I was just listening to the radio in the car after dropping my son off at preschool. The story was about the current government shutdown, and how it is impacting air travel. 

One of the people interviewed was close to tears describing how she isn’t sure how her family is going to be able to pay their bills this month. Her husband is an air traffic controller here in Portland. To add insult to injury, he still has to work even though he won’t paid for his time, since ATCs are “essential.”

It was heartbreaking to hear the obvious distress in this woman’s voice as she talked about her family, their bills, and their uncertain future.  It’s doubly heartbreaking when you know that it doesn’t have to be this way! I’m not even talking about the issue of the shutdown. I’m talking about fact that so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck (even air traffic controllers, whose median income is $125,000!). I’m talking about the way that money is such an intense source of stress for people in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, even when they’re in the “top 10%” of earners.

I don’t blame the family of this air traffic controller. I don’t blame any of the families who are struggling to make ends meet–during a government shutdown or otherwise.

The blame rests squarely on our culture’s unwillingness to address financial hygiene. We avoid talking about money in an open, honest, and straightforward way–as if it were something dirty or dangerous. We’re unsure how to talk about it without alienating each other by sounding like we’re complaining, or bragging.

Why is it that most people get extremely uncomfortable when asked about their income? Are we embarrassed that we don’t earn very much? Or do we have a fear that maybe, somehow, it’s too much?

Why is it that we would rather spend time in jail than work on our budgets?

In high school we have health class, but not financial health class. Why is that? We know that physical well-being is a skill that can be taught and improved. Do we think that financial well-being just magically happens to some people?

Maybe part of the problem is that we tend to have a deep-seated tendency to undervalue our future selves, but I don’t believe that it is inherent or unchangeable. I believe we can grow and learn. I believe we can change the way we operate in the world, and by changing ourselves, we exert force on the culture in which we live.

That culture isn’t going to change unless we change it. This issue requires a cultural shift, and cultures don’t move until the people in them do. That’s why I do what I do. I want to move the culture. Want to join me?

Here are a few ways to get started:

1: Make sure you have an Emergency Fund that can cover six months’ worth of your household’s expenses. And then DO NOT TOUCH IT unless you have a loss of income or an expense that, if unpaid, would result in a loss of income.

And no, you can’t use it for a new car unless 1) You absolutely need the car to get to work, and 2) The cost of the new/new-to-you car is less than the cost of repairing the one that broke down.

Not sure how to save up six months of expenses? Talk to me! We’ll figure out a plan that works for your situation.

2: Talk about money with your friends, co-workers, and networks. It will probably be uncomfortable. That’s ok. We have to learn how to communicate about money, and the best way to learn is do it.

If you’re looking for a safe place to start, you might want to join the Wild Potential Facebook group, or post in the forums here on this site.