by Hans Eisenbeis
There are traditionally two topics of conversation that Americans avoid in polite company: sex and money. That’s because both topics are, thanks to our origins in Calvinism, Puritanism and various other lesser forms of starched-collar Protestantism, freighted with heavy moral baggage. The famous sociologist Max Weber wrote a whole book about how early Americans invented the somewhat strange notion that material wealth was worldly proof that your soul was saved and God favored you. The book is called Capitalism and the Protestant Work Ethic.
It’s always been interesting to me that my friends and family feel guilty about money — for either having it or not having it. In my own case, I often feel guilty about not managing my finances better. Paying bills late, not saving enough, carrying some revolving credit and using a home equity line to “manage cash flow” – I’d rather show up naked at Christmas dinner than tell my parents how much credit card debt I’m carrying right now.
And that’s a problem. If we feel guilty about money, we don’t want to talk about it. If we don’t want to talk about it, we won’t seek out information.
I learned last week that calls to credit counseling agencies have increased up to 50% in the past year, and the industry is adding thousands of new counselors to handle the crush. Desperation can push people into the confessional, and right now that’s probably where we all belong.
Another sign of hope? I’ve been arguing that this is the first Web 2.0-enabled recession. (During the Internet Bubble Burst in 2000-2001, soc nets were pretty much limited to Napster filesharing, while Friendster was just a twinkle in Jonathan Abrams’ eye.) People have each other like they never did before. Free peer-to-peer financial advice and budgeting tools are exploding online at sites like Mint.com and Wesabe.
And if you’re still feeling guilty, you can literally confess your wallet-related sins at Spendster.com.