Let’s have a conversation about everyone’s secret shame.
Growing up, the only thing I remember my parents fighting about was money. Which makes a lot of sense: they came from very different financial backgrounds.
My mother grew up in Montreal, the daughter of a plastic surgeon. Her parents owned a ski cabin in the Laurentian mountains and, at one point, a small plane. My paternal grandfather was a Kenyan immigrant who ran his own gas station in Hartford and made beautiful stained glass lamps on weekends.
Not only were their financial histories incompatible, I truly don’t think they ever discussed money prior to getting married. My parents met on a kibbutz in Israel, a collective settlement where everyone pools their money and shares the workload. They got engaged after knowing each other for three months and were married three months later. Surprisingly, they’re still together.
My parents can look at the same total in their shared bank account and interpret their findings completely differently. My father will look at the amount and assume that in one year they’re going to be destitute. My mother will see the same number and decide it’s time to book a vacation. As a kid, I was never sure who was right and I internalized a lot of their money problems. And I never talked about it either. Even as an adult, I assumed that when it came to money, everyone else knew better than I did.
Why are people so afraid to speak openly about their financial issues? This is the question posed by Gaby Dunn in her new podcast, “Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn.”
At the end of the show’s first episode, Gaby approaches people on the street and asks them two questions: What is your favorite sexual position and how much money is in your bank account? Most people answer the first question, but find the second too personal.
As a queer-identifying actress and writer, Gaby has never shied away from dealing with controversial topics. On her popular YouTube channel, Just Between Us, she and business partner, Allison Raskin, tackle everything from polyamory to anal sex. But as forthcoming as Gaby was about her body and sexuality, she rarely spoke publicly about the financial issues that were frequently making her cry.
When I asked Gaby if she had any fears about coming clean with her money woes, she said, “Probably not as much fear as I should have had. I have really terrible boundaries in terms of what to share and what not to share, so I know money is a huge shameful thing for people, as it was for me, but that only made me want to talk about it more.”
But how do these parents expect their children to conquer their dreams when they’ve never been given the tools to correctly balance their budget?
Like me, Gaby grew up unsure about her family’s finances. Her father was an addict and her mother a lawyer who would sometimes give away her services to those in need in exchange for a free haircut or manicure. And, like me, she believes her own financial values are directly tied to the way her parents handled their money.
“We learn from watching the people who raise us. Those people shape our reality so if they don’t seem to worry about spending or saving, you think well, they’re the adults. They must know best. So then you follow their lead. It’s a hell of a thing to realize the people in charge don’t actually know what they’re doing.”
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, 47% of Americans can’t afford a 400 dollar emergency. This means that for almost half the population, a sick dog or unforeseen dental bill could leave a family in dire financial straits. And this is especially problematic when you consider that most parents raise their children to believe they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. But how do these parents expect their children to conquer their dreams when they’ve never been given the tools to correctly balance their budget?
That’s why “Bad With Money” is such an important?—?and enjoyable?—?listen. It’s refreshing to hear an artist speak vulnerably about their bank account. So often when we hear people speak about their finances, it’s after they’ve made their millions and paid off all their loans. It’s unique to hear from someone who is still struggling to pay bills, understand how credit cards work and make sense of retirement.
In episode two, Gaby visits a financial psychologist who tells her, “When you have an extreme relationship with something, be it alcohol, be it fear around money, your kids are very likely to do the exact same thing you did or the exact opposite.” If we want to have a different relationship with money than our parents had, we need to understand why they made the choices they made. And the only way to do that is to talk with them about it.
As a culture, we’ve become much more open to talking about sex, and now, thanks to Gaby, we’re beginning to talk about money. So what taboo topic should we aim for next? According to Gaby, it’s “telling your family how you really feel about things. I know that’s very taboo but it’s been so helpful to see my parents are just people, flawed but good people. It’s allowed for so much forgiveness.”
New episodes of “Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn” are available Wednesdays on iTunes.