3 money taboos and why you should break them

Ruth Davies 16 October 2015

Is money the last big taboo?

According to recent research, it's certainly involved in three of the biggest.

Apparently, British people are more willing to talk about their sex lives than their money. Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that people were seven times more likely to tell a stranger that they'd had an affair than reveal their salary.

This reluctance to talk about money could be having a negative impact on our financial lives – after all, a problem shared is a problem halved.

So are these three big financial taboos holding you back? And what can you gain if you're willing to break them?

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1.Your salary: don't ask, don't tell

When we first enter the world of work, we become aware of certain unwritten rules: don't hog the photocopier, don't get too drunk at the Christmas party, and DON'T discuss your salary.

This taboo is pretty well ingrained. 20% of the participants in the UCL study flat out refused to answer questions about how much they earned.

Sharing details of your salary isn't without its pitfalls – there could be an element of jealousy and awkwardness. So why break this taboo? Simply because comparing salaries with colleagues at a similar level could help you to realise if you're being under-valued.

The Equalities Act of 2010 made it illegal for an employer to prevent you from establishing differences in pay – although they can require that you don't share details outside of your workplace. Finding out what your colleagues are earning can help you to win the argument and negotiate the pay rise you deserve.

If you want to negotiate a pay rise you should stress your individual talents and experience, and the value you've brought to the organisation. Of course, there's no guarantee you'll get the raise you want, but if you don't ask you'll never know. Breaking this taboo could give you the confidence to do just that.

2. Keeping debt problems hidden away

This year, a report from PwC found that total non-mortgage borrowing went up by 9% (that's £20 billion) in 2014, and predicted that the average household will be £10,000 in debt by the end of next year.

Debt has always been a part of financial planning, so the fact we are borrowing more is not the taboo. The problem is our tendency to keep it hidden, especially when debt becomes a problem.

22% of people in Britain lie about how much debt they're in, according to a survey by Legal & General. And a worrying 11% hide credit card statements from their partner.

Why should you break this taboo? Two reasons: first, to prevent the tremendous stress that comes with mounting debt problems. Second, to achieve the clarity of a proper way forward.

Talking about debt can make you feel vulnerable, but the people who take this first difficult step often report a huge sense of relief. The chances are whoever you tell will be understanding, and may even be able to help you make a repayment plan. If you're not comfortable talking to your friends and family, organisations like StepChange and the Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to listen and advise you for free.

3. Don't mention the D word

Death is a taboo generally – not just financially. Talking about dying makes people really uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think about it, but it's one of the few certainties in life.

But our reluctance to talk about what will happen after we've gone could have consequences for those we leave behind.

So if you're willing to break this taboo, there are two big benefits in store.

First, if you've got dependents who would miss your contribution if you died, it's your responsibility to arrange adequate cover for how the household income would change. You could do this on your own, or you could start a conversation about it. Either way, you want to make sure they don't lose out financially and have to give up the home or the lifestyle you are currently helping them to afford..

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Second, it's equally important to tell your loved ones about the plans you've made. It's estimated that there's around £2 billion sitting in unclaimed life insurance policies. If you have covered them but they don't know about it, they could miss out on a payout.

The conversation doesn't have to be morbid or a big deal. Just tell your family that you've got a life insurance policy, who it's with, how much the payout will be, and where they can find the policy number. When the day comes, they will be grateful that you did.

Some things are taboo for good reason, but when it comes to our money, we should all be talking a bit more.

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This article was originally published in July 2014 and has been revised and updated.