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How to Talk About Money With Your Family

Oct. 3, 2012
4 mins
A younger man rests against a railing next to an older man with autumn leaves in the background

As the extended family comes together for the Thanksgiving feast, it provides family members with an opportunity to talk about an often taboo subject – money. Whether you're addressing the care of a parent, providing financial assistance for a loved one, or discussing an inheritance, it raises the question: how to talk about money with your family - without it turning into a brawl?

Talking about finances, especially with your family, isn’t easy. Trust me, I know. I come from a family of seven that had its share of money problems. Like most families, we never talked about them, though. On a recent visit home, I asked my dad why he never mentioned their financial struggles to us when we were kids. I was convinced that if I had known more about how my parents managed their money I would be in better financial shape today. Turns out, I did learn a lot, just not through conversation… But I’ll get to that later.

Why Does Money Talk Make Us Uncomfortable?

Seriously, what is it about money that scares most of us into silence? It doesn’t seem to matter whether we grew up having it, or struggled without; we all suffer from an inability to talk about it. Money stirs up emotions, creates awkward conversations and sometimes causes fights. As kids, we’re taught that it’s impolite to talk about it. You don’t ask how much someone makes, and you certainly don’t talk about how much you make. Even in my first job at a fast food joint, the employer told us not to share our wages with one another – and so we didn’t. What this means, though, is that today, we’re uncomfortable talking about money in any sense of the word. When things get tough, and advice would be handy, we’re left to struggle on our own in silence.

How To Talk Money With Your Extended Family

The first step to being able to talk openly about money is to understand our relationship with it.To some, money symbolizes power and affluence. It can be a source of pride – or shame. It can mean the difference between success and failure, independence or survival. Although money can’t buy us happiness, getting a handle on our finances certainly can.

As with most difficult subjects it’s hard to be on the outside looking in. Ever watched a friend struggle in a relationship you knew wasn’t right? We all have. Most of us don’t say a thing. It’s not our place. The same is true of money. What business do I have telling my friends or family how to manage their affairs? Sometimes, though, you just want to help. Here are three tips on how to deal with family and friends, and their financial affairs.

Easy Does It

Most people aren’t receptive to unsolicited money advice, but you can still help out without being obvious. Years ago, my sister was complaining about her financial affairs. I patiently listened and rather than offering unwanted advice, I shared a personal story of my own. I told her about a time when my finances were out of control and how I’d managed to settle up my debts. I told her about a local speaker I’d seen, about a bad experience with my bank, and about a couple of books I’d read along the way. After we got off the phone, I ordered her a copy of one of my favourite books online and had it sent to her home. It was the beginning of a new conversation between siblings.

Be Prepared to Talk - And Listen

At first the conversation with my sister was about as much fun as hammering my own thumb. She wasn't receptive to anything I said, so I decided to stop talking. Instead, I listened. I paid close attention to what she was saying and waited for her to get it all out. Sometimes, you just have to let them vocalize the problem on their own. Offering yourself up as an ear will create a bond of trust, so be prepared to answer some tough questions when the time is right.

Lead By Example

This is the most important thing you can do to help those around you. Although I was upset with my father for not having talked to me about money, what I realized later was that much of what I had learned was through his example. He’s a hard worker and very determined. No matter how bleak things were, he and my mom always had a plan – and they stuck with it. You, too, can lead by example. This Christmas, for instance, my partner and I have decided not to exchange gifts since it usually takes us months to pay them off. We’re suggesting cheaper forms of entertainment and talking more openly about how we can make smarter choices.

Pro tip: If paying down credit card debt is a struggle, consider switching to a low-interest option. Getting a break on growing interest can really boost the effectiveness of an aggressive pay off plan. Check out the MBNA TrueLine MasterCard with a fixed 12.99% annual interest rate. With no annual fee, it's a great option for those battling their balance.

How does your family deal with the taboo subject of money? Shoot us a comment.


The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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