This saying is often used to describe the very strong influence that money has on people’s decisions and actions. I hear someone sighing, “They say money talks … but all mine says is ‘goodbye!”
A money discussion can not only be a source of advice on managing money but more importantly, talking about money can open a door to people’s hearts, because money is both emotional and spiritual. It can be a good opportunity to talk about spiritual matters.
However, there is a strong taboo about talking about money. It’s a topic which people often want to avoid in when in social company – one of the top three taboos together with sex and politics. Why is this, given that money is so important in our everyday lives?
A 2020 survey (https://moneyandpensionsservice.org.uk/2020/11/11/shame-upbringing-and-burdening-others-why-29-million-uk-adults-dont-feel-comfortable-talking-about-money-despite-feeling-worried-about-it/) carried out by the UK Pensions service, revealed that 29 million Brits (almost half the population) don’t feel comfortable talking about their financial situation. The same survey found that 48% have worried about money once a week or more in the last month.
Why do we feel so uncomfortable talking about money?
Money should be a very neutral topic – it is merely a means to facilitate exchange of goods, is it not? Money in itself is indeed neutral, neither good or bad, but it carries a power to facilitate our will – both for good and for bad ends. Using money is intensely emotional and therefore personal. There is also a spiritual component to money. Jesus unmasked this power behind money which he called ‘mammon.’ He explained that this power is able to influence us to serve this power and even love it (Matthew 6:25).
A major tactic of this mammon-power is to remain silent. It wants to do its work quietly ‘under the radar.’ This was even the case in our Bible translations, which mainly use the word ‘money’ instead of the word ‘mammon’ which Jesus used. Mammon wants us to remain silent about. Money so that he can carry out his work unnoticed.
Talking about money, therefore, need to overcome some emotional barriers and the spiritual barrier of the mammon spirit.
Emotionally, we believe that wealth is synonymous with value – the more we earn, the more important or successful we are. If I earn more than you, I must be better than you. If we ask someone a question about money, it is like asking them how successful they are. If we talk numbers, we start to judge and compare. Inequality is a source of conflict due to superiority or jealousy.
There is a social component in my country, Holland which is also prevalent in the Nordic nations. The culture dictates that no-one should be seen to be better than others and you should not portray yourself as successful – if you do, you get cut down! Such societies are very private when personal money matters are concerned.
It can cause those who are well off to feel a kind of guilt, not wanting to talk about what they have when so many people are struggling.
However, some research done showed that in lower-income societies, the money taboo is weaker – people feel freer to talk about money and the hardships they endure (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/were-still-here-9780190888046?cc=us&lang=en&).
Further research showed that people’s willingness to discuss money varies by age. The study found that 71 percent of respondents in their 20s or early 30s were comfortable talking about money with friends. Compare that to only 31 percent of the Baby Boomer generation, who are in or approaching retirement age. It would seem that the older you are, the less comfortable you are talking about money (https://mint.intuit.com/blog/planning/this-is-how-many-people-dont-talk-about-their-finances/).
So, how can we start talking to people about money?
Firstly, we need to be sensitive to people’s points of pain. Generally, people will only want to change when experiencing some kind of pain in their lives.
In 1998, we started a movement in Holland to help people who are overindebted, suffering from inability to meet their obligations and to make ends meet. We found that people wanting help were open to being helped but they also opened their hearts to talk about their lives, their values and ambitions.
Many people suffer from psychological problems as a result of their money attitudes and experiences. One of the most common questions I hear is ‘will I have enough?’ Uncertainty about being able to cope financially leads to stress, anxiety which many times show as problems like tiredness, headaches and emotional fatigue.
Uncovering these can be very difficult due to the taboo around talking about money.
Secondly, we need to approach people in transparency and vulnerability, two great ways to win people’s hearts. When they see that we have no hidden agendas and are willing to show ourselves and our weaknesses and challenges, they will open up.
We don’t need to start a money conversation by jumping in and asking, ‘how much do you earn?’ We could share our financial limitations, like, “I would like to buy this, or that, but I cannot really afford it. How do you manage?” Or “I would love to take this or that vacation, but it is really expensive.” Such topics like wanting to buy something that’s out of our budget or waiting to bus something that’s out of our reach can start money-centric conversations.
When we share our difficulties, it opens up a dialogue. We need to be honest about our budget challenges and share our financial boundaries.
We could use some starter questions like:
“If you learned one lesson on managing money, what would it be?”
“What would you do, if you received an inheritance of € 10,000?”
“If you could give me one piece of financial advice, what would that be?”
“How do you plan your finances – do you live on a budget?”
Remember, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Being vulnerable and developing the art of asking questions can lead to some interesting conversations.
Finally, the most important is to overcome spiritual blindness, caused by what the apostle Paul calls “the god of this world,” who had blinded people’s minds to prevent them seeing the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3,4). I believe the god of our world today is mammon – the god of, and spiritual power behind money.
How can we overcome this spiritual power?
In Revelation, John wrote three ways to overcome evil powers (Revelation 12:11). Firstly, ‘by the blood of the Lamb.’ Jesus allowed himself to be put under the power of money, (having been sold and bought for 30 silver coins) so that he could destroy this power by his resurrection. Secondly, ‘by the word of their testimony.’ A personal testimony about how Jesus has changed my life is very powerful to overcome mammon’s influence. Lastly, ‘they loved not their lives, even until death.’ We are called to give our lives to helping others to know and follow Jesus, being willing to sacrifice our priorities for His.
Paul wrote that satan (and by extension his finance minister - mammon) disguises himself as angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Money seems to be the answer to all our issues. However, money will not solve economic problems – It merely alleviates the symptoms for a while. Only the light of God’s word can set a person truly free from money issues, no matter what economic circumstances we find ourselves in (John 8:31,32 and Philippians 4:11-13).
Pray for an opportunity to start a money conversation with your friends. You never know, maybe it will lead you to introduce Jesus, and the light of God’s word!