from the people you love.

Financial stress is not rare and while the adage of a problem shared is a problem halved isn't strictly true, there is value in opening up. Reaching out to a friend or a family member you trust is worth considering whether things are good or bad. Those conversations have the power to change not just how you look at money but how you manage it too.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality.

This story We need to talk about money first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.