Money Taboos Part I: Income, Savings & Debt, Oh My!

About the Episode

In this episode of Making it Count we’re tackling money taboos and how to overcome them with the help of our financial experts, Karina Rodriguez, the Youth Ambassador at Addition Financial and Nathan Grant, the Senior Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider. Listen along to learn where money taboos come from, how they can be detrimental to your finances and ways to break them in your everyday life.

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Will asks Question 1: “Nathan, why is talking about money considered taboo? Where did that even start?”

Nathan responds: “Well, I think there's three ways we can look at it. One theory is that the American taboo about money started way back in Britain, with the upper classes. It was considered rude to discuss anything related to money since it could be seen as bragging.”

“We see examples of this today in the workplace where it often leads to money myths and people centering their whole financial decisions around these taboos.”

“People who are middle class may have a hard time talking about money due to embarrassment and vulnerability. What’s interesting is that people who are really struggling – those living in poverty or close to the poverty line – are more likely to talk openly about money than people who aren’t as worried about it.”

Learn more: Debunking Budgeting Myths with Expert Money Saving Advice 



Cristina asks Question 2: “It seems to me that not talking about money is something that only benefits people who are financially secure. Karina, does that mean it hurts people who aren’t financially secure?”

Karina responds: “Yeah, I think it does, and if we think about it logically, we know that there is a wage gap between men and women and a wage gap between white people and people of color. If the people at the top, aka company owners and the wealthy, dissuade people lower down from disclosing salary and pay information, it’s easier to continue underpaying people. Once you have a conversation about salary with your colleagues, it’ll be a lot easier to discuss salary with your employer.”



Will asks Question 3: “Can employers forbid employees from discussing income and salaries?”

Karina responds: “No, they cannot, it is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act, which was passed in 1935. Obviously on the first day of your job, you're not going to ask your coworker how much they get paid. But making sure you have those conversations with your colleagues down the line will help you get on the right track when it comes to earning the right salary.”



Cristina asks Question 4: “Nathan, how do we remove the taboos about retirement savings to help people prepare for the future?

Nathan responds: “I think one of the most important things that we can do is help young people understand the power of compound interest. A lot of workers who are just starting out look at the short term – 401k contributions reducing their paycheck – without understanding what a huge difference it can make to max out contributions early.”

“Being more open about money can also help you make responsible decisions when it comes to managing your debt. Having open discussions about money could help you free up more money which could then be used towards your 401k each month.”

“It can also do a lot to help people with aging parents understand what their parents’ financial situation is and how (or if) they might be required to help when their parents can no longer care for themselves.”

Learn more: 5 Recommended Retirement Savings Plan (with Calculator)



Will asks Question 5: “Nathan, how can people with aging parents broach the topic of retirement savings if their parents think of it as taboo?

Nathan responds: “Be as matter-of-fact as possible. I read a story recently about someone whose parents assumed he was asking about retirement savings because he wanted to know what he would be inheriting. That wasn’t the case, but they assumed it was anyway.”

“Without being straight to the point, the situation could easily be interpreted that way which is why it’s important to have these conversations early on.” 

“It also might help to start with a broad overview. Don’t go right into the dollar amounts and address the taboo head on. You can say something like, ‘I know some people think it is taboo to talk about money, but I'd like it if we could talk about your general financial picture.’ Make sure to point out your genuine concern and your desire to be on the same page.”

“People should also avoid questioning individual financial decisions and focus more on security and income predictability. People can get defensive about money and thinking about that ahead of time can get you a better result.”

Learn more: How to Create a Retirement Expense & Budget Worksheet



Cristina asks Question 6: “You mentioned young people, so let’s talk about that. Karina, what can parents do to make their kids comfortable talking about money?”

Karina responds: “I think the main part of having those conversations is actually normalizing topics about money like income savings and debt. Even though my parents never told me how much money they made, they would always give me a reason why I couldn’t have something. For instance, my mom would explain that she only had X amount of money and that she needed to feed six people. This reasoning helped me understand the value of money.”

Learn more: Money Lessons 101: Financial Education / Literacy for Kids & Teens 



Will asks Question 7: “Nathan, why is talking about debt and credit card debt especially so hard for some of us?”

Nathan responds: “I think there's a lot of shame attached to debt, and when people are ashamed of their behavior, they're still going to be reluctant to talk about it. According to Experian, the average balance on credit cards alone at the end of 2020 was just under $6,000. That doesn't include other forms of debt, so obviously many people aren’t alone in dealing with debt.”

