No more shame: Normalizing money conversations

We all have messages about money that we have internalized over the years. These messages have shaped our money personality. Some of these may sound familiar: 

  1. Money does not grow on trees (scarcity mindset)
  2. Go ask your father (women do not make decisions about money)
  3. Investing is only for rich people (I am not worthy)
  4. If you are rich you are probably crooked (dirty money / stereotypes that could limit growth)
  5. Credit cards are trouble waiting to happen (fear)
  6. My spouse / partner takes care of the money (ignorance is not bliss, here, I promise)
  7. Be thankful you can at least cover your expenses (scarcity mindset) 
  8. Life is short and you can’t take it with you (overspending / lack of planning) 
  9. I have enough money so I do not need to budget / plan (a better strategy could lead to more accumulation)
  10. Money is the root of all evil…a misquoted bible verse that actually reads, “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10). It is how we interact with it that is problematic, not the money itself.

Whether or not one of the above money messages resonated with you, I can bet there is one emotion we all share about money. Shame. 

Shame is the feeling of humiliation over a perceived wrong action or foolish behavior. Shame causes a feeling of powerlessness and prevents people from seeking the help they need. 

Have you ever had these feelings? 

  1. I should have more money in savings 
  2. I should have been able to put my child through college
  3. I am upside down on my auto loan because I bought too much car and/or rolled over my unpaid loan into the auto loan.
  4. I barely have enough money to get through the month
  5. I should be further along in my retirement savings
  6. I am embarrassed of my low credit score
  7. I feel guilty for buying things for myself and/or I have hidden purchases from my spouse/partner
  8. I get anxious when I have to ask for a loan and/or I worry when a clerk swipes my card, it will be declined
  9. I am embarrassed to have so much credit card debt
  10. I am embarrassed to be in collection queues for my loans 

Your members have these feelings too! 

What if, as their trusted source for financial guidance, credit unions took the shame out of money? What if we normalized talking about our money challenges? Discussing debt loads should not be embarrassing. Life throws many curve balls and we are all learning along the way. There be no shame in the process. 

Amazing things can happen when people feel heard. When I listen to the calls BALANCE credit counselors have with credit union members there is a transformation that happens when they talk through the situation and make a plan. When money issues they deem “shameful” are brought into the light, they can no longer fester in the dark to cause distress or despair. 

When members can name the root cause of the situation, address it, learn from the past, and make a plan for the future there is hope. 

Credit unions have a golden opportunity to adopt the medical model of “treating the whole person” as they work with members rebuilding their financial lives after the pandemic. Financial stress has been proven to cause physical stress and illness. It is no longer just about financial transactions, it is about the rebuilding of financial confidence in the member. It is about shedding money shame and normalizing REAL money conversations so we can work toward financial health and well-being. Just like a healthy marriage still benefits from marriage counseling, financial coaching should be normalized. It is for everyone not just those with money struggles. Guidance is helpful at all stages of our financial growth. 

The best way to start normalizing conversations about money is to have them ourselves. What are the money messages you grew-up hearing and believing? In what areas do you have money shame? If we see it in ourselves, we can recognize it in others and offer help!

Cynthia Campbell

Cynthia Campbell

Cynthia is a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), she holds a BS in Business Administration and an MBA from Elmhurst College in Illinois, and a master’s degree in Adult ... Web: Details