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.
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.?
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:
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.
It can be hard for someone to discuss money because you bring your own biases, values and attitudes to the discussion. For example:
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.
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: