Decades ago, it was unthinkable to discuss religion, politics or money in “polite company.”
But does that etiquette adage still hold true today when it comes to those closest to us, such as children, parents and neighbors? Etiquette experts weigh in, explaining that what amount of information can be appropriately shared often depends on the specific circumstances.
Parents know that the responsibility of raising financially literate kids rests primarily with them. They are unsure, however, of how much of their own personal information to disclose when imparting lessons about dollars and cents.
Joanne Wong, VP of Marketing for Virtual Piggy, stresses the importance of discussing money management with children.
“Only half of parents talk to their kids about money, even though 86 percent of teens say they learn money management from their parents,” Wong says. “So it’s really important for parents to take the first step to begin the conversation.”
How much information a parent shares with a child depends on a child’s age and maturity level.
“As a child grows up, the conversation can evolve from teaching the child about the basic definition of money to a more nuanced discussion using examples from a parent’s own life,” she says. “Particularly as a child gets closer to being more independent or moving out of the house, parents’ examples of their own lessons learned may help drive the point home.”
When teaching kids that salary information and other figures are not great topics for the lunch table, Wong suggests that parents “be clear with kids that although money is not a ‘bad’ topic to discuss, it can be a sensitive topic for others.”
Lynn Rogers, author of Miss Mind Your Manners on ChicagoNow, considers that children sometimes share information that should be kept private.
“Do [my kids] need to know our annual double income? No. That’s information that I am not sure they can keep to themselves when talking to others,” Rogers says.
Having a conversation about finances with an adult parent can be difficult or awkward, but it can be necessary if the roles between parent and child start to shift.
Cheryl Kuba, Executive Director of LivHOME in Skokie said that it can be difficult for grown children to discuss finances with parents who are part of a generation that was very private about money. She suggests having the adult child bring up a similar financial topic, such as planning for his or her own retirement. Children can then say, “This is a good time for us to discuss that,” and move into a discussion about the parent’s finances. Sometimes just acknowledging the difficulty, but explaining the need to know, can help parents move past the etiquette rules of not discussing money that they learned so long ago.
Many variables can influence what monetary information is appropriate to share with neighbors, including the relationship between neighbors and the reason the neighbor is requesting the information.
A neighbor may be more wiling to share a general price range of a kitchen remodel with someone considering a similar project than with a neighbor who only wants to get that personal information with no apparent ability to constructively use it.
Rogers takes into account what information is readily available online. “With neighbors … there are certain things that you can freely discuss, and others that should be more personal and hence private. I don’t share information about my or my husband’s income, for example. [But] I don’t mind talking about my property taxes or minor home improvements.”
Should a nosy neighbor take the questioning too far, Rogers suggests saying something vague and noncommittal, such as, “Like everyone, we work hard and we’re doing OK.” Another tactic she recommend is laughing it off with a phrase like, “You know what my mom said, ‘Never talk religion, politics, money or sex in polite company!'”