It’s important to know how to discuss money. This is true if you are discussing money with a friend, sibling, parent, partner or spouse. It’s also important for professionals like financial planners, financial educators and therapists to be able to discuss money with clients and patients.
How NOT to discuss money
First of all, people often pick the wrong time and place to discuss money. The the money discussion doesn’t go well. That only reinforces the idea that it’s hard and not productive to discuss money. Here are some tips so you can avoid discussing money at the wrong time. Think about the acronym, HALT. Don’t discuss money if you are:
In the same vein, it’s not a good idea to talk about money when you spring it on someone. Instead of trying to discuss money with your spouse when you are upset about a charge on your joint credit card, put the issue aside for a bit until you are calm enough to talk about it.
And research has shown that your environment can have a big effect. In an experiment conducted by Sonya L. Britt and John E. Grable, professors at Kansas State, it was found that just installing comfy chairs or a sofa in a financial planner’s office improved the interaction by reducing financial planning clients’ stress levels. What’s the takeaway from this professional setting for those at home? Be comfortable. Think of the dynamics of sitting across from each other at a table, interrogation style, versus sitting next to each other on the couch.
Also, think about discussing money as walking up a set of stairs:
At the top of the stairs are money discussions that are big and serious and have the biggest chance of causing discord. This might be bringing up a prenuptial agreement. It might be getting your credit reports and going over them before getting married or buying a house.
At the bottom of the metaphorical staircase are money discussions that are much less charged and easier to have. Discussing money here might look like talking about the first purchase you remember making on your own. Was it a doll, a bike, a basketball, a car, etc.?
The first time you discuss money
Many people don’t discuss money until they have to discuss money. Think about the couple where one person manages all the finances and everything is going swimmingly … until someone loses his or her job. Then they have to discuss money and it’s a really stressful situation.
If you don’t talk about money unless there’s a problem, it’s easy to connect “talk about money” and “problems.” (That’s true too for a therapist, financial educator or financial planer who only talk about money when they need to “fix” something.)
Therefore, plan to progress through various levels of difficult money discussions over time. Start with the easiest conversations. And have those conversations at good, healthy, convenient times. Think about the different conversations that come out of setting up the conversation in these two ways:
- “Let’s plan to share some of our early money memories over a nice dinner next week.”
- “We need to talk about our finances tonight!”
- Remember the first time you bought something with your own money? What did you buy? How did you get the money?
- What was your first job and what did you do with your money?
- What did you learn from your religion about money?
- Growing up, how was money talked about in your home? Who paid the bills? How were big financial decisions made?
- How would you know when your parents disagreed about money?
Even with low-risk money conversation starters and a good environment, it’s still good to start a money discussion by acknowledging to your partner that talking about money can feel awkward, but it builds trust and lays a stronger foundation for your relationship.
Finally, it’s good to get into a practice where you discuss money on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be weekly. Think about having a check-in every quarter or every six months.
How understanding your money personality helps you discuss money
It can be hard for someone to discuss money because you bring your own biases, values and attitudes to the discussion. For example:
- If you grew up in a family that was very generous, you may have a strong belief that one should use money to help others. If you are discussing money with someone who doesn’t feel the same way, it can cause problems. You may think that your friend, partner, spouse, etc. is cheap or uncaring about others. That person may think you are irresponsible and unrealistic when it comes to providing for yourself and your family. Those feelings can easily boil over into offensive and hurtful words that make it hard to have a productive conversation about money. Imagine how hard it is to recover from a money conversation that starts with, “You’re so irresponsible! All you ever do with your money is give it to your brother who never seems to be bale to hold a job! And you’re always pending our money on gifts for other people and then we have to do without!”
- If you are very good at not spending money it can be hard to discuss money with someone who finds it easy – too easy, you might think – to part with money. It’s easy for people to label money behaviors different than their own as being “cheap” or a “spendthrift” and having a money discussion devolve into a money fight.
How Money Habitudes helps you discuss money
Money Habitudes was designed to help people discuss money. It looks and feels like a money game but offers serious results. It is one part money conversation starter and one part money personality test.
- First, as an activity, it gives people an excuse and a framework to talk about money. It is easier to say, “let’s do this conversation starter game” versus a more open-ended, “let’s sit down and just discuss money.”
- Second, it helps start conversations around money. Each of the 54 statement sorting cards acts as its own non-threatening ice breaker statement.
- Third, it helps people understand their own money personality – and that of the person with whom you want to discuss money. If you know where you’re coming from, it makes it easier to listen, be less judgmental and understand your own tendencies, attitudes, and financial biases.
- Fourth, it gives people non-threatening, non-judgmental language to use when they discuss money. It’s easier to talk in terms of, “Oh, I see how us spending that money would affect your need for security,” versus, “Why are you always so cheap whenever we need to spend any money?”
Resources for professionals to discuss money better
Even professionals who discuss money all the time can still have trouble with the conversation. For example, it’s not uncommon for a financial planner or financial educator to jump right to discussing dollars as soon as someone steps into their office or classroom. No doubt you’ll have to talk about money and you’ll even probably do a budget. But left-brained, “numbers people” can forget the basic step of getting to know a client or student and get to know him or her. It’s harder to get to know people in a group or class, but it’s still an important step to let people work up to the numbers part.
Think about how socially off-putting it would be if you met someone at a party and the first thing you asked was “How much money do you make and what are your expenses?” Just because you’re in a financial office or classroom only soften that blow a little. And handing someone a budget worksheet when he or she walks in is basically asking that same question in a different form. Ease into the money discussion.
Also, we recommend three resources to help people discuss money:
- The Guide for Couples offers some more guidance and structure for couples doing the Money Habitudes activity on their own.
- The Guide for Professionals is a companion to using the Money Habitudes cards in professional settings.
- Bringing Money Into the Conversation is a guide about how to talk about money that only briefly mentions Money Habitudes. It is an aggregation of tips, conversation starters, activities and methodologies for professionals to have good money discussions. It’s geared for therapists and counselors.