Talking to Your Friends and Partner About Money
Talking to friends and family about money is usually a great way to kill a conversation. Sure, you could tell your friends about your super prime credit score and how they can come to you for advice, but you will be met with eye rolls and people ducking out of the conversation to refill their drinks. You start talking about your side hustle, and your friends — slaves to the corporate machine and still paying their dues, or trying to figure out what to do with their newfound extra cash — all melt away into the crowd at the party.
How do you talk about money with your friends? It’s a tricky balance of not prying too much into their personal finances while still opening a discussion. What about a spouse or partner? Let’s go over some rules and tactics, as well as a few money discussion questions that aren’t too personal, but can open up a dialogue.
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Is This Bragging? It Feels Like Bragging.
Rule No. 1 for talking about finances with friends: Do not talk about your income. This extends to what you paid for your car, or even how much of a steal you got your home for. You can say you haggled and got a great price, but leave specifics out. No one likes a bragger, particularly if you are doing better than your friends or family.
The point of talking about finances with friends is to help them out, not brag about how much you’ve made. Mix general advice, like looking for bad habits to fix, while adding in a few personal details of how you were in a similar situation and fixed your personal finances.
On the flip side, if someone mentions an achievement — they bought a house, finally figured out how to pay off student loans, or saw an increase in their credit score — be sure to congratulate and celebrate. Ask them how they did it. Everyone can participate and take notes. And if they won’t tell you how they increased their credit score, you can find tips and guides at our credit score resource center.
You don’t know everything, unless you are a financial planner, and even then, it’s impossible to be right all the time. This means you should ask questions. Maybe you are doing well financially, but don’t know the difference between a traditional and Roth IRA. Do you have 401k questions, or even know what that is? How do you plan for retirement?
If you need help, ask for help. It doesn’t have to be the same questions you’d ask a financial planner, but your friends may have encountered a similar situation as yours before.
Mention your new budget, or the new financial planning app you’ve discovered, and open the door for your friends to start talking. Take the initiative, and be upbeat and positive about it. This can be a learning experience for everyone.
At the same time, if someone asks for help, and you have the answer, give it to them in simple terms. Avoid jargon, or at the very least define key terms. There are no dumb money discussion questions; just information you don’t have yet (that’s what a smartphone and Google are for).
Avoid being judgmental, especially if someone’s financial situation has taken a turn for the worse. Foster an environment where they can get help, and if they have to bow out from an event because they can’t afford it, make sure they still feel welcome to other events. In other words, avoid sounding condescending at all costs. Instead, be supportive and understanding.
If you know someone is on a budget, be cognizant of that. Don’t invite them out to the expensive concert or brunch with avocado toast, especially if they are saving up for a home. If the person who needs a break is you, remember that you don’t need to always keep up with the Joneses. It’s better for your mental and financial health to take a break from activities with friends if you can’t keep up with their lifestyle. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you’ll be better for the break in the long run. You can also offer budget-friendly options for your friends, so that you won’t feel left out.
On the flip side, if someone paid off their loans, has little debt, and their personal finances are growing, don’t be envious. Ask how they succeeded and excelled, and what tips they have to offer.
A Team Effort
Whether it’s a friend, spouse, or co-worker, it’s often helpful to find a budget buddy. Someone you can talk to, help each other plan budgets, and keep each other honest. It’s fine if one of you is underemployed and paying off student debt while the other is planning a vacation. You can still learn from (and potentially even help) each other.
While this sounds like a contradiction of the first point, there are some people you do want to share specific details with. With someone holding you accountable, you will actually contribute to a retirement plan, and make and more importantly keep a budget.
Your Significant Other
There’s a few key elements to keep in mind when talking to your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, life partner, or significant other about money.
First: timing. You probably don’t need to know immediately about their financial situation, unless they are in utter ruin from credit cards, expensive cars, student loans and looking for a handout. Chances are, this isn’t the case, and you can wait until the relationship reaches a more personal level.
Wait too long, and you’ll create tension and arguments. Too early in the relationship, and it weirds your partner out, leaving them wondering what your motivation might be. This is something you’ll have to feel out in a relationship, but it should absolutely be before you move in together. If that’s already passed, the time is probably ripe to have a sit down talk.
Second, much like the budget buddy, you need to be honest. Studies have shown that two of every five Americans are not honest with their partners about money, especially where buying habits are concerned. Also important is to not only discuss the numbers, but the value of what you intend to buy.
Third, it’s important to open with soft topics before moving on to harder topics like credit history (see next point). What are their long-term financial goals? Is their job stagnant, or are they up for promotion? What’s their Five-Year Plan, and if they don’t have one, what can they write down to help them come up with one?
Finally, assuming you are having this talk before moving in together, you should also talk credit scores. While a low credit score won’t preclude you from renting an apartment together, it’s still something to consider. You will both have to be on loans for cars, future houses, etc. It could also speak to your partner’s spending habits.
When you are ready for the big talk, set aside plenty of time, a few hours at least, to hash out finances. Here’s what you’ll want to bring to the table:
- Your bank accounts, and how much money is in each
- A list of debts, from credit cards to cars and student loans, and interest rates, in order to factor into monthly expenses
- Your income, and any money owed to you (such as personal loans to friends)
- Your financial goals, both short- and long-term, and if possible, how you will achieve those goals.
Talking to friends and partners about money can be tricky. You need to walk a fine line to not hurt feelings. It’ll take finesse and honesty to wade through the murky waters of personal finance and emerge with new knowledge. Get a budget buddy, make a plan, help each other, and ask questions. In more ways than one, you’ll be richer for it.
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A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published June 13, 2017.