How to talk about money? Because it’s so difficult to talk about money, people often don’t talk about it. After all, it’s often said that people find it easier to talk about sex rather than talk about money.
One of the big challenges is that people rarely talk about money until they have to talk about money! So, for example, a couple may be married for 10 years and don’t talk about money – but then when someone loses a job, the sudden change in income requires talking about money. Or imagine the couple that will not talk about money day-to-day but then gets into an argument when the credit card bill comes. Or, consider a couple that’s getting married and their first real talk about money is when one wants a small, frugal wedding and the other wants a lavish affair. In such cases, talking about money isn’t easy and enjoyable. Instead, people make the association that it is frustrating, embarrassing or threatening to talk about money. As a result, people often come to this conclusion: If talking about money feels bad, then I’m best to not talk about money.
Therefore, when thinking about how to talk about money, a secret is to start off with easy, non-threatening, small conversations about money. By contrast, here are some big money conversations:
It’s not that you should avoid these money conversations. But if you aren’t in the habit of having good conversations about money, it can be jolting to start with such big money questions. Similarly, dating or re-marriage articles will often suggest that you talk about money early in a new relationship. While that may indeed be good advice, it can feel weird, uncomfortable and accusatory to have someone demand to see your credit report or ask how much you have in the bank or how much you make. Even when presented in a very careful manner, these money questions can seem threatening. When people feel threatened, they tend to have fight or flight reactions. That’s not good for conversation.
Another hallmark of these big money questions is that they often quickly become conversations about numbers. Of course, when you talk about money, it’s hard to not talk about numbers. However, the figures can usually wait a bit. Also, many people lack the financial expertise required to address the numbers correctly; and lack of confidence, competence or knowledge is a good recipe for a money conversation that goes off the tracks and isn’t enjoyable. In general, build the interpersonal relationship, rapport and trust before doing the spreadsheet.
In addition, many of these questions have answers that are right or wrong – or there is an implied right and wrong. If you start by focusing on the fact that you need to save $1000 a month, it can seem overwhelming and frustrating. Or, if you think your husband or wife (or child or business partner, etc.) is spending foolishly, leading with that probably won’t lead to a productive money conversation. Would you want to talk about money with someone who begins by saying, “You’re really stupid and irresponsible with money”?
Instead, try starting a money conversation with sharing formative experiences. But, first, make sure you’re giving yourself environmental advantages to have a good money talk.
This seems self-evident, but try to talk about money when you’re not already feeling down. Those cases are sometimes grouped together by the abbreviation HALT. In other words, you shouldn’t talk about money (or other serious topics) and expect great results when you are:
Is there a perfect environment or a perfect time to talk about money? No. However, if you avoid these HALT times, you give yourself an advantage. Some tips about picking a good time and place to talk about money:
When thinking about “how to talk about money” realize that you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run. The first conversations will seem very basic. However, they are meant to be non-threatening. They are meant to build trust. It helps if you can first prove that you can talk about money and that conversation can be ok. This is true for a couple talking about money at home or a financial planner meeting with clients or a therapist meeting with clients. While it may be practical to start immediately with “Let’s fill out this form with all of your assets and income,” better results come when people feel they relate to each other on a personal level and have a real conversation as opposed to just talking numbers.
Here are a few money conversation starters to try:
The goal here is largely to have a money conversation that goes well, feels calm, and leaves a good taste in your mouth. Secondly, you should come away with a deeper understanding of the other person with whom you’re talking about money. This may be a spouse, a financial planning client or a counseling client. You’re giving the other person a chance to open up and talk about money where there is no right or wrong. One of the main reasons people don’t like to talk about money is because those conversations often feel so judgmental: “I’m bad with money.” “You’re irresponsible.” “I’m right. You’re wrong.” The conversation starters above are meant to get people away from right/wrong answers and start a dialogue. If you see that someone never had much money growing up and always felt it was important to hold on to money, it can change the nature of the conversation from “You’re so cheap and tightfisted,” to “I understand why you don’t want to spend that money.”
Of course a great way to talk about money is to use a tool specifically designed to generate money conversations. Money Habitudes is one part financial personality test and one part money conversation starter. Still, using the tool feels like playing a card game. It’s designed to be non-threatening and easy-to-understand.
Again, if you’re going to use the cards in addition to or in place of the conversation starter questions above, remember to give yourself the advantage of a good environment. Don’t start using the game when you’re Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired and do it in a space that’s comfortable. That’s true if you’re using the cards at home or using them in an office environment (or classroom) with clients.
What people like about the cards over just spoken money conversation prompts is:
Couples who use Money Habitudes cards have remarked that it’s sparked the best conversation about money they’ve ever had. That’s true for couples who are still dating, engaged or newly married – as well as those who’ve been married for decades. Professionals who use the cards find that they start a different kind of conversation that quickly builds trust, rapport and understanding. It’s a far different process than just sitting behind a desk and asking money questions or asking someone to fill in intake forms with lots of numbers.