My Money? Oh, Awkward…

Money is a very uncomfortable conversation topic for many people. And rightfully so. In our society, we are quick to judge everyone based on how many figures are in their bank account or income. The thing about judgement and money, however, is nobody wants to be judged for how little money they make or have.

This can make any financial conversation with others difficult. Anyone who makes a lot of money is never afraid of admitting this. They might not specify a dollar figure, but saying “I make a lot of money” is much easier than saying “I’m struggling to pay my bills.” The judgment we receive from others between those two sentences is drastically different.

Therein lies the question of, “How do I make talking about my finances easier and more comfortable?” To answer that question, there are a few essential rules to follow that will make any financial conversation smoother.

1) Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries for yourself is the best method to know when it’s time to start or stop talking about finances. Most people are not comfortable talking about their income, or think it is rude to ask about another person’s finances. These sorts of questions can be very revealing into a person’s money mindset – or their relationship with money – which can make for a very awkward or even offensive social encounter. Similar to a relationship with a significant other, it’s important to establish comfortable levels of privacy and exclusiveness when it comes to your relationship with your money. However, there are ways to still address these concepts without being overtly intrusive.

Determine what you are comfortable or uncomfortable with bringing up with other people. This may vary from person to person because other people have their own established financial conversation boundaries. Sometimes the best way to ask these questions is by being direct. For example:

  • “Do you mind if I ask you about…”
  • “Are you comfortable discussing (blank) with me?”
  • “I have some questions about (blank) if you are willing to discuss it.”

These particular questions allow the other person to easily identify what you are talking about, but still gives them the opportunity to opt out of having that conversation with you. Ultimately, this maintains respect for their boundaries while simultaneously giving them the position of choice. If they are willing to discuss it with you, great! If not, simply say “That’s completely fine, I wouldn’t want to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

On the contrary, if you are uncomfortable talking about a certain area of your finances, being direct and honest can be the most respectful to another person. Moreover, turning the question back on them or suggesting another focus point can make your response less harsh, as to not come off as churlish. For example,

  • “I’m not comfortable discussing (blank) with you, but I’m still curious as to why you are interested.”
  • “I prefer to keep my finances private, but I appreciate you asking. I’d be happy to offer my opinion or advice on (blank).”
  • “I don’t discuss (blank) with anyone, but I’d be happy to talk about (blank) with you instead!”

2) Determine Your “Know” List

After you understand what you are (un)comfortable talking about, next determine who you are comfortable talking with. The people who you are comfortable with knowing your income, net worth, or account numbers go under your “know” list. An example of that list may look something like this:

KNOW

  • Financial planner
  • Significant other (who has a say in your finances)
  • A best/trustworthy friend

These lists will, of course, be different for everyone. As a general rule, your financial planner (if you have one) should know everything about your financial circumstance. After all, this is what you pay them to manage for you, and intentionally not disclosing certain aspects about your situation can only make their job (and your finances) worse.

Disclosing your finances to a significant other such as a wife/husband who has a vested interest in your finances is an important aspect to the success of any relationship. Most break-ups and divorces end because of disagreements concerning money. While an entire article could be written about this concept alone, for the sake of length, we won’t get further into it.

A trustworthy friend can be a valuable asset, considering you know they won’t turn around and tell everyone else about your finances. A friend can offer outside insight into financial strategies to developing your money mindset. You may not have to disclose all your information to this person, but having someone to talk to about the challenges that money presents can be very helpful and mentally stimulating or relieving.

3) Determine Your “Cannot Know” List

Anyone else who is not on your “Know” list, should be put under your “Cannot Know” list, which may look like this:

CANNOT KNOW

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Other Family
  • Friends/Acquaintances
  • Significant other (who does not have a say in your finances)

Depending on the relationship you have with your parents, they typically do not need to know your financial statistics. Parents who produce finically independent children are happy to have done so, and more often than not do not prefer to know what you are worth, just as long as you can sustain yourself and your own family.

Your children/young adults should really never be told your income or net worth. They have a tendency to not have the same filters as adults, and will more than likely brag to their own friends (or friend’s parents) about your income if they knew it. Until they can make a living on their own, they can never really appreciate the value of financial privacy. Additionally, the children of high-income earners who know the dollar figure of their parent’s income may have the inclination of entitlement to your wealth – something they have not worked for to achieve.

Friends, family, and significant others who do not have a vested interest in your finances should not know very much about your financial circumstance. While you may still discuss money concepts and issues with them, their understanding of your personal finances should be kept very broad. Similar to the relationship you have with a long-term significant other, your relationship with your money should maintain exclusivity.

Developing Your Money Mindset

Discussions about money can be awkward, but they can also be very helpful. Determining your boundaries in a relationship with another person is conceptually very similar to setting your own boundaries with money. It’s important to understand for yourself what you are or aren’t comfortable with, and to not let others violate your boundaries. Similarly, when asking someone about their finances, it’s okay to directly ask them what their boundaries are. This promotes a healthy and respectful conversation in which both parties can learn new money concepts, create a stronger bond, and practice mutual respectfulness about a sensitive topic.

Determining who you choose to talk about finances with is a two-way street, and can benefit yourself and others. Asking polite questions, staying curious, and reflecting on the knowledge of others will hardly be detrimental to your relationships and finances. Most importantly, discussing your finances develops your money mindset, and the relationship you have with money. Your relationship with money will last for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not. It is your own responsibility to continuously work to improve it so that it works for your benefit.

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