Chances are you did sex ed in school but were you ever sat down and told the ins and outs of money? It makes the world go round but it’s taboo to talk about. Words like ‘budgeting’ or ‘superannuation’ might not be as exciting as the birds and the bees, but they’re just as important.
Financial literacy is a skill. It’s possessing the ability to evaluate your personal financial circumstances and make informed decisions about money. It’s knowing when to skip the smashed avos and soy lattes; And like all skills, financial literacy needs to be learned. But it’s hard to learn about something when you’re not allowed to talk about it.
Spending and earning money are at the cornerstone of our capitalist society. It’s especially easy in an age when endless advertisements bombard social media feeds, and even kebab stores on Hindley Street seem to offer Afterpay. Despite this mantra of “spend, spend, spend” or perhaps because of it, our society dictates a strange discourse around money. You can’t say how much you earn a year without being labelled a bragger; people who are suffering financially must do so in silence; asking someone how much rent they pay is outright invasive.
Have you ever tried asking someone how much money they make? One needs to awkwardly tip-toe their way around the question—typically with a polite preamble along the lines of “If you don’t mind me asking…” It usually doesn’t yield any clear answers, and so when it comes time to look for a job or consider your future career aspirations, you’re left wondering in the dark.
For too long, personal finance has been a taboo topic. We need to have more frank conversations about money and break the nasty stigma surrounding financial struggles. If someone is struggling financially, or in bad debt, they should be able to speak openly about their struggles without judgement. By making money a topic open to discussion, people won’t need to figure out personal finance alone.
I remember being in shock when I opened a bank account for my shitty first job (that wasn’t worth the fryer-induced acne) only to find I had minus $5. ‘How can you take money off me if I don’t even have money?!’ I pleaded with the careless bank teller.
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to access resources to better understand personal finance. If I had grown up having more frank conversations about money though, perhaps I would’ve realised the reality of personal finance and ‘adulting’ sooner: money is challenging and isn’t always pretty.
This narrative is similar for many other university students. A lot of us cannot talk openly about money, which can leave people confused and overwhelmed when the time comes to make financial decisions.
UniSA student Dorian Stoici grew up in a rare household where there were regular, candid conversations about money.
He says shaking the taboo around money will help younger people make better financial decisions.
“Money never seems to be a big discussion […] when talking with my [friends]. It is a topic that gets brushed off quickly, if ever mentioned. Discussing one’s personal finances can be daunting and embarrassing because talking about our spending habits or salaries could lead to judgement.
“Personal finance in my family is a very discussed topic. My parents were born in Romania and came to Australia in the late 80s. They were raised in a communist country, with both their parents working to feed their families of over ten children. Money was never really spoken during their youth but they understood that hard work reaps rewards.
“Conversations about money with my parents have helped me immensely to ensure I’m saving as much money for my future. I think these discussions helped as I am far smarter with my money now.
“We should have open talks about money, and get over this taboo of it. Healthy, non-intrusive talks about money are priceless for today’s generation as it could guide them into smarter saving and better shopping habits which won’t break the bank.”
The good news is that the conversation is shifting. The internet and social media have enabled us to start talking about money more, albeit anonymously most of the time. The Barefoot Investor movement by Scott Pape has amassed a cult following across the nation, and people are talking about personal finance more.
There are countless YouTube channels dedicated to learning about personal finance, and there’s plenty of groups you can join on social media. Sites like BlackBullion teach students financial literacy, and UniSA students get a free membership.
USASA also offers free financial counselling to all UniSA students. For guidance with managing your money or emergency financial assistance, visit USASA’s website to make a free appointment.
If you’re someone who feels confident with money, support your friends and family members so they can feel the same. Let them know that it’s okay to talk about money openly and that struggling financially isn’t shameful.
Above all, make it clear that up-front discussions about money and personal finance aren’t taboo. When it comes to understanding the ups and downs of money, take another lesson from the school classroom: honesty is the best policy.
Words by Jordan Whie
Art by Isabelle Raven