“Money is the oil that greases the wheels of society, but oil is filthy sticky stuff and we should clean our hands of it before coming out in polite company” – Debrett’s A to Z of Modern Manners.
Rules of etiquette are firmly engrained in the history of British culture. These unspoken rules continue to pervade culture today, among them the decree that we simply don’t talk about money publicly.
These rules were meant for dinner table conversations, but they have become so engrained in the nation’s psyche that we are incredibly prudish when it comes to talking about money in any scenario or with any people, even with our friends and family.
Old Mutual Wealth research on taboo topics shows 52% of UK adults never or rarely talk to their friends and family about their savings and 50% would not want to talk about debt. The only subjects people felt more uncomfortable talking about were their sexual health (65%) and sex life (60%).
This lack of conversation has meant that generations have grown up without having frank conversations about money. One of the objectives of the Financial Capability Week (which ran last week) is to encourage people to talk about their finances in the hope it will demystify money and dilute some of the stigma about those discussions.
These conversations are important not just for financial well-being but for overall health, including mental health. Research shows the more debt people have, the more likely they are to have a mental disorder.
The UK faces some acute challenges when it comes to personal financial wellbeing, with many people struggling with over-indebtedness and under-saving. We desperately need to encourage people to talk about their finances, so they feel more capable of tackling the issues.
Current estimates show only 17% of over-indebted people – of whom there are 8 million in the UK – seek advice. Part of the problem is that people in debt may feel embarrassed and unwilling to seek help. However, without advice they’re less able to dig themselves out of the problem which then escalates and preys on their mind.
Debt is now sticking with people into their old age. Three in ten pensioners are buried in debt, research from Old Mutual Wealth shows, with those aged 65 to 69 having an average debt of £32,767. But despite these large levels of debt, the UK’s older population are seeking less financial help than ever.
When asked if they had sought advice or information about finances, 43% of UK adults aged 50 to 75 said they hadn’t sought any help. This is up from 39% from last year.
The UK population desperately needs to break the vicious circle around debt. Talking about finances will never be trendy, but it shouldn’t be a topic we avoid at all costs.
There’s an adage that a problem shared is a problem halved. Huge swathes of the UK population face money problems and while talking about them may not make them disappear, it may open the road to a solution.
Jane Goodland is responsible business director at Old Mutual Wealth and co-chair of KickStart Money, a charitable programme launched with the aim of getting financial education onto the primary school curriculum to boost consumers financial confidence, capability and literacy.