Bonnie Azoulay
Updated Apr 16, 2020 @ 1:44 pm
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Credit: Getty Images

Throughout 2019, I left three different full-time jobs. The first was of my own volition, the other let me go when the company got bought out, and the last was a temporary contract position. By August, I decided to freelance full time. I made my own schedule and took a break from interviewing, edit tests, and rejections. But the stability of receiving a salary was relatively compromised. So, I didn’t re-sign the lease on my Manhattan apartment and moved back home to Brooklyn.

When January rolled around, I calculated my yearly earnings. Overall, I made $30,000. Although people may view my salary as a measly amount, I was proud of what I’d earned.

But talking about how much I made was still taboo and susceptible to controversy. According to investing app Acorns, 68% of people would rather talk about their weight than about money. Additionally, 43% of Americans don’t know how much money their spouse makes, according to data from Fidelity Investments.

However, once I saw media influencers and fellow writers taking to social media to post their incomes, I changed my tune about money talk.

Women’s Health Beauty Director Kristina Rodulfo spoke to NBC News and her Instagram followers about how she negotiated her salary by $50,000 in two years. “I wanted to remind people that it’s important to ask for more and that it can be uncomfortable, but there are ways to get over that hurdle—and it’s worth it!” Rodulfo said.

Aside from looking at career sites like Glassdoor, she also suggested speaking to your peers about salary ranges in their field. As a freelancer, I’ve been asking people—who have the same experience and background as me—what they charge different publications. By doing this, I’m not just making more money, I’m letting editors know how much I’m worth based on my research.

As the beauty and style content creator and the beauty content director at Jumprope, Austen Tosone has been transparent with her viewers about where her earnings come from. She’s also shared how much influencers get paid, which is something most public social media figures are private about. “I think it’s useful to level the playing field for everyone and provide a baseline. I have even found that when I was freelancing full time, my audience appreciated hearing percentages of where my monthly income was coming from. The more that we do this, the better, especially for women and minorities to get paid more in the long run,” she tells HelloGiggles.

Tori West, an editor at Brick magazine, is also open about her financial lifestyle. This year, West shared with followers that she’s also a part-time cleaner. “I had a good year last year financially, but the last six months have been so hard. I started housekeeping because I’ve never been able to save money. [I’m] a full-time publishing boss who gets to sit next to Vogue editors at press dinners, [and a] part-time cleaner, ’cause [this] girl gotta pay her way independently and it’s helped my anxiety so much. My point is, stop hiding your day jobs on social media…”

After seeing people I admire post about their finances, I publicly shared my yearly earnings on Instagram by also acknowledging my privilege.

“Overall, I accumulated $30,000 this year. It may not seem like a lot of money to many, but I’m proud of having made that from my own talent and work ethic,” I captioned. “This is all to say that talking about money shouldn’t be uncomfortable or taboo anymore. As a freelancer, I’m learning more and more about how to achieve that.”

As evidenced by myself and other women, opening up about our paychecks helps other working women correct wage gaps. Most people reacted to my post positively, but someone asked me point-blank why I shared something so “personal.” And, you know what, that’s okay, because for most people, money is still a difficult topic to talk about.

Here’s why experts think speaking about money is still taboo—and how we can overcome that stigma.

Why is money still taboo to talk about?

According to an article by New York Times money writer Kristin Wong, people are discouraged from talking about money. Even asking about someone’s rent is deemed “rude.”

Most wealthy people, for instance, don’t talk about money because their cars and homes depict their net worth. Old-money communities are less open than new money communities because knowledge and secrecy can be powerful to them. More importantly, those with lower incomes are sometimes embarrassed to talk about their financial statuses. But if we stay silent, we’re not helping those who would benefit from money advice.

Lamar Watson, financial advisor and the founder of Dream Financial Planning, tells HelloGiggles that this taboo is cultural and generational. “Younger people are more open about talking to their coworkers about how much they make, especially in the age of social media when people are posting about their vacations and cars,” Watson says.

“Financial literacy is a massive problem in America, so another issue is that parents don’t know how to talk about [it] or give advice to their kids because they are often lost themselves. Insecurity is likely also a cause. People may fear being judged by others for their lack of knowledge,” Lacey Cobb, CFP, CFA, and director at Personal Capital, explains.

When should people talk about money?

Watson says that people should talk about money with their partner before they get married or combine their finances. “You’ll want to know if your partner has bad credit or still has to pay back student loans,” he says. Older people, too, should inform their children about estate planning and what they plan on doing with their money before they pass.

How can people be more open about money?

If you don’t know anything about money, Michael Caligiuri, CFP, EA, says that the first step is admitting your financial literacy. “The reality is that 99% of the people I meet with (through no fault of their own) don’t have a great grasp on how to be secure financially and build a plan for financial independence,” he explains. This advice extends to salaries and rent as well. If you can admit that you don’t know the salary range for your position or how much an apartment costs in your neighborhood, then you’ll be more likely to see guidance. When you do seek guidance, speak to people who you trust and who can help you achieve your financial goals.

When it comes to group activities, Tara Tussing Unverzagt, founder of South Bay Financial Partners and the Facebook group “Let’s Talk About Money,” says to talk about what you can afford and budget. “It’s an opportunity for people to discuss if they are using a credit card to pay for it because they really can’t afford it. I find people sometimes don’t have money to do something their friends are planning and they think everyone else can,” she says. “Then they use their credit card to not be ‘left out,’ when actually nobody, or most people in the group, can afford it.”

Finances are personal and different for everyone, so it’s important not to judge. “Open up by talking about your own situation so the other person feels more comfortable and willing to discuss their own,” Cobb says.