Tackling money shame: Personal finance advice from top TED Talks

Aug 15, 2023

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Here is something to make you feel old: Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first TED Talk.

By now, we are all very familiar with the format: Subject-matter experts giving smart, pithy speeches about technology, entertainment and design.

But while topics can be all over the map – from Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” (62.4 million views) to Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (62.6 million views) – TED talks can also provide valuable insights about our finances.

We combed through them for the most helpful advice to get our money lives under control.


Advice: Get honest about money shame

“What I’ve learned is that our self-destructive and self-defeating financial behaviors are not driven by our rational, logical minds. Instead, they are a product of our subconscious belief systems rooted in our childhoods, and so deeply ingrained in us that they shape the way we deal with money our entire adult lives.

“And so many of you are left believing that you’re crazy, or stupid, or just bad with money. This is what I call money shame … the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging based on bank accounts, or debts, or homes, or cars, or job titles …

“I believe we all have money shame, whether we earn $10,000 a year or $10 million, and it’s because we give money all our power.”


Advice: Imagine your future self

“I’m interested in the relationship to the future financial self. I’m talking about the topic of saving. Saving is a classic two-selves problem: The present self doesn’t want to save at all. It wants to consume, whereas the future self wants the present self to save …

“So what can we do about this? There’s a philosopher Derek Parfit who said some words that were inspiring to my co-authors and I. He said that we might neglect our future selves because of some failure of belief or imagination. That is to say, we somehow might not believe that we are going to get old.”

ESTELLE GIBSON, TEDxDayton, October 2019

Advice: Avoid financial dependence

“I went through an unexpected divorce, and I was left with a house I couldn’t afford and bills I couldn’t pay. You might be wondering, ‘How does that happen to someone who is educated and skilled at managing people’s money?’

“I had reverted back to what I learned growing up, that one person managed all the money. I had handed over my financial power, and I had become financially dependent …

“What I had failed to realize was that what felt like freedom was really dependency. My mistake was that I didn’t stay involved, or understand what was going on with our money.”


Advice: Know that humans are hardwired to gamble

“Many, if not most of us, gamble. In fact, gambling is so pervasive and widespread that the finance community has a name for this pitfall: It is called picking pennies in front of a steamroller.

“Indeed, looking at the financial history of the past 40 years, there have been many episodes in which investors ‘picked pennies’. A case in point is the high-yield bond mania at the end of the 1980s, or more recently with mortgage-backed securities just before the global financial crisis. Investors couldn’t get enough of these assets, despite real risk of complete collapse …

“How can it be that we are both so smart, and so reckless? Here is the answer: We are greedy and we lack self-control.”


Advice: Be a giver

“Money often makes us selfish and do things only for ourselves. Maybe the reason money doesn’t make us happy is that we’re always spending on the wrong things – in particular, always spending it on ourselves.

“We thought, ‘What would happen if we made people spend their money on other people? Instead of being anti-social with your money, what if you were more pro-social? Let’s make people do it, and see what happens’ …

“Across all different contexts – your personal life, your work life, even silly things like intramural sports – we see that spending on other people has a bigger return for you than spending on yourself. If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right.”

(Editing by Lauren Young and Stephen Coates)

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