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Are You a Money Whisperer? New Study Reveals 6 in 10 Americans Don't Talk About Money


January 4, 2024

America, it's time to have the money talk. According to research by Empower, a financial services company, 62% of people don't talk about money. Mum's the word with their family (63%), friends (75%) and even with their spouse/partner (46%), though millennials and Gen Z are twice as likely to say they're an "open book" compared to older generations (28% versus 13%). Many people would rather discuss politics (43%) and death (32%) than their finances (24%).

It may be costing them their dreams. A majority of people believe more candid "money talks" have the power to change the world: 66% remark that open conversations can help people build generational wealth, improve the gender wage gap (62%) and over half say that money conversations could improve workplace transparency (56%).

Carol Waddell, President of Empower Personal Wealth, says, "Conversation is a currency on the pathway to financial security, and open discussions about money can have a truly transformative effect on society. Our study shows people believe that clarity about their financial picture, talking to an advisor and financial education are key to achieving financial success."

1. Growing up without money conversations

Don't talk about money: that's the message half (52%) of Americans hear, learning it's impolite to talk about finances (26%), and certainly not what you earn (35%). The taboo prevails for nearly two-thirds (60%) of people who don't feel comfortable on the topic.

Americans recall stowing away coins in a piggy bank (41%) but say many practical financial lessons weren't discussed - like the importance of having an emergency fund (31%), building good credit (30%), and managing debt (27%) - as kids or adults. This might explain why Americans tend to clam up when the conversation turns to money. While many received an allowance (36%), the majority (68%) were never taught how to manage a budget. Nearly a quarter of Gen Zers (23%) grew up in a household with a swear jar teaching about money and manners - yet 79% of all people say they never spoke about how much is "needed" to be financially secure.

One in 5 (18%) Americans surveyed say they were raised with a YOLO money motto: "You only live once, so don't worry too much about finances." Despite the saying, more than a third (37%) say they regularly worry. That's even higher for Gen Z and millennials (51% and 49%) and women, who are considerably more stressed about their personal finances than men (42% versus 33%).

2. Talking about money at work

Figuring out personal finance is intimidating and overwhelming for half of Americans (48%), and when it comes to managing their money, 39% say they don't know where to start, including 41% of women and 37% of men. Compare that with sky-high confidence managing money at work: 73% feel at ease overseeing company budgets and the majority say they clearly understand their employer's finances and performance (70%).

Reassuringly, people have a strong grasp on employer benefits like the availability of their company's 401(K) plan (80%) and say they know how their pay raises work (77%). Advocating for themselves is where it gets tricky. One-third (33%) of people don't feel comfortable asking for an increase. Men feel more comfortable asking for a pay raise than women (74% versus 59%). Better market data on compensation could potentially boost negotiation confidence and nearly half (49%) of survey respondents (and a majority of millennials, 69%, and Gen Z, 71%) believe discussing salaries can lead to better career opportunities.

Americans say they avoid uncomfortable money talk at work (68%), and more than half (56%) wish discussing salaries wasn't taboo. Do you know how much your co-workers make? Just 19% of respondents say they've asked. But the workplace isn't the only area Americans are staying quiet. People haven't asked their friends (68%) or family (60%) either. Women are less comfortable talking about money with co-workers than men (36% women versus 50% men).

That said, people may not be as shy as expected: 58% of millennials and 53% of Gen Z (and 34% of Americans overall), would share their salary information on their LinkedIn.

What's it amount to? According to 62% of respondents, open money conversations could solve the gender wage gap. Americans say greater wage transparency would motivate employees to work harder (50%) and help avoid miscommunications (60%).

3. Speak with an expert.

More than three-quarters (77%) of Americans want to see society take on more "money talks" about ways to save for the future (41%), money mistakes they've made (36%) and basic financial literacy (34%). A quarter want more discussions about how to negotiate (26%) and pay for big expenses (24%). Even more open dialogue about the emotional aspects of money would be helpful for 20% of respondents.

Ultimately, people believe more open conversations about money can have a truly transformative effect on society: 66% think it can help more people achieve financial freedom.

So, how does America get there? Respondents agree that clarity about their financial picture (40%), talking to an advisor (36%), and financial education (34%) are key to achieving financial success.

"In these challenging times, staying tight-lipped about money is something people can no longer afford. As part of our mission to advance financial freedom for all, we're here to help people speak up and take the next step for a brighter financial future," says Waddell.

If conversation is a currency on the pathway to financial security, it's time to start speaking up.

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