For something that’s nothing more than strips of paper or a virtual number, money holds an enormous amount of power. It can get us to move across the country away from all that’s familiar if the price is right. It can create tremendous stress when the figures don’t line up. It can open up the world, or it can make it feel like the world is closing in.
Money, and finances in general, are also deeply personal. How much we make, owe, or flaunt is often considered a defining trait, and some even argue that the way we handle money is a direct reflection of how we were raised. For all the above reasons, merely discussing money can invoke panic.
Why it’s so hard to discuss money
“There is a whole range of reasons people shy away from talking about money. For some, it comes from an upbringing where talking about money was considered impolite. Others may not feel confident in their knowledge or experience with financial topics. In some cases, people can feel guilty or embarrassed that they haven’t made their finances a higher priority,” says Lorna Kapusta, head of women investors at Fidelity Investments.
Discussing our finances — the way we save, the way we spend, the debts we owe — can also feel like we’re opening ourselves up to potential judgment, and nobody likes to feel judged.
“We may fear that somebody is either going to think less of us because we have less (being lazy, or without self-control), or judge us for having more (being snobby, materialistic, or a workaholic),” says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and adjunct faculty at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Even though many people feel nervous to discuss money, that doesn’t mean they prefer keeping mum. A 2019 survey by TD Ameritrade found that 37 percent of adults over 22 (and with $10k or more in investible assets) desired to talk about finances more freely. According to the data collected, the trickiest topics seem to be student loan debt (36 percent), childcare expenses (30 percent), and living paycheck to paycheck (26 percent).
How to open up more about your finances
For improved financial health and wellness, it’s important to talk more freely with our partners, our advisors, and perhaps even our parents and peers. This opens up the door for support, for guidance to the right resources, and ultimately more pecuniary clarity and success. Here are some tips to make starting the conversation a little easier.
1. Remind yourself that you’re not alone
Money is a topic that touches literally every person on this Earth; we have all made a few wrong turns, and we all have some learning to do. Even though it may seem like everyone else has it together, that’s not always true. “After more than 20 years of counseling individuals and couples, I can tell you that virtually all of us struggle with money in one way or another. You often don’t know the financial details behind the illusion of what people share,” says Marter.
Kapusta adds that it’s also important to realize that “if you feel uncertain and have questions about money, it’s likely that your friends and colleagues do, as well.”
2. Start by talking with a financial advisor
If you struggle with opening up about finances with those who you’re close to, then perhaps speaking with an expert who’s strictly zeroed in on money is the way to go. “This is somebody in your life who you check in with to discuss real finances at regular intervals. Perhaps it is an accountant, financial planner, counselor or coach,” says Marter. Like a therapist, they’ll know the right questions to ask and how to guide you. Beyond that, simply having a trusted confidant that knows the ins and outs of your financial snapshot can be freeing.
3. Seek support for serious money issues, if necessary
Finding a support network can help eliminate the heavy burden of secrecy, shame and guilt surrounding financial issues, and can set you down the path for repair. If you're struggling to pay off debt, look for a non-profit credit counseling service to talk through your financial situation. If you have a serious issue with money, Marter says 12-step support programs such as Debtors Anonymous or Gambling Anonymous can help.
4. Take baby steps toward financial peace of mind
Sometimes the mere thought of money can be overwhelming. Ever freak out about the notion of checking your bank account balance, or run in the opposite direction when the topic of retirement comes up? This panic can partially stem from a sense of being out of control of your own financial future.
“Fidelity recently found that 85 percent of women feel stress about their finances, but those who were taking steps like building an emergency fund, saving more for retirement, and getting a financial plan in place felt significantly less stress,” says Kapusto. “Taking those steps toward your financial goals, and knowing you have support to help you stay on track, can bring tremendous peace of mind.”
5. Schedule a recurring financial ‘date night’
If you’re in a committed relationship, Kapusta recommends setting a recurring money date night with your partner. “Who says money can’t be romantic? Money is a means to help achieve your goals and talking about your shared goals and dreams, and making progress toward them together, can be very romantic,” she says. “Set aside a special time to have a focused check-in. This will help ensure you’re both taking part in financial planning and decision making so you’re each up to date and on track to achieve your goals.” This Couples Conversation Checklist, and maybe a glass of wine, can help jump start your conversations.
6. Keep casually learning about money
Incorporate money talk into your everyday life by listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, reading newspaper articles or self-help books, and even attending local programs. There are also online forums dedicated solely to the topic of finances. Merely hearing others discuss finances with casualness can help crack the taboo egg, and you can even use the things you’ve learned as conversation topics moving forward.
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