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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gena Bigler: Money shaming is peer pressure for adults, an attempt to keep equal footing

Recently, a friend told me about something that happened to her. It has probably happened to everyone at one point or another: money shaming.

This friend is working very hard to get out of debt and is justifiably proud of her efforts. She attended a potluck and her friends began teasing her about bringing low-cost beans and rice to feed them. Somehow, because it is an inexpensive dish, it was less worthy or less desired. Without any regard to taste or her cooking skill and financial priorities, she was being judged and teased about the perceived value of her contribution.

It may seem like a small thing, but when you stop and think about it, attempting to shame someone for being responsible is shocking. It is easy to see a scenario where the teasing is masked as “all in good fun.” I have no doubt the friends were not intentionally bullying; I doubt they thought much about it all. Camaraderie is often expressed in teasing.

Discussing money is taboo, except when it isn’t. If you look at your social circle, most of your friends probably have a very similar level of wealth. Most Americans seek friendships within their economic class. Money shaming for the most part seeks to maintain similar financial standing.

Climbing the financial ladder can also result in money shaming. Comments criticizing how you spend your money are aimed at influencing how you spend your money. It’s that simple. Such comments are commonly heard and have been immortalized in song, as in “Don’t Get Above Your Raisn’” recorded by Ricky Skaggs.

Comments also can be overt or more passive. Recently, someone read a grocery receipt I had left on the counter and criticized how much I spent on bread. Obviously, that was a pretty direct attempt at money shaming, but often the attempts at influence are more subtle. If you have ever found yourself saying, “it was a good deal” or in some way defending or apologizing for your spending, you were likely responding to money shaming.

Money shaming is peer pressure for adults. The same pressure that causes teens to dress like their friends, for example, causes adults to critique friends’ spending in an attempt to maintain equal footing.

We now live in an era where we can confront body shaming. Most recently both Gov. Christie and singer Miley Cyrus made headlines regarding the criticism of their bodies. If we can confront the shaming of celebrities’ bodies, maybe we can spread that kindness around and confront money shaming in our own circles.

Being conscious of how we react to our friends and colleagues is a kindness we can afford. Criticizing how someone spends her money is as big a waste of time as debating Gov. Christie’s weight. It is none of our business and it is rude. How we spend our money is a personal decision.

I don’t care about Gov. Christie’s belt size. I care about his ability to make sound, compassionate decisions. I also don’t care what my friends bring to a potluck. I care about spending time laughing with them, not at the frugality of the dish they are generous enough to share.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.



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