Money is almost as taboo a subject as sex and arguably, just as important in a relationship. But too few people bring it up. Today we are getting financially naked with the Broke Millennial.
We continue with Money May. Erin Lowry of the Broke Millennial joins us to get back to basics. How to talk about money, with yourself, your partner, your friends, and your parents.
Talking Money With Yourself
We all have areas where we are not honest with ourselves and for a lot of us, money is that area. We don’t spend that much eating out, we don’t spend that much on clothes, you don’t spend that much on video games. Well, a quick trip through Mint might tell you otherwise.
Be honest with yourself. Open all those bills you’ve been afraid to open. Start calculating how much you need to retire and compare it to how much you have saved (if might be nothing).
Understand that almost no one can have the best of everything. We have to decide where our priorities are when it comes to spending money. If you really love eating out and you’re spending more than you should do it, you don’t have to stop eating out, but you do have to make cuts somewhere else.
Getting Financially Naked
This is the frankest money conversation you will have. If you are about to tie your finances to another person, you must disclose where the bodies are buried. At the very latest you want to have this conversation when you realize you could marry or move in with this person.
Don’t spring it on them. A week or so ahead of time, suggest getting a bottle of wine and talking about your goals. This gives the other person time to get used to the idea and time for both of you to gather any documents or numbers you might need. Not everyone knows off the top of their heads how much they have in Betterment or how much credit card debt they have.
Framing the conversation around goals is important. You share your goals, to buy a home, to retire early, to pay off debt. Then you can discuss any obstacles to those goals. This makes it sound more like you care about your future together and less like you are either some kind of gold digger or judging a partner who may have made poor financial decisions.
Keep a poker face. Don’t bug out your eyes when you find out your partner has $80,000 in student loan debt. Don’t laugh when they tell you they have no savings. If you did those things when this person got naked in front of you, you shouldn’t expect to see them naked again.
If you do those things when they disclose things about what is a vulnerable subject for a lot of people with honesty, you shouldn’t expect them to do that again.
This might take more than one try. That’s okay. Money should be an ongoing conversation throughout your relationship.
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Talking Money With Your Friends
Having money conversations with friends may be the hardest of all. No one wants to always feel like the poor friend, even if you are. And you don’t want your friends to think you’re bragging if you have a lot of money.
Just as money can ruin a marriage, money can ruin friendships too. It’s harder to navigate money in friendships than in relationships because you have a few friends but only one partner.
That means you have different money relationships with each of your friends since no two people have the same approach to money.
If you are the friend who doesn’t want to drop $100 each time you hang out, you make the plans. Before your friend gets the chance to suggest a restaurant outside your budget, suggest a less expensive activity.
Sometimes a friend will suggest something first so you have to say yes or no. Before you answer, think of why they are suggesting this particular thing. If it’s an expensive restaurant, it might be because they are really into food and happy to pay a lot for it.
It might be because they aren’t aware that you can’t or don’t want to pay that much for a meal. It might be that going to dinner is just their default option and they don’t care about what you do together, they just want to hang out.
You can’t always say no or make an alternative suggestion. Especially if they don’t know money is the reason you’re saying no. They might just think you’re obstinate or selfish and like to have your own way. That’s why it’s important to talk to friends about money.
Talking to your parents about money can put you in an uncomfortable position. These people raised you, took care of you and you don’t want to come off sounding patronizing. It may take a few times before you can really get a meaningful conversation going.
It can help to frame the conversation the same way you did with your partner; ask what their goals for the future are. Do they want to retire soon, sell the family home and travel, move in with you? If they raided their own retirement accounts to keep you out of student debt hell, it might come to that.
You can also frame it as another act of love, toward you and toward their spouse. What if something happens to you? How would I deal with your finances if I don’t know what you have or how to access it? How would mom or dad survive if you weren’t here?
No parent wants their child to worry about things like that when they’re grieving a parent’s death. And no one wants their surviving spouse to live the rest of their life eating cat food.
If you just can’t bring yourself to have this conversation or they refuse to have it from you, you can ask someone they trust but don’t have that parent/child relationship with to broach the subject.
Break the Taboo
Many of us would happily discuss religion, politics, or sex with the people in our lives before we would ever dare bring up the subject of money. But that attitude only helps to keep us in the dark. It stops us asking questions and learning ways to improve our finances. Money is the last taboo. It’s time to break it.
Elliott Ness Lager: An amber lager from Great Lakes Brewing Company.
Broke Millennial: Get your financial life together.