How do I talk about money?
We see it across all kinds of relationships. From the husband and wife who conceal their debts, to the elderly parents who won’t talk about inheritance to the children who will be the recipients, to people with mistakes from the past they know they need to sort out. Ignoring talking about money will not make it go away. It will only make the impact from it stronger and more varied.
Money can cause significant stress regardless of how much of it you have. One of the biggest causes of this stress is down to people not actually talking about it. If talking through our problems is often the first step to resolving them why, when it comes to money, do far too many of us just not open up?
Why don't people talk about money?
The fact that conversations around money have been historically frowned upon is likely to be part of why it is held in such secrecy. Openly discussing these matters was seen as taboo, as a social faux pax. In the past, your living situation and day to day existence meant your place on the socioeconomic ladder was obvious. You didn’t need to talk about it. And if you were having money troubles, particularly if you were one of the ‘haves,’ admitting it could bring shame and societal shunning to you and your family.
Yet if you notice someone you care about struggling with their mental health, or a more socially acceptable problem, you might encourage them to speak up about it. Why should money worries be any different?
Perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to have those conversations. Money worries are so deeply tied to our emotions and sense of self-worth that they can quickly become a heightened conversation filled with shame and the need to place blame. There are psychological factors that influence our relationship with money as well. Things we may not be aware of. Our upbringing and the subconscious messaging around money will shape how we relate to, and thus, speak about it. The only way to learn to talk about it is to start.
As a financial advisor for over 20 years, I have had many conversations with clients where they were worried about judgement, filled with embarrassment or just uncomfortable having to talk about their financial position. In that time, I have picked up a few tips and techniques to navigate the topic. So, if you are someone who needs to talk about your finances, or you need to talk to someone else about theirs, here are a few ideas to keep in mind when having that difficult conversation.
Be mindful in your approach
Given that talking about money can bring up a great deal of emotion, it’s important to enter the conversation with a positive attitude. Whether you are the person with the issue or the person addressing someone else’s, it’s important not to be accusatory or place blame. Do not make the conversation about what has been done. Saying things such as “because I/you did X, we can’t afford to do Y” can lead to feelings of defensiveness and result in one or both parties shutting down.
Approaching the subject with concern, compassion and openness will help both parties feel more comfortable and relaxed. This helps to make it a more honest and productive conversation. It might also be a good idea to give the person you wish to speak to a heads up. This is especially important the topic has been broached before and the intention of this chat is to delve into the issue and potential solutions. This will give the other person a chance to prepare themselves both from a psychological perspective and a logistical perspective.
Know what you want to say
f you are talking about your problem with someone else, be open about what it is and what caused it. By addressing any unhelpful habits or past mistakes head on, you will be better placed to change them moving forward.
It is also helpful to know the numbers. Don’t talk in generalities. Rather, get to the full detail of the issue at hand by bringing the facts and figures with you. It is very easy to assume things are broadly ok, or to skirt over the bits that are not. But this will not help you improve. Entering the conversation with full details and the monetary figures will help clarify not only where are now but what needs to be done to get you where you want to be.
If you are broaching the conversation with someone about their finances, do so with empathy and curiosity. Talk about why you are concerned and that you want to help. Don’t pressure for an explanation but do offer an ear if they want to talk. If you believe the situation to be quite extreme, perhaps come to the conversation with a few options for a financial advisor that they can speak to. Or some free online resources for them to read. Reassure them that they are not alone, they can resolve the issue and there is no need to judge themselves for what happened in the past.
Focus on the future
If there is a need to address and change spending habits because of mistakes in the past, make sure they are not the focus of the conversation. Shame around past financial mistakes is common and is one of the reasons people tend to avoid looking into their finances. If this is the case in your situation, focus on what those changes can bring in the future.
Working to pay down debt can help improve your credit rating. Reviewing your spending can help you set and navigate a realistic budget. Building an emergency fund can relieve pressure when big, one off, emergency expenses come up. Writing a will and doing estate planning can ease the burden for yourself and others in later years. All of these can benefit your future self.
By shifting the focus to the positive over the negative the discussion will be more approachable, and the parties involved more responsive and open to what is being said.
Set some goals
Now that you’ve focused on the future, set some realistic goals. This can refocus the mind away from what is not so great and into the things you can do to change that. These goals can be immediate things you can work on right now, like a deep dive into your spending habit so you can make a budget plan.
Click here to download our free budget tracker to help you get started.
Once you’ve looked at your income and expenditure, there might be an opportunity to put more into your savings or pension. You can make a goal for what that total is and how much you need to put aside each month to get there.
Or your goal could be the fact that you need to seek expert advice. If this is the case, make an appointment right there and then.
Schedule regular check ins
Whether you’re working through everything with a Financial Advisor, friend or family member schedule in some regular check ins. Schedule in some for you as well. Like a monthly review of your income and expenditure. Adding this into your process will increase your accountability and help ensure you stay on the right track.
And if you’re the one bringing up your concerns to someone else, offer to meet up with them again in a few months time. This will help them stay on track and will help both of you further develop your skills with these conversations.
Financial missteps are common
Most people do not receive a thorough financial education. 99% of the people you know will have made financial missteps. For those who have made larger ones, it is guaranteed they will say that they wish it had been addressed sooner. The way you address it is by speaking up.
Navigating conversations about money requires a delicate balance of communication and understanding. By implementing the tips mentioned above, you can foster an open and productive conversation. A conversation that can lead to a release of shame and embarrassment and help solidify the steps that need to be taken to sort the issue and achieve peace of mind.
By Adam Nettleship
Managing Director, Bigmore Associates