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Lessons Learned on Taboo Subjects

Money and sex are two of the few remaining taboo subjects in our culture, especially across generations. I still remember in clear horrifying detail the day my Mom told me about the birds and the bees. I was ten. I asked one simple question and for whatever reason she took it as a sign that this was the moment she’d be waiting for. She took a deep breath and an hour later I sat staring blankly out the window, horrified and in utter disbelief that this could possibly be true. She never spoke another word about it.

Last week my son came home from school and announced, “Guess what Mom? We learned about puberty in class today and next week they’re going to tell us all the other stuff but I already know all about that, don’t I?” I responded, “I think we’ve covered it all but let me know if you learn anything new!”

Sex Ed is part of the school curriculum but for the most part the basics of finance are being left for parents to teach their kids. Parents, who for the most part were never taught the basics from their parents. The fact that my parents spoke to me, albeit briefly, about sex and about money is a huge leap from what their parents told them. They came from a generation where sex and money were topics to be avoided entirely.

What they taught me about sex included:

  1. It’s necessary for making babies.
  2. Don’t think about until your older.
  3. It’s not nice to talk about.
  4. Let’s talk about something else now.
  5. We’d prefer you never brought this up again.
  6. Let’s pretend this never happened.

I lucked out with a Dad who had a contagious passion for personal finance. I never knew how much my parents had or how much they made but I was taught the basics of money management which sparked an interest in personal finance that has lasted a lifetime.

What they taught me about money included:

  1. The miracle of compound interest.
  2. The perils of credit card debt and high interest rates.
  3. There are lenders and borrowers. Be a lender.
  4. Invest early. It’s all about the wait.
  5. Read as much as you can about the subject. Never stop learning.
  6. Never ask how much someone makes.
  7. Never ask someone how much something cost them.

Much of what you learn from your parents about money comes from their example. Did they fight about money? Was money a source of tension in the house? Was it openly discussed? Did they look down on people from higher or lower socioeconomic backgrounds? Where the basics of finance overtly taught or was their example all you had to go on?

I laugh now when I think about how difficult ‘the talk’ must have been for my Mom. She clearly felt it was her duty to tell me but what an uncomfortable subject for her! Yet my Dad spoke about personal finance in a way that made it seem exciting, relevant, and full of potential to enrich my life. If only the other talk could have gone as well!

What did your parents teach you about money? Did they way they handle money influence the way you handle your finances?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

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About the author: Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • The Financial Blogger June 18, 2009, 8:15 am

    It’s funny as I didn’t talk much with my parent regarding sex or money. However, since my dad was buying me condoms at the age of 15, I learned about sex that:
    #1 it is ok to have sex for fun
    #2 you better no bring back home a baby in 9 months!

    Regarding money, I have learned a lot from my parents but in a different way:
    My parents went bankrupt 13 years ago because they were spending like a teenager who just received his first Mcdo paycheck! However, I have learned:
    #1 you can spend as much money as you want but it won’t bring you happiness

    #2 if you don’t have a plan B and you lose your job, the plan B will become the plan Bankdrupt

    #3 you don’t have to work hard to make money, you have to work smart (13 years after, they are living on a acreage property with a small lake, having a brand new truck, a Harley Davidson for summer and they work 3 days a week….and they are debt free!)

    I think I’ll revisit this topic on my blog too… thx for the idea MDJ!

  • M Hawk June 18, 2009, 11:10 am

    Funny, my parents actually just ignored both subjects and pretended they didn’t exist. Never got the sex talk. Never got the finance talk, either. In fact, to this day, whenever my parents reveal a little tidit of their personal finance information, they immediately follow with “But don’t tell anyone!”, just in case. I always thought when I was younger that because they were so uptight about it that we must have been poor… I realized later that we were bloody rich. I think my parents were/are embarassed about it.

    I also realized about three years ago that my parents actually know nothing about personal finance, and that’s when I took it upon myself to learn. I was investing in my first GIC and asked my dad to explain the details. He had NO idea. Now i’m trying to teach my older sister about the basics, since she never learned either.

  • Ray June 18, 2009, 11:27 am

    my parents never talked to me about money or sex……my dad was a saver and mom a spender both were at extreme ends……there was constant fight about money so at early age i hated money but learned that its not money that is the issue its how we deal with it so am hoping to find a balance between spending and saving

  • Stephen June 18, 2009, 12:02 pm

    People must really get annoyed at me then. I used to not talk much about money or ask how much people made … but then I started taking a real interest in saving money and understanding finance. The only way to effectively manage your purchases and your finances is to know how things work and how much things cost so I started checking out the price of everything on my own and asking people when they bought something what kind of deal they got. Most people answer me, even if they might be uncomfortable about it on the inside.

    I even ask those people who I have some form of close relationship with how much they make on occasion. I know roughly how much my dad makes (very volatile because he is commission based), how much my sister makes, my mom, 3 of my closer friends, my 2 sisters in law, my father in law, my aunt … I think that’s about it.

    I wonder what they really think of me because of all that if talking about money is truly still as taboo as you say it is.

  • Sean June 18, 2009, 2:15 pm

    My parents didn’t talk to me about finance or sex.

    No problem with the sex part as throughout my teen years – I was shy of the opposite sex – and was no longer a virgin til I went into college.

    Finance – my parents didn’t talk to me about money – but I somehow knew/felt that money was an issue for them because I remember at the beginning of getting an allowance – my parents gave me it without me asking for it weekly – but as I got older – I had to ask for it and I sensed that they were having financial difficulty as for some reason they weren’t happy in giving me an allowance (that’s how I felt).

    So – I guess with my background – I’m financially conservative with my money – and I do worry about it even though I have a stable job and don’t have to try too hard to keep my savings up to pay for expenses and having an emergency fund.

