All Too Personal Finances

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cyndi Lauper is right when she sings, "money changes everything." The abundance or lack of it does change everything.

But if money is so important, why do so many people avoid talking about their finances?

Couples get married without discussing their financial history. Families fight about inheritances even before the deceased is six feet under. Why? Because Mom, Dad and Aunt Grace never discussed their wishes.

And when it comes to debt, some people keep so quiet that by the time they seek help their situation is dire. found that 47 percent of survey respondents would rather fess up about their weight, age or monthly mortgage or rent payment than discuss how much credit card debt they are carrying.

It's understandable why cash confessions are hard to wrangle from people, say writers Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell.

"To shine a light on how much we make, how much we spend, how much we owe, and how much we've got secretly socked away is to give others a potent glimpse into the values we live by," according to Offill and Schappell. "Admitting to money troubles can often feel like admitting to a weakness of character."

Talking about money often means having to face an ever-widening spiral of self-recrimination, the women write in the introduction to a compelling collection of essays, "Money Changes Everything" (Broadway Books, $14.95). This book is my April pick for the Color of Money Book Club.

Schappell is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. Offill teaches in the Master of Fine Arts programs at Brooklyn College and Queens University of Charlotte, N.C.

The two women have put together an anthology of acclaimed authors writing on the pocketbook issues we all face: debt, poverty and wealth. The 22 essayists include a widow from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the author of the popular Lemony Snicket children's books. This isn't an all woe-is-me collection. Some essays are humorous, others heartbreaking.

One author, Ruth Konigsberg, shares the internal frustration of being raised by broke parents in her essay, "Nouveau Poor." Her family was "auction-off-the-heirlooms broke" she writes.

Konigsberg's essay should be required reading for every middle- and upper-income spendthrift parent trying to feign wealth.

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