KAI RYSSDAL: Say what you will about Americans, we do love our revolving debt. The Federal Reserve reported on March consumer credit today. That’s a fancy way of saying the balance outstanding on our collective credit cards. It rose almost 10 percent last month to just under $900 billion.
You know what your contribution to that total was. Commentator Shira Boss wonders whether life might be better if you knew what was going on with everyone else, too.
SHIRA BOSS: Money is known as “the last taboo.” We’re more likely to know about our friends taking anti-depressants than to know about their dreaded credit card balances.
Why is this? Well, as my eighth-grade teacher used to say about a lot of things, it’s “rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.”
But since we seem to have lost our manners in many other areas, why be so proper when it comes to personal finances?
I think it comes down to fear. If we ask, we might have to tell. We might have to admit that we’re in financial trouble.
We’re also afraid of not fitting in. Who wants to be the one who speaks up at a group dinner and says, “I’d rather not order wine, actually . . . ” Why does it seem like everyone else can always afford it?
The fact is, anxiety over money is much more common than we realize.
More Americans are going bankrupt than are getting divorced — but bankrupt families can’t find one another and talk it out, because we’re too ashamed to admit money trouble.
So why not break the money taboo? It’s only adding to our stress. Let’s speak up about our envy, be honest about what we can’t afford and wonder out loud how our neighbors paid for that weekend trip to Paris.
I like to put it as, “Wow, how long did you have to save up for that?”
Open the door a bit and see what you find out. Even if it’s just a look on their faces that tells you they hadn’t saved.
You’re likely to learn that you’re not alone. After all, 70 percent of us report living paycheck to paycheck. At least you’ll discover the relief of honesty — and often get a reality check.
That’s a way we can improve our financial well-being, even before we make more money or pay off all our debts.
RYSSDAL: Shira Boss is the author of the book “Green with Envy.”
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.