Money affects every aspect of our lives. For most of us, it’s more than just a practical tool. Yes, it’s a means to an end. However, money also has psychological and emotional aspects that can significantly impact us. The decisions that we make about earning, saving, and spending are complex, multi-layered, and often subconscious.
As a result, money tends to play a complicated role in all of our relationships. We operate with a certain money mindset, perhaps one we haven’t even explored in-depth. The people in our lives all operate the same way. Without discussing the deeper implications of money, this can lead to friction. If we can learn to talk about money openly, honestly, and from a place of deep self-understanding, then we can improve all of our relationships, including the relationship that we have with money itself.
Talking About Money is Tough
Talking about money isn’t easy, though. You may have some relationships where you’ve learned to talk about it out of necessity, such as in your marriage. You may also have some relationships where you’ve decided never to talk about money; coworkers often don’t discuss money with one another. Society has taught us many mixed messages about money that further complicate discussing the issue. The more we can learn to talk about money with everyone (and to know very clearly when we should not), the better we can all do when it comes to finances.
Learning to talk about money starts with working on your money stuff. You can’t have strong, honest, useful conversations if you haven’t dealt with your money issues. You can go to a therapist who specializes in financial issues to have these conversations. Alternatively, you can work through your thoughts by journaling or whatever other method works for you. Don’t underestimate the importance of looking at all of the complicated things that money represents in your life. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What are my earliest memories of money? How did they make me feel?
- On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable do I feel talking about money?
- What does money represent for you? (It might be security, power, love, opportunity …)
- When you think about money, what emotions arise? (Fear, joy, confusion …)
- What is one thing that you’re very proud of when it comes to money? What about one thing that brings you shame?
- How are you doing financially compared to how you would like to be doing?
- What are your financial goals?
You might also brainstorm lists. For example, at the top of a piece of paper, you can write, “Money means …” and then brainstorm as many things as possible to get to your core truths. Other examples include:
- Money represents …
- When I think about money, I …
- The problem with money is …
- If I have to talk about money …
Talking About Money With Your Family
Your family is one of the first places to start when you want to open up conversations about money. After all, they’re often the people who are most closely involved with your financial life. Of course, just because they’re close doesn’t mean they’re easy to talk to. Some families have so many nuanced challenges with money that they have become the hardest people to talk to. That said, if you can learn to talk about money with your family, then you have tackled one of the most important battles of your financial life.
Talking About Money with Your Spouse/ Partner
People who share money should definitely be talking about money. Even if you and your spouse have separate accounts, you’re contributing to the same household, and therefore you’re sharing money. It’s important to get on the same page about current and future finances. Even if you think you’ve discussed this topic to death, you might find that opening up new conversations about money can reveal new insights. Things to discuss with your spouse include:
- What are your individual and shared goals when it comes to money? Think next year, five years, ten years, and more into the future.
- What are the most significant financial concerns that you each have immediately and for the future?
- List some things that you appreciate about your partner’s money style.
- Share your truths about what money represents for you at a deeper level.
- Likewise, explain your emotions around money.
- Share how you feel when you two argue about money and what you would like to be different.
- Express how you feel your partner sees you when it comes to money. Ask if this is true. Listen carefully to what they say.
When speaking with your spouse, here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Begin the conversation in a calm state of mind.
- If things get tense, call a time out. Set a time to resume the conversation when you’re both calm again.
- Come to the table with curiosity about your partner’s experience.
- Listen to everything your partner says with an open mind. Leave behind all judgment.
- Share your experiences as authentically, honestly, and completely as possible.
- If you feel upset, dig deeper to figure out why. Your money history may be influencing you.
- If you can’t have these conversations in the way that you want, consider going to a couples therapist to jump-start the money conversation in a safe setting.
The goal when talking with your spouse about money is ultimately to come to both short-term and long-term money agreements in your household. Look for solutions that work for both of you. You can only do this when you truly understand where you’re each coming from.
