Having a conversation about money can be tricky. Americans are especially good at avoiding the subject, associating it with anxiety, stress, embarrassment or shame. It’s only natural that we don’t want to be judged for having too little or too much.
But, by not discussing our finances with friends and family, we’re depriving ourselves of an important give-and-take — and a resource that can help allay our anxieties and build stronger financial habits.
Comfort in numbers
It’s easy to become ashamed of how much we earn, what we spend, financial mistakes we’ve made or opportunities we didn’t act upon. One benefit of reaching out to others is discovering that we’re not alone, as even our most outwardly confident friends may have their own financial worries.
That friend who consistently buys the sharpest clothes or dines at the trendiest restaurants may be maxing out his or her credit cards (the average American owes more than $5,000 in credit card debt or neglecting student loans. Or it could be just the opposite: He or she may have inherited a nest egg that enables living beyond a modest income.
Whatever the actual situation, you (and maybe your mutual friends) can’t help but feel stress from trying to keep up. A candid discussion of your concerns could go a long way toward alleviating that pressure while possibly inspiring your friend to take a closer look at what may be an unsustainable lifestyle.
We consult each other about where to shop, eat, find the best doctor, how to be a good parent or partner, and how to get through tough times. So, why not pick each other’s brains about money?
It’s the best way to learn from others’ mistakes — especially older friends or family members who, through a lifetime of trial and error, have built an arsenal of good financial habits. You can pick up tips and tricks that will help you manage your own money better to build a more secure future.
It’s one thing to consult friends about what they earn and spend, but it’s another thing to discuss such matters with a co-worker. Many companies discourage employees from comparing salaries because the companies would rather keep that knowledge to themselves.
But how else can you know the true value of your labor — especially if you feel you’re being underpaid or deserve a raise? Sometimes the best recourse is to seek counsel from other current or former employees, or from acquaintances in similar positions with comparable skill levels.
It can understandably be a difficult topic to broach but, along with staying away from exact figures, you can ease into the discussion with less controversial subjects. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and knowing where you stand in the pecking order — or on the open market — is the first step toward confidently negotiating your way to a raise.
Avoiding relationship conflicts
At some point in any significant relationship, money will need to be discussed. It’s rare for partners to have the same level of income or debt, similar money habits or comparable financial histories. The larger this imbalance, the more potential for conflict.
Talking about money honestly and openly as soon as possible can help couples avoid such problems. This becomes especially important if talk turns to marriage or combining finances. If you suddenly find yourself responsible for half of your partner’s massive debt, that can be a real relationship killer.
No matter your financial situation or with whom you choose to share it, overcoming any awkwardness or discomfort is well worth the tradeoff, as the mutual knowledge gained can be invaluable. If you need to, start with topics that are more comfortable to talk about: a great deal you found, an investment you’re considering or a job opportunity.
Ultimately, the more you talk about money, the easier these conversations will become — and the more you’ll stand to gain in confidence, self-esteem and your future bank balance.