“It’s hard to admit when you’ve lost control of something and a lot of people avoid talking about it for that reason. But here’s the thing: everyone’s financial situation is unique to them and dealing with it alone can be difficult. By reaching out and discussing it with others you can identify the steps you need to take to help your unique situation. There are so many resources available to help you find those answers from personal bankers and credit unions to people like us who can answer some of these questions.”

“It’s an unfortunate fact of life that taboos feed on themselves. When we are afraid to talk about debt, we don’t talk about it – and that perpetuates the taboo. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You could end up making things worse for yourself in your silence.”

Learn more: Best Ways to Pay Off Credit Card Debt in 5 Steps 



Cristina asks Question 8: “So Karina, if taboos perpetuate themselves, how do we break them?”

Karina responds: “It’s really up to individuals to break the cycle – and that’s the case with any taboo topic. It wasn’t that long ago that as a society, we weren’t comfortable talking about women’s reproductive health. But individuals have made it a point to talk about it and now the taboo is significantly less powerful.”



Will asks Question 9: “In a previous episode, we talked about money being the number one topic of arguments in marriages. Karina, how can couples overcome taboos and share financial information?”

Karina responds: “I'm not married so I can't speak on behalf of a married person, but in my relationship, we are very open about how much we make or what our goals are. If that's the next step for you, it's important to have those conversations to understand what the financial picture looks like as a whole.”

Learn more: Separate Bank Accounts vs Combining Finances After Marriage 



Cristina asks Question 10: “We talked earlier about how people who don’t have financial security are more likely to be frank about money and therefore, less likely to be constricted by money taboos. Nathan, why do you think that is?”

Nathan responds: “I think it’s mostly out of necessity. If you’re in a situation where you don’t know where your paycheck is coming from or you’re struggling with bills or you're balancing multiple credit card balances, you can’t do that without putting your money front and center.”

“The issue of whether it’s polite or seemly to talk about money specifics goes out the window when money is a problem – or at least, it does for a lot of people. Debt may be the one example where that’s not the case.”

“People who are financially stable on the surface but have a lot of debt may not talk about it openly because they’re embarrassed by it or it is contrary to the image they’re trying to project.”

Learn more: A Critical Look at How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Fast



Will asks Quick Question 1: “My first question is for you, Karina. Should parents tell kids how much they earn?”

Karina responds: “Parents don’t need to disclose their salaries, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that. Kids will have a better understanding behind the value of money once you start having more open conversations.” 

Learn more: 11 Recommended Kids' Money, Chore & Allowance Apps 



Cristina asks Quick Question 2: “What is the best way that couples can break the ice about talking about debt?” 

Nathan responds: “Be as calm and matter-of-fact as possible when you try to cross that bridge. You won’t know what to expect going in if you haven’t already talked about it, so make a deal that you’ll just disclose numbers and if you need to take some time before getting into the details, take it. You don’t need to do everything at once. If you're carrying a lot of debt and it's affecting your credit score, it might be best to address this since it could be a deal breaker for them.” 

Learn more: 5 Steps to Managing Credit Card Debt When You're Young



Will asks Quick Question 3: “Okay, Karina, here’s a fun one in the spirit of breaking through taboos. What’s a money mistake you’ve made and what would you do differently now?” 

Karina responds: “When I was 19, I bought my first car and paid it off using only cash. Even though it was an awesome accomplishment for myself, I wish I got a loan for it so I could pay it off and boost my credit score.” 



Cristina asks Quick Question 4: “What about you Nathan, what’s one money mistake you’ve made and what would you do differently now?” 

Nathan responds: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes that you guys mentioned earlier, like getting credit cards early on and maxing them out. I didn’t make any late payments, which was good, but I didn’t understand credit utilization or how your credit score gets used in the future. Looking back now, I wish I understood the importance of maintaining a good credit history.” 

Learn more: 7 Starter Student Credit Card Mistakes You Can Avoid 



In this episode, Will shared the Millennial Playbook to Paying Off Debt and Saving for the Future, a guide to help young adults break through money taboos and deal with issues related to debt and retirement. 

Meanwhile, Cristina shared the Online Money Management Tools Comparison Chart, which can help you choose the best money management tool for your needs. It’s a downloadable chart that allows you to compare Mint, NerdWallet, GoodMoney, and YNAB, plus a fifth pick of your choice for easy comparison.

If you are interested in requesting Karina Rodriguez for a financial literacy presentation, you can contact her at

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