The etiquette experts say, "Avoid it." I say, "Get over it."
We're talking about money. Actually, we're not talking about it much -- not with our pals, parents, or offspring. It's considered gauche to broach financial issues with anyone other than the one with whom you share check-writing privileges. And even then, tread lightly around the combustibles.
But there's a price to pay for keeping mum about money. Kids repeat the credit card sins of their parents. Co-workers settle for lesser raises than they might be entitled to. Heartache and unanswered questions come up when relatives pass without vocalizing their final wishes. It's a lot better to be a free cash flow spirit and spill your checking account secrets -- when and where it makes sense.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating throwing manners out the drive-through deposit window. There's no excuse for being an obnoxious braggart or nickel-and-diming dinner guest. Don't brag. Don't pry when it's clear someone's uncomfortable. And don't blab about other people's finances.
When should you put it all on the table?
Prod your parents
Do you know what your parents make (or made when they were working)? What was their monthly mortgage payment? What financial and professional sacrifices did they make to have kids or to keep the family business in the family? This stuff just doesn't just come up during your regular every-other-Sunday dinner. But why not bring it up when it's time for you to buy your first (or third) home or decide on public or private school for your kids? You may learn something.
In the future, talking about long-term care insurance and living on a fixed income won't seem as awkward. It gives you a chance to hear your parents' wishes and for them to learn about yours.
Teach your kids
Do your kids know what it costs to put a roof over their heads and macaroni and cheese in their tummies? Why not? When your tykes are old enough and start to realize that the green stuff equals more toys, start talking about what it means to budget. Tell them how you make your money decisions -- why they can't have the Xbox and how come Leif gets more lunch money than Lisa (the lunches at his school cost more!).
Consider an open checkbook policy, and find ways to expose your little lovelies to some of the financial products -- cell phones, credit cards -- that will be hurled at them the moment they reach the age of consent.
How do your friends and peers spend their paychecks? Do they max out contributions to their 401(k) accounts? What does their weekly grocery bill come to? Where did Jenny get that fabulous sweater? When my extremely frugal neighbors moved out of their apartment into a dream mid-century modern home in a tony neighborhood, it became crystal clear why we always had cocktails at their apartment instead of at the corner bar. (So that's what it takes to amass a decent-size down payment.)
The whole salary issue is too touchy for many, but my close friends in the biz have long shared with each other what we're paid. Our open salary exchange gives us a good barometer of what's happening in our industry -- all around the country -- and whether our employers are keeping pace. (And it also alleviates any guilt I have about letting Bill Mann pick up the lunch tab.)
Reveal your deepest darkest money secrets to strangers
There's nothing like the safety of a made-up screen name and a bunch of money-savvy strangers. If you're a little too squeamish to talk finances with your circle of friends, consider asking questions on the Fool Discussion Boards. (I've been getting a heap of useful tidbits on dealing with a stolen car.)
Some day money won't be a conversational third rail. In the meantime, try a little bit of financial openness with close friends and family. Talk about your next major purchase and how long it's taking you to save for it. See what you learn when you're open about money issues. Don't feel obligated to broach the topic in hush-hush tones just because it's the polite thing to do.