    Also, the internet has been a great resource for me in understanding finance and other stuff in our world.

  • Charles in Vancouver June 18, 2009, 2:19 pm

    My parents gave me a sex talk that was something about Daddy planting his seed in Mommy’s egg. I was a bright, articulate young child but I didn’t get it. So I decided that I came from an eggplant. A couple more years later we clarified the subject.

    As for finance, it was not lost on my parents that I had a habit of hoarding my allowance money and so we opened a bank account. As I grew up we decided on allowance amounts which eventually became quarterly cheques. The idea was that I’d take the money, spend it on what I need/want to, and would not ask them for case-by-case help.

    I remember one incident in elementary school where I missed the bus and took a taxi, but realized I did not have the cash. I asked the taxi to stop at a convenience store where I used an ATM to take out a $20. My parents told this story for years and even wrote it into the Toronto Star at one point.

  • ctreit June 18, 2009, 2:43 pm

    Lucky you. At least you got good pointers for personal finance. – This post reminds me of my dating time. Most couples probably have sex way before they talk about money. Heck, some married couples (even with children) don’t talk about money or are open about money with each other. How much more private do many consider money over sex? How weird, right?

  • Kathryn June 18, 2009, 5:10 pm

    Love the stories!

    ctreit: Great point about couples often having sexual intimacy WELL before they have financial intimacy .. or even basic conversation about money!

  • Amit June 18, 2009, 5:51 pm

    I learnt all about saving money from becoming an homeowner. Before I owned a home, I didn’t even care to create a budget and wasn’t saving much. From my parents who have always taught me to not take any risks at all when it comes to money, all I had were laddered GICs and when I needed the money in an emergency I had to break those and ended up just getting a 1% return on those after putting away money for over 5 years. My parents also taught me about never to keep credit, so I never accumulated any credit card debt ever.

    Things changed after I became a home owner, the monthly mortgage payments increased (compared to rent) and I started planning things and the GIC hit forced me to re-think about investing and I studied on risk. I have only started investing in stock since last May (from the peak) at the age of 34, and am still learning. Now, I have a nice RRSP portfolio (after the last year of ups and downs, my portfolio is only down -5% compared to S&P that’s down by over 30%. I also have an emergency account now. I don’t have any GICs. Whenever my parents visit me next time, I am going to teach them a few things about risk and investing (if they want to learn) – they are 65 now, and retired with almost zero savings, but are mortgage free and own just 1 house.

  • Adrian June 19, 2009, 12:02 pm

    About your point number 3, this really inspires me to become the one on top, not the other way around. Instant cash is enjoyable for a moment, but after debt collectors start to haunt you, it is not a good experience. Better be the one lending money than the one borrowing it. You may lose the money for a moment, but it returns to you double, great! It’s all about patience, that is what differs us from animals, careful planning of the future.

  • Matt June 20, 2009, 12:43 am

    Dad (a single dad) taught me about pride —- he was renting a 1000 square foot bungalo for a dirt cheap rate for 20 years and finally had to make a decision to buy the property when the owners went off to the retirement home.

    Instead of asking for help from ‘well off’ family members he tapped his savings well completely dry for a 30% downpayment. As a contractor he had difficulty getting a mortgage but he found a way.

    I started up my own business a few years later and have experienced a taste of success so far —- I know what it feels like to build a business from the ground up with my own two hands —- it feels great and fills me with the same pride my dad must have felt years earlier.

  • The Gooroo June 21, 2009, 9:48 am

    Hahaha, funny post. Really enjoyed this.

  • Blogging Banks June 21, 2009, 12:14 pm

    Incidentally friends talk about who they slept with, but they never talk about how much money they make or how much credit card debt they have. Isn’t that weird?

  • cannon_fodder June 21, 2009, 12:45 pm

    My parents both were raised in lower class conditions. My mom was an orphan at a young age and my dad recounted stories about being a child in England during WWII and leaving through rations. They didn’t grow up in an environment where there were thoughts of saving or investing money because there wasn’t barely enough to cover basic expenses.

    By comparison, I grew up in a much better financial environment but I was reminded often, through words and examples, about being careful with money. Through constant osmosis, it must have seeped in to my consciousness because I can only remember being a saver.

    But, there were never any direct, informative discussions about money. I don’t think it was taboo, it was more a case of lack of insight as to how important fiscal prudence is. When you have little discretionary income, your options are more limited.

    Unfortunately, my dad will probably never be mortgage free even though he’s been careful with his money all of his life. My mom was left with debt when her 2nd husband died and didn’t let her know that he let his life insurance lapse.

    My parents split up when I was 12 and my sister 8 and we grew up with very different perspectives on money management. Perhaps there were innate differences or perhaps it was partly due to my mom’s second husband believing he needed to project a successful image through material displays of consumption.

  • PD June 23, 2009, 3:18 pm

    I was one of the fortunate ones who was taught about sex and money with openness and a forthright attitude. If I ever had a question it was clearly answered, albeit sometimes with discomfort in terms of sex.

    In terms of money the best lesson my parents gave me was that when you have a little or when you have a lot or any amount in between you must respect that amount and take care in budgeting your finances. Every month my parents sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a budget. We were not made to sit there and take part, but if we did sit with them we were to listen carefully and learn from the experience.

    My parents had very little money until I was about the age of 12 and then my dad’s work allowed him to gradually have a lot. By the time I was in my early 20’s my father had a six figure salary and he worked hard earning every penny. They are now retired and due to not being able to save for so many years they live on a tight, but manageable budget. They still sit down every month and create a budget. My mom still worries if they will have enough and my dad still assures her they will survive. They still plan and spend wisely, and it is by their example that I learned how to appreciate and respect money. Funny, appreciation and respect are also important in sex.

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