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Talking About Money is Liberative: A Testimony

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by Eric Halvorson

November 18 Testimony

In 2014, I was, very briefly, a journalist. For the first story I wrote, I was trying to make the point that we all need to talk about money more openly and transparently. So I interviewed 6 people about their financial lives. One was extremely wealthy, another had been between housing most of his life with little to his name, two were barely clinging to the bottom edge of the middle class, and two were retired comfortably.

Over about 10 hours of interviews about money, there was a question I never once asked. How much are you paid? I had never been a reporter before, and when the time came I didn’t have the nerve to ask these strangers about the actual dollar amounts I thought we should all talk about more. Now, part of that is that I was feeling some massive impostor syndrome because outside of college, this was literally the first time in my life I was being paid as a writer. But the other problem is that it felt really hard to talk about.

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Even if I couldn’t bring myself to go all the way to asking–I was onto something. In the right context, talking about money is powerful and liberative. Because when we don’t talk about money, there are winners and losers. We have a president who won’t share his tax returns–who does that benefit, do you think? Employers can get away with paying people differently based on gender and race and many other factors, and without literally talking with our coworkers about the numbers on our paychecks, we can’t know. Wealthy philanthropists can take credit for huge donations, but if we understood just how horrifically, ostentatiously rich they are, we might realize that there are people in this room who give much more generously in context. I also think we don’t talk about things that feel unchangeable, and in the US, we hear a lot that however the market allocates resources is normal, natural, just, and shouldn’t be tinkered with.

So, here we go. I want to answer some of the questions I couldn’t bring myself to ask others.

  • My total income in 2017 was about $44,000.
  • My total student debt is $43,000. (I’m really really hoping that my public service loan forgiveness comes through, and that about half of those will one day be forgiven.)
  • My current credit card debt is $900.
  • My checking account has $1,500. (But there are times these two are much less well balanced.)
  • My retirement accounts currently have about $12,000, and I have some other savings and investments that are around $5,000.
  • Currently, I give $50/month to St Luke’s, though I’m thinking of upping to 60.

It feels super strange to share this. It feels very scandalous. My goal isn’t shame or competition or pride. I want to be really clear that I hope you keep coming to St. Luke’s if you literally can’t give anything. My goal is collaboration. We mostly manage our money as individual agents, but what if our silence around money prevents us from the collective agency to create the communities we want to live in?

The possibility that being transparent about our finances could create liberative new possibilities for how we create community is too tantalizing for me to remain comfortable and politely silent about the details of my financial life.

So here’s an invitation to you. If you don’t talk about your finances openly, even with people close to you, I invite you to think about why. I invite you to have a conversation with someone about money that balances your feelings of safety and scandalous risk. I invite you to imagine a world where we openly discuss our finances without shame–what would it look like? How would your life differ and be the same? And I invite you to consider the ways you can continue to be on a team here at St Luke’s, helping to build a powerful church that transforms lives and changes the world.

 

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