The Social Value of Your Net Worth

Excuse me if my posts have been less about my own personal finances and more about the conversation around money lately but it’s something that has been on my mind for months. After posting a short two-part series on it last week, I was left with more than 45 comments to sift through, each more thoughtful and engaged than the one before.

One of the reoccurring themes in your words was the idea that our value as a person is based on our individual net worth.

“I think people are afraid to reveal their financial situation because they are worried that others will value them (or devalue them) based on how much money they have.” – Earth and Money

“I do feel like I would be “valued” a little less if my friends knew what my financial situation was.” – LilDesiqua

At first glance, I felt disheartened by these statements. Maybe because I’ve been broke (and heck, still am broke) and know what it’s like to hide that from family and friends, I can relate to worrying about what others will think of you. And really, isn’t that one of the reasons so many personal finance bloggers write anonymously?

Just like the number on the scale, or the size that we wear, the balance of our bank accounts seems to be just another thing in life to feel insecure about. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel better about myself the day I finally reached a positive net worth. For months – years, even – I felt like a hot financial mess. Being worth something changed that.

But did my positive net worth change how my friends saw me? Or my family? It’s interesting that I didn’t tell anyone about this blog until I paid off my credit card debt. While I had openly admitted to carrying a balance, no one knew how bad my situation really was. And I didn’t want them to… Was I scared of what they would think? Or say? Or not say to my face but judge me for behind my back? Yes, yes and yes again.

The reaction from everyone proved how emotionally invested I was in that insecurity. Nobody cared about the fact that I had once been maxed out; they cared about my progress! Friends started opening up to me about their own financial situations and even asked me for advice on how to cut back on spending or pay down debt. “How did you do it?” was the start of a least half a dozen conversations.

More of your comments from last week showed me that there can be open and honest conversations about money with family and friends:

“I have a handful of friends who are superb with money, and I actively seek out their advice and honesty.” – MichelleC

“…with some number crunching over breakfast, [we got] my friend out of a consolidation loan (at 14%), into my preferred debt method of a line of credit (at 5%). Breakfast finances ftw!” – Lindsay

But while some people have taken the taboo out of this topic, many more have not. I have no choice now but to have everyone I know read about my personal finances but there are so many others out there who don’t feel comfortable broaching the subject with people they know. The way I see it is, if we can talk about what we do in the bedroom, and even in the bathroom now, then we should be able to talk about our finances.

Sometimes I still wonder what people I know in real life think of this blog but I cannot tell you how foolish I felt for worrying as much as I did before. I can understand if there is a cultural rule or stigma around talking about money but I do wish more people could see that they are not alone in their financial insecurities.

Do you think we will ever live in a world where we curiously seek information and share advice, rather than judge each other on what we do with our personal finances?

17 Comments

  1. I will admit I am a little ashamed of my debt. It’s not something I would discuss with anyone but those I really trust. But on the other hand, when other people talk about their debts and their attempts to repay it I’m supportive caring and non-judgemental. Maybe because most of the people I know are horrified when they have debts of approaching $5000, so from my point of view it’s nothing to be ashamed about, while my consumer debt being triple that amount sorta is…

    • You bring up a good point about the feeling of shame being one of the reasons people don’t talk about money and debt. I can appreciate you feeling that way as that was the #1 reason I didn’t tell anyone I knew in real life about my situation. But I still don’t think your numbers are any more/less shameful than others. It’s just a number. What you learn from it is invaluable.

  2. I think as time goes on the topic will become less taboo, but as with any social stigma, it will take a long, long time.

