The money conversations you need to have
Although it can feel uncomfortable, talking about money is a good thing. Get some help from the experts to start positive conversations and keep things on track.
Making money talk work for you
When was the last time you talked about money? You might struggle to remember. Your personal finances or debt position are hardly dinner party material, but there are plenty of other reasons we don’t often talk about money. With Australia having one of the highest levels of household debt in the world1, it could be time to bring money talk out into the open.
Where our money behaviours come from
Our relationship to money is something that starts early. In fact, one study from the University of Cambridge2 found that by age 7, our grasp of basic money concepts that influence our future money habits has already developed. But these habits can be changed to serve us better as we make our way through adult life.
The benefits of money talk
Whether you’re feeling good about your money situation or not, talking about money can feel really awkward. Comparison syndrome, envy, pity, shame or the tendency to brush uncomfortable topics under the carpet can prevent us from opening up, even to the people closest to us. For many, keeping our financial successes and failures private seems like the most natural thing to do. And that’s why it’s good to know there are big benefits to opening up about money. And as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Worrying about money is one of the top causes of stress in Australia3. Sharing your feelings about money can not only improve your mental health, it can also have a positive effect on relationships. Research by Relationships Australia has found that financial stress is a major cause of relationship breakdown4. Being upfront, honest and on the same page about money can make your relationships stronger and prevent problems down the track.
Finding your sounding board
If the thought of chatting openly about money makes you squirm, a good first step is to create a space where you feel comfortable talking about your finances.
“Finding someone with whom you can have a dedicated conversation about your finances – and your feelings about money – can make all the difference. And for some people, talking to a stranger or a therapist might be easier than family or friends. It doesn’t matter who it is. What matters is that you’re making progress and getting the ball rolling.“
Once you’ve taken that first step, you may find yourself feeling that bit more comfortable bringing those conversations closer to home.
Keeping it cool and casual with friends
Money talk doesn’t have to be heavy or serious. There are ways to bring money out into the open in a social setting without making it a big deal.
“Those who care about you want you to do well. Sharing your financial goals with friends can keep you accountable, but it’s also a great way of enlisting supporters to cheer you on. So, if you’re saving for that house deposit, they’re more likely to come up with activities that don’t break the bank. For example, getting together for a BBQ instead of going out to lunch.”
Lessons from the “R U OK” movement
There’s a lot to be learnt from the “R U OK” movement which is designed to bring mental health conversations to the forefront. Once a taboo topic, talking about mental health has become far more common and the same idea can be applied to money worries.
The “R U OK” movement has reminded us about the importance of asking questions when we notice something isn’t quite right. If you know someone is struggling with money, asking helpful questions can make a big difference. And once you get those conversations going, you could find that the same level of support comes back to you.
Bringing financial honesty to your relationship
Financial honesty is fundamental to any successful relationship. Whether you’re at the start of a budding romance, or have settled down with a partner, having honest and transparent conversations about money is crucial. But it’s not always easy, especially if you’re used to keeping quiet about money matters.
“If talking about money is new to your relationship, setting up a space of no judgement is really important. You need to know you can talk about your credit card debt or unpaid bills in a caring and understanding environment. That might mean asking the question, “Am I OK to talk about this?” first.
The sooner you and your partner have all your money ‘cards’ on the table, the sooner you can get on the same page about your priorities and goals for the future. Having a shared vision for your finances will only make your relationship stronger and having more regular money conversations can help.
3 tips to start a money conversation
Whether you’re bringing up money matters with your partner or family, a few simple strategies can help.
Catching your partner or family off guard with a serious conversation about money is never a good idea. If they don’t feel prepared or in the right head space, your good intentions could backfire.
Giving plenty of notice about your ‘money meeting’ and choosing a good time to tackle such a big topic can set everyone up for success. Ideally you want to choose a time when you are both rested and relaxed. First thing in the morning when you’re rushing to get out the door or last thing at night might not be the best idea. The environment also can make a difference. Sitting in the park or going for a coffee might work better than your kitchen table, for example.
It feels good to know you have someone in your corner. Turning up to your money meeting with some ideas on moving forward can help to shift the conversation to focus on ‘us’ instead of ‘me’ and ‘you’. Even just one or two ideas on how to move forward financially can lay the foundation for a conversation that’s positive and healthy. Some examples might be agreeing to talk about money once a week, working a few more hours to pay off the credit card or agreeing to see a financial counsellor together if you need some extra help.
Money conversations can be more effective when you have them regularly. Do what you need to keep them interesting and stick with whatever works for you.