Were you raised to keep money matters hush-hush? Perhaps you were told that talking about finances just isn’t “polite” or that you should never inquire about how much someone earns or how much someone pays in rent because it might offend them. Unfortunately, many of us were encouraged to keep all financial matters private, which served to keep us in the dark about inequalities that may exist between classes, or between men and women working the same jobs. When money is considered a “taboo” topic, we’re left with questions and concerns that can create an environment of fear and uncertainty — it’s time to change that. No one should be held back from getting the raise they deserve, or taking a risk with investments and retirement because they haven’t been empowered to ask the right questions or have important conversations.
And the best way for us to start talking more is by getting more comfortable. We checked in with psychologists to get their best insight on how we can do this most effectively.
Remember: Your money doesn’t define you
It’s not uncommon for some people to attach their sense of self-worth to how much money they have stowed away in the bank… or how lavish of a vacation they can afford to take every year. But this is an incredible (and misplaced) burden on our self-esteem, and it can be damaging if we happen to have a challenging year or if we experience a significant financial loss. That’s why it’s vital to pivot your conversations to focus more on your day-to-day progress as a human, says Joyce Marter, LCPC, licensed psychotherapist.
“Those with money struggles might not talk about money due to shame, stigma or fear of being judged as not smart, capable or responsible. People with money might not feel comfortable talking about it because of fear that they will seem like they are bragging or that people will think they are greedy, materialistic, or selfish,” she shares. “On both ends of the spectrum, there may be fear that if others know their financial reality, they will feel differently about them, and it may negatively impact their relationships.”
Focus on what you can learn
When you feel anxious discussing your salary with a trusted friend or colleague, consider how much you will take away from the conversation. Instead of guessing how much you should make for your experience, position and level, you can gain insight to help you progress in your career. As Marter says, when we talk openly about money issues, we normalize and validate that we all have financial worries, troubles and questions. “We can learn from one another how to manage money — and our thoughts, emotions and behaviors around money — better,” she explains.
Plus, the more we chat, the stronger our financial literacy becomes. This includes understanding the basics of money management, budgeting, investing, and our economic consciousness. All of these components, Martyr notes, are critical for our financial success. “If we don’t talk openly about our psychology of money and our finances, we will repeat unhealthy financial beliefs, patterns and behaviors we learned from our parents, and we will pass them down to our children,” she adds.
With anything that causes us anxiety, taking baby steps is recommended before making a big leap. Psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. says an impactful way to ease into conversations about money matters that may make you feel, well, fidgety, is by sharing one tiny piece of information to start. Something as simple as ‘I was able to save $400 this month’ or ‘I was able to save $100 this month by not going to Starbucks’ are great examples. “This initial piece of information shouldn’t be anything too significant, but rather something neutral or benign, which won’t feel too exposing or private to reveal,” she continues. “Hopefully, the other person will accept what was shared without any judgment. Then, other pieces of information can be individually shared at a safe pace.”
Focus on feelings, not numbers
Whether you have a lot or a little money, we all associate certain emotions with our wealth, cash and earnings. And rather than ignoring what these feelings are — from proud to frustrated — it’s vital to lean into them and explore what they can tell us about ourselves. To get comfortable talking about our finances, we need to focus more on how it makes us feel rather than honing in on the number in our savings accounts, recommends Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, the chief science officer at Happy Money. After all, buying a gift you know your friend will love could bring you joy, while forking over change for something else could make you feel nervous. “When you pay attention to how your purchases affect your mood, you start to identify your ‘happy and sad spends’ and get more enjoyment by making mindful money decisions,” she says.
Ask to exchange information
Another way to feel more at ease discussing finances is to propose an exchange of information with your spouse, friend, colleague, or anyone else with whom you want to share. This way it won’t feel like a covert operation where you’re investigating the other person, but rather a way for both of you to sink comfortably into money chats more easily. “As a person shares about their financial matters, it can build trust and emotional security,” Dr. Thomas explains. “Since both people have disclosed personal money-related information, it can feel less vulnerable to each person and create a more even playing field between the two people. Both people may also feel more of an emotional connection to each other due to opening up with personal and private information.”
Set up a scheduled time each week to discuss finances
For couples and/or roommates who share the expenses of a home, it can be stressful to bring up a money-related grievance or concern. You don’t want to come across as overly aggressive or accusatory, even if your concern is a valid one. Keeping emotions on an even keel (and sticking to the facts) is of paramount importance. Rather than letting your concerns simmer until they turn into a fight, consider scheduling a weekly or monthly ‘finance chat’, suggests psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell.
This will ensure that there is a time in each other’s minds that you will meet consistently to make sure you are on the same page. This discussion will be all money, which means no talks surrounding household duties, childcare, upcoming plans or anything else. “This will ensure consistency in both the guidance of the couple’s finances and help to avoid disagreement. Try to minimize distraction but feel free to keep the conversation light and non-critical — even fun,” he says.
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