Money has always been one of the more awkward topics to bring up with friends and family but 2020 took it to a new level. This economic recession has affected some industries much more than others. This makes it especially difficult to know exactly how well someone is doing financially.
This can make talking about money with your loved ones difficult, whether you’re doing just fine or struggling to make ends meet. How do you avoid making someone’s self-conscious about their financial situation without being nosy? How do you tell a friend that you can no longer afford your weekly dinner date? There are no easy answers here, but there are some strategies you can use to navigate these topics gracefully. That’s why we’ve put together some tips from our favorite experts on awkward money conversations.
Despite the global health and financial crisis, many Americans are doing well or even better than they were before. Here’s how to act if you’re succeeding financially while your friends and family are struggling:
Everyone wants to share the good news, like getting a raise you’ve been fighting for or landing a new job with a 25% pay increase. But it’s important to be mindful before sharing your excitement with a friend who’s been unemployed for six months.
“Unless that person initiates the conversation with you, you shouldn’t bring it up,” said Erin Lowry, personal finance expert and author of “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Scripts, Stories, and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations”.
Mentioning the news to your friend could make them feel worse about their financial situation. It can also potentially create an emotional divide between the two of you. Instead, share your excitement with someone who’s also doing well, since it will be easier for them to share in your joy. You can also talk to your parents, who are likely to support you without feeling jealous.
Learn to Listen
When someone is sharing bad news, it can be easy to jump in with suggestions and platitudes. Practice listening without trying to fix any problems.
You should also avoid reframing the conversation to make it about yourself. Even if you’ve been unemployed before, you don’t have to share that story with your friend. When you switch the focus of the conversation back to yourself, it makes the other person feel like you just want to talk about you.
Remember to ask them about whatever they’re struggling with and not wait for them to bring it up. Do your best to remain engaged and ask relevant questions, but back off if they seem uncomfortable answering. This shows that you genuinely care about how things are going, but that you also respect their privacy.
Start the Conversation
If you and a friend always take turns picking up the tab, you may want to revisit that routine if she’s now unemployed. You don’t know if she’s picking up extra freelance work and can cover the meal, or if she’s surviving solely on credit cards.
If you feel uncomfortable bringing up the issue, you can just start changing what you do together. Instead of asking them to grab take-out with you, suggest going for a walk in the park. Don’t make them choose between turning you down and spending outside their budget.
Be Careful about Offering Advice
Talking to friends about money is often awkward, but it can be especially uncomfortable if you’re trying to give them advice. No matter how much you think you can help, you should generally avoid telling them what they should do unless they specifically ask for help. For example, if you know they’re looking for a new job, sending them job postings may feel annoying – especially if they’ve already made it clear that they’re on the hunt every day. When you badger someone with unwanted advice or help, it implies that you don’t think they’re capable of handling things on their own.
If you’re really certain that they’re making a costly mistake, bring it up once and then let it go. Ultimately, you can’t change someone’s mind unless they want it to be changed.
If You’re Struggling Financially
Admitting that you’re having money problems can be tough, especially if you’re surrounded by people who are doing just fine. Here’s some advice on how to approach the situation:
- Speak Up – Your friends or family members may not be personally aware of what’s going on with you, but they do know that millions of people are struggling. Lowry says you should take advantage of this moment. “It’s a unique opportunity to be really open and honest with people in your life about your situation because there’s an understanding that it’s outside of your control,” she said. You don’t have to reveal exact numbers, like how much savings you have left or how much debt you’ve accrued. Only share what you’re comfortable with. You may be surprised at how well others can relate, like a friend who seems fine while secretly dealing with a salary cut.
- Learn How to Say No – If your friends keep inviting you for outdoor brunches you can’t afford, Lowry says it’s best to be honest. It’s easy to lie and make an excuse about being busy. However, that will only drive a wedge in your friendship. They may think you’re trying to ghost them, and eventually stop inviting you. “To fib can be dangerous because it might read inauthentic. You might get caught in that lie eventually, or the reason might not make sense to your friend,” Lowry said. If your friend responds with something like, “It’s only $20,” you should tell them, “I understand that seems like a small amount, but it’s $20 I really need to pay my bills”. This may seem uncomfortably direct, but it’s crucial to explain why you’re saying no. When you decline, propose a less expensive idea like going on a walk and bringing snacks from home. If you say no without suggesting another plan, your friend may feel hurt. They may just think you’re using money as an excuse not to hang out.
It’s easy to withdraw when you’re feeling ashamed about your financial situation, but maintaining these connections will ultimately help you feel better.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.