5 ways to talk to your friends about money, according to experts

Talking about finances is hard. Whether it’s with a friend, a family member, a partner, or even, sometimes, ourselves, broaching the subject of money often puts us in a vulnerable state because of its personal nature. But have you ever opted out of doing something with a friend because you felt like it might put a financial burden on you or interfere with your budget? Or maybe you can afford the activity, but it doesn’t fit with your financial goals right now? We’re all guilty of sometimes saying “yes” to friends and then getting in over our heads when the bill comes, and I’m sure many of us are also guilty of doing the opposite: opting out simply because the thought of talking about money is too scary to bring up.

But since so much of adulthood revolves around money (yes, even friendships), it’s better to get acquainted with how to talk about our financial statuses without feeling vulnerable or less than. Instead, we should be able to talk about our financial situation with friends in a way that feels authentic and empowering. We need to stop constantly comparing ourselves to our peers and get real without seeing tight budgeting as a weakness. So, we asked a few experts for tips on how to talk to your friends about money.

How to talk about money with friends:

First of all, you might be wondering: Is it even okay to talk about finances with friends? Jean Chatzky—personal finance expert, CEO of HerMoney.com, and host of the HerMoney podcast—says yes, but it might take some getting used to.

“Because so many of us were raised to believe that talking about money was tacky or taboo—even among our own families—it can be a hard social barrier to break,” she says. “But it’s important to get ahead of it, so you can feel comfortable and open with the people who are important to you.”

1Have the conversation before the bill comes.

Before you get locked into the social contract that is splitting the dinner bill, get ahead of the situation by talking to your friends before you even order. If you wait until you see the waiter coming towards the table with the little black book, it’s often too late.

Chatzky advises saying something like: “I’m only going to have a salad. I’m watching my budget this month. I hope it’s okay that I am going to ask for a separate check.”

Saying something like this is direct and to-the-point, and won’t make money the main focus of the night. Plus, it will make you feel more relaxed throughout the evening, knowing you’re in control of what you’re about to spend.

2Be upfront about what you’re comfortable with and what your situation is.

For many of us, talking about money is awkward. Between our parents teaching us to stay hush-hush and the media telling us it’s good to share our full salaries with our friends (fellow women in particular), it can be confusing to be able to tell where the line is. How much info is TMI? Where is the boundary when it comes to financial topics?

According to Chatzky, there really isn’t one. She says that it’s okay to share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, acknowledging that once you’ve shared, your friends will probably share back with you.

And if you don’t know where to start, Nicole Zangara, a licensed social worker and author of Surviving Female Friendships “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, says, “You can always begin by discussing how much the friendship means to you and why it’s so important to talk about finances, and/or why you don’t feel comfortable spending on a certain activity or event. Most people will understand, but you have to be open and honest with them.”

Chatzky believes that even a simple, casual acknowledgment of what’s going on in your life can give your friends a better understanding of the role finances are playing in your personal narrative. For example, a statement like, “I can’t wait for when these student loans are paid off so I can do these things” gives context to your situation in a way that doesn’t sound like complaining, but rather a matter-of-fact statement.

3Remember your friends know more than you think.

Perhaps one of the most poignant things Chatzky points out is that your friends know more about your financial situation than you may think. We’re no longer in high school or college, where some of our peers were on a pretty even playing field when it came to money (or where we may not have noticed if they weren’t). As adults, the people we surround ourselves with are cognizant of our careers, which means they’re probably pretty aware of our ballpark salaries, too.

Whether you choose to share a lot or a little about your personal finances is totally up to you, but your friends likely won’t be surprised if you explain that your budget is a little tighter than theirs because of your job or state of business right now. You just might have to say something to bring it to the front of their minds.

4Get the dialogue going with your group.

“There’s nothing wrong with the words ‘I can’t afford it,’” says Chatzky. “There’s also nothing wrong with being able to afford it but not wanting to spend because it does not fit with your financial goals right now.”

The most important thing is just to get the dialogue started within your group. Odds are, you’re not the only one who can’t afford something, and as soon as you say something, other people will acknowledge the financial space they’re in in their lives.

And because we know sometimes it can be hard to stand up to an entire group (or be open about such a vulnerable topic with a lot of people), you can always share your situation with one person, who can then advocate for you in the larger crew.

5Suggest something less expensive for next time.

The whole point of hanging out with your friends is to keep that important social bond alive. And, as Chatzky points out, expensive things don’t really do much to foster your connection with friends. When you think about it, it’s not really about the fact that everyone is getting an individual spa treatment or going to see a pricey play. The real goal is to enjoy quality time with your people; the activity you do is secondary.

That’s why, if your friends have a habit of planning activities that are a little bit above your means, you can try suggesting doing something less expensive for next time, such as a potluck dinner or a board game night. Or, if they do ask you to be a part of something that puts you in an uncomfortable financial position, try to find a way you can participate in part of the activity, such as meeting your friends after the show for a drink or being involved in their wedding without the financial commitment of being a bridesmaid.

Once you start to explain your own financial point of view, it allows for more money dialogue to come naturally between you and your friends. It’s not a taboo subject, so being able to converse openly about money, financial advice, and more will make everyone feel more informed and at ease.

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