Talking with Your Children About Money
Talking to your kids about money is an ongoing process. It’s your job to impart financial know-how to help them succeed in life. Of course, you need to do this is a developmentally-appropriate way. Some families use allowances to teach kids about money, although that’s not the only option. The most important thing to remember is that your kids are learning from you all of the time. Pay attention to what you say about money when you’re not actively trying to teach them anything. If you’re constantly stressed about debt, bills, or sharing finances with the other parent, they’re going to pick up on that. Make sure that the messages that you send them are the ones you want them to take in. Here are some tips for talking with young children, tweens, and teens about money:
- Set your own goals for what you would like to teach them.
- Use money mentions in their media to open up conversations.
- Ask them their thoughts about money so that you understand where they’re coming from.
- As they get older, show them what you’re doing when dealing with your finances. Explain why.
If you have adult children that are still coming to you for money, then it’s also important to start having some serious conversations with them. Often families get into a rut. They may discuss money, but in ways that aren’t productive. For example, if you pay your child’s rent, and you resent doing so, then you may not say anything for a long time then make a snide passive-aggressive comment that hurts their feelings. Talking more openly about money is a much healthier option. Here are some tips:
- They are adults. Treat them as such. Show respect, ask questions, listen to their point of view.
- Be clear about your boundaries. Know your limits and make sure that they know them as well.
- Co-create financial goals together. Set a plan in place to achieve those together.
- Admit a money mistake you have made in the past. This helps even the playing field so that the money conversation doesn’t feel like a shaming lecture from mom or dad.
- Give them insight into your current financial status as well as your financial future. Allow them to see the whole picture.
Talking with Your Aging Parents About Money
As your parents get older, you may need to talk to them about financial matters. If talking about money isn’t comfortable in your family, that can be a challenging task. Nevertheless, avoiding it could be worse. Do you know what your parents’ financial situation is? Have you discussed what type of lifestyle they want as they age and how those costs will be covered? Do you know if they have life insurance or how you may pay for a funeral if they do not?
Sometimes these conversations are about more than just money. For example, if your parents can’t afford to live in their home any longer, you need to discuss their options. While you’re talking about money, you’re also talking about an emotionally-laden experience of having to move out of a treasured space. It’s important to be practical about money while also attending to the emotional experience of the more in-depth conversation at hand. Here are some tips for talking with your aging parents about money:
- Show them respect. They may not be able to reciprocate, which is hard, but you can still do your part.
- Stay aware of feelings that arise for you. Process those with a therapist or friend as needed. Don’t let them butt in on these challenging conversations.
- If possible, deal with one challenging issue at a time. Give space between issues for parents to adjust to changes.
- Let your parents know that you’re open and available to discuss other money issues when they’re ready.
- Get support. Is there a family friend that might be able to mediate this conversation better than you alone?
Talking with Your Siblings About Money
There are so many different sibling relationships that it’s hard to categorize them in just one way. You may have a super close relationship with your siblings where money is rarely an issue. On the other hand, you may each handle money very differently, and that can bring up challenges in your relationship. If one of you pays for the other or owes money to the other, then that can complicate things even more. Likewise, if you each have significantly different money relationships with your parents, there may be underlying hurts that you’ll need to address. Perhaps everything is fine because you don’t talk about money, but what will you do when it comes time to deal with your aging parents’ finances?
Talking with your siblings about money is actually a lot like talking to your spouse about money. Follow the same rules about respect, sharing goals and dreams, listening with curiosity and kindness, and leaving judgment at the door. If you have past money challenges, it’s time to talk about them. If you can’t do that alone, it’s possible to get family therapy to open those doors. It’s scary to talk about money when you haven’t been – or to learn to talk about it in a new way – but it’s well worth it. If you can have those conversations, then you can stop letting money control your relationships. You can work together to meet your shared financial goals while respecting each other’s differences. It’s not easy, but it’s so very worth it.