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How To Find Your Voice When Talking About Money

Simone Johnson  |  September 9, 2019

When it comes to money, sometimes getting the conversation started can be the hardest part. Here’s how to get comfortable discussing your finances. 

Dating. Sex. Health problems. Family issues. These are all discussion topics that commonly pop up during a night out with friends, so why isn’t money on the list? More than 30% of Americans consider salary, savings and debt to be taboo topics, according to a survey by Capital Group, and 61% of women would rather discuss their own death than talk about money, according to research from Merrill Lynch. 

While keeping money out of the conversation may make us more comfortable in the moment, it puts us at a disadvantage long term. When we’re able to verbalize things, we can better understand them, and when we share ideas with friends, we can explore topics that may be beneficial to everyone in the room. Bottom line:  No matter how comfortable (or uncomfortable) you are with money matters, there are ways to cozy up with the idea of voicing your financial questions and concerns. 

Understand Your Discomfort

There are a number of reasons people don’t talk about their money — sometimes it’s just habit, other times it’s out of shame for having too little, or embarrassment over having too much. And then there’s the fear that you’re just doing it — or have done it — wrong. “I think a huge part of it is that people feel like they’ve made mistakes, or that they should have known better,” says Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist and founder and director of Tribeca Therapy in New York City. 

Unfortunately, those mistakes have a way of compounding themselves, particularly if you don’t take action to turn them around or talk them out.  It’s a little like eating junk food. Sometimes, you eat the donut, even though you said you wouldn’t. But the worst thing you can do after that is to get discouraged and turn your “cheat day” into a “cheat week,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.  It’s same thing with money — when we make an expensive purchase that we shouldn’t have, or do something we perceive as “bad,” we may be tempted to stray even further off our financial path, and become less inclined to talk things out with friends and family, thus perpetuating the cycle of shame. 

Check In With Yourself

As you’re getting ready to engage in conversations about money with the important folks in your life, take a moment to check in with yourself. Our negative relationships with money can make us feel boxed in; we may have labeled ourselves as bad spenders, or someone who’s just not good at getting their finances together. When we get stuck in those mental ruts, it can stop us from moving forward or getting to the place where we should be, Yarrow says. You’re allowed to change and have a different outlook than you did a few years ago. Start convincing your subconscious that you can get your money on track, and stop letting those negative thoughts hinder you, Yarrow says.  

Define ‘Talking It Out” 

One of the misconceptions about talking about money is that it always has to be a Big Conversation. You don’t have to air your worst financial mistakes in one sitting. The goal is to just get the conversation going with someone you trust, perhaps starting with just the basics on saving and spending. According to a 2018 Credit Karma study, almost 40% of millennials have spent money they didn’t have in order to keep up with their friends. But consider the flipside: Maybe good friends who were aware of your financial situation would help you curtail your spending. Plus, when you share your personal financial situation, you’ll encourage your friends to do the same, and the more insight shared, the more you help one another out.  

Choose The Right Partner

Once you’re ready to open a dialogue with a friend, it’s time to find the right friend. Most of us have the “fun buddy,” the friends we go to dinner with on occasion, and the friend to whom we can bear our souls. Where finances are concerned, you may want to stick with that soul-bearing friend. “You’re going to expose some bad decisions, and you may have to deal with being a little bit embarrassed,” Lundquist says. Your friend should be there to listen to you, offer support, and help you get a weight off your chest — not offer solutions, or chastise you for what you’ve done wrong. The stress you release when talking with your friend can help you think more clearly about your situation and build the confidence to communicate more frequently about money, Lundquist says. 

Spread The Wealth

Once you’ve gotten comfortable discussing your money thoughts, you may find yourself considering approaching a financial planner. This is a great next move, and sometimes, depending on your situation, you’re going to need a team. Lundquist suggests speaking with people who can speak to each of your money woes. For example, in addition to a financial planner, you may also want to speak with an accountant, an insurance agent, and even a therapist, depending on your concerns. More heads are always better than one, and these professionals are trained to help and never pass judgement. In other words, don’t be afraid to gather your own helpful squad of financial troops. 

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