  3. I really hate that our society places so much value on net worth. I don’t know if world will ever get to a point where no one is judgemental about personal finances, but I know I can begin with changing myself to be more open about my finances and be more encouraging and supportive of others’ PF journeys

  4. I spent far too long of my life being ashamed of my financial situation.. When my wife and I started our blog, we decided to come out to the world, which has been great. It is a great motivator to work hard towards getting your financial house in order, when you are accountable to the world :)

    Jefferson

  5. I think it is just an innate part of human nature to constantly judge each other. It would be nice to live in a world with no judging…but we judge everything based off of appearance, lifestyle choices, etc. Money is so hush hush these days but I think that we are gradually becoming more open about it. I doubt that I will get to live to see the day where the judging will stop re: personal finances but I know that I want to live in a world like that!

  6. I agree with Erika that it might just be “natural” to judge others. It’s probably a big reason why we are all afraid to being judged as well. Imagine if we judged ourselves as harsh as we judged other people.

    With more and more PF blogs, and even shows, such as Til Debt do us Part and Princess, I think that more people might be more receptive to talking about money. The PF blogs I really enjoy reading are ones where people share their journey to their financial goals, instead of PF gurus who know everything, so I definitely think that there are more people who are genuinely interested in supporting on another on their respective financial journeys, rather than judging!

    • I couldn’t agree more. I don’t read any guru-type blogs. I’d rather have a conversation than be told what to do. Maybe that’s what should be happening more in real life too then…

  7. I post all my finances on my blog including my budget and Net Worth Update as it helps guide and motivate us as a couple. It also helps my fans to see areas they can potentially make improvements to their budget and I’ve also been told they like to see “real life” budgets. It’s true money is taboo and I still don’t talk about it but I do talk about how to be frugal and stay out of debt with my mates.

    Although I am anonymous I do this to protect myself also because I don’t want my mates knowing how much money I have or don’t have. I also never talk about what I have with my mates because I don’t want them to ask me for money. If I’ve learned anything in the past if you lend it, expect you won’t get it back.

    We live a simple frugal life and love it. It’s not about showing off by any means, it’s about taking control and living your life the way you want to. “Keeping up with the Jones” will never do anyone any good. If I can help people along the way or even one that makes my blogging experience worth every minute spent!

    Cheers to a good post!
    Mr.CBB

    • Thanks, Mr. CBB! And you’re right: keeping up with the Jones’ is so dangerous and will never do anyone any good. Maybe if more people knew how fulfilling a frugal lifestyle was, they’d be inspired to keep up with that!

  8. Being an anonymous pf blogger myself, I often struggle with talking freely about money but still hiding behind my anonymity. I’m hesitate to present myself as I’m nervous about people I know judging me on the basis of the money I have/don’t have. I do think though people (specifically our generation) are becoming a little more comfortable talking about money in comparison to older generations. It’s baby steps right now, but maybe one day it’ll be discussed as freely as the weather.

    • I’m trying to imagine that conversation. “Aww man, it’s going to be such an awesome No Spend Day!” haha… love it.

  9. Yes, sometimes I do feel secretly judged by my financial situation. I would say a good majority of my friends are doing really well, even in southern california. I have one friend who is a writer on a major tv show, and a couple other friends who have just bought houses in this crazy expensive LA market, or who travel to exotic places a couple of times a year. I think I get left out of certain events because I’m not willing to split the bill when multiple bottles of wine are ordered and I drank one glass, had a salad and they want to split the bill. I don’t think they are being mean, I just think it feels like a natural selection type of thing. People hang around people who are like they are, or where they are in life. (sort of like when a friend has a baby and they become part of the mom group and you hardly ever see them again). I do treasure the friends who despite their income, enjoy doing less expensive things with me. whew that was long-winded!

    • I almost turned this post into one about how people tend to hang out with people who have similar spending/saving habits, but think it’s worth an entire post of its own. Love that you mentioned it here though.

  10. MyMoneyDesign.com

    May 16, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I really don’t mean to sound negative, but it only takes one person to ruin the situation and unfortunately there will always be that one person who does. I purposely keep quiet about my financial situation because I know that it will create problems where there doesn’t need to be any. But it’s not all bad. I do still offer my advice to anyone who genuinely needs it.

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