Saturday, February 14, 2015

honesty and transparency

I’m an honest person, and I abhor liars (I’m pretty sure my parents trained me to be this way).  I’m not an extremely open person, but I’m not conservative or shy, I think pretty well of myself, and I love to communicate through writing.  So basically, it was destined in this day and age that I would have a blog.

I choose to have a public blog with very revealing personal financial information.  For sure, I have my limits - I prefer to link my blog from websites with my full name/identity, where my ‘friends’ or contacts have met me, so my readers are people I know.  I don’t share my or my husband’s last names, for some anonymity in situations where near or complete strangers find my blog.  I think I may have reached the point where I will have to think before memorializing exact net worth numbers on the internet - but even then, said numbers will never be a secret to curious friends, so long my husband is amenable.  Not everyone thinks sharing this much is prudent, or worth it, or proper.  But I like to share (and maybe overshare) about my finances - because I think transparency is important.  To me, transparency is honesty.

Money and finances are generally a taboo topic - this is frustrating for anyone wanting to learn more or make changes or know how to make changes or know what changes to make, to improve their finances.  With credit cards, with varying financial support from family, with varying obligations (like student loans), it’s near impossible to know how much money someone makes by looking at their spending.  Sounds obvious, but I didn’t quite grasp this until a summer internship in college.  It’s also near impossible to know if someone’s being responsible, or if they feel like they have money under control (because who wants to talk about something that’s totally not under control?).  And, perhaps more surprisingly, it’s also hard to know with accuracy how much someone spends by looking at their visible spending and instagrammed dinners out and travels.  To top it off, saving and investing are basically magically invisible - unless you come across an oversharer or personal finance zealot (ahem), there is no way to know how much, let alone whether, someone invests.

So I want people to know about my finances - that my husband and I happily live on about $2,500 a month (excluding travel).  That we do go out to ballets and lovely dinners without guilt - but not without thought.  That we definitely don’t skimp on travel (but also that it costs less than you think - more on that later).  I want people to know we could spend twice as much but choose to save and invest our money instead.  I want to write about how different (but also awesome) it is to have fully merged finances.  I want to share that it totally scares me that I could pretty much abscond with all of our money and my husband literally wouldn’t know (because he is not so into the tracking, and I have all the passwords *maniacal laugh*).  I want to share that moving my old job’s 401k to my IRA was a bitch, but totally worth it (and I don’t remember the pain anymore, that helps).  I don’t share to condemn others to my fate, but because I want to learn from others.  Because I wish my parents talked to me more about money.  Because my talking about money might cause someone else to learn something.  Because there is so much to learn about finances and us curious and interesting people and how we handle our money.  And I want to learn it all.

I recently came across a NYTimes article about why you should tell your children how much you make.  That is pretty radical and pretty different from what I and many friends were raised with.  I (shocker) totally dig the concept.  The truly upper class (whose fortunes are vast) put forth much effort to train their children to be good stewards of the family money.  Regardless of whether we have finances (vast or not) to pass to our kids, we certainly have our financial experiences, our knowledge and values.  Learning to make good financial decisions is like learning to make other good decisions - experience (yours or borrowed from others) helps.  So I am looking forward to the day when sharing our financial decisions and accomplishments isn’t taboo.  In the meantime, I’m sticking with this blog - where you will find me talking about the taboo and not-taboo financial topics, maybe more than you ever wanted to hear.

What financial topics do you think are most off-limits?  Any that you think should stay that way?  Any you’d welcome becoming socially acceptable to discuss?


  1. I like the thought that "transparency is honesty", but I think it's a dangerous equivalence. Honesty, in the never-tell-a-lie sense is, to me, absolute. What I say is finite and as near to 100% of that as is within my ability is honest. 80% honesty would not be honesty.
    Transparency, on the other hand, is open ended. You could always share more. You can never be 100% open and transparent (nor would you want to be), only more or less transparent than someone else, and you wouldn't want to therefore think yourself or the other person dishonest.

    1. What you say is definitely true. I don't think I believe it's a straight equivalence, but I do think that to a certain extent you can't be honest without being transparent. If someone spends lots of money on things they can't afford (instead adding it to their CC balance), you could argue that there is nothing dishonest about that (especially if you make no claims about what you can afford)- but it's certainly not transparent to allow everyone to believe you are buying things you can afford, and in that way it seems dishonest to me.

      I would argue that we are not anywhere close to being 100% honest - there is a lot we don't say because it would be unproductive or hurtful. And I don't argue that we should change that. But that certainly gets into gray areas or lies by omission, etc.