3 Tips for Talking About Money

Is talking about money awkward? (Hint: the answer is YES)

What can make talking about money less awkward? Practicing. It helps if you can agree to be awkward together. Here are three tips to help ease you and your loved ones into a healthy pattern of transparency about finances.

mugs on a wood table top

1). Set a weekly money date (even if you’re single)

Having a set time when you know you’ll take a peek at your tracking app or enter your receipts from the week into a spreadsheet or tally up the most recent expenses in a notebook lets you relax in all the moments in between. This weekly frequency also makes you nimble to respond to unexpected costs (flat tire, getting sick and being unable to work for a few days). You can make the needed adjustments to your planned spending in real time rather than being shocked at the end of the month by the grand total.

If you’re part of a couple, then this money “date” gives you a chance to talk together about values and goals and how your use of money is lining up with those. The more often you share wins and challenges together, the faster you’ll make financial progress. You might not love it at first, but it’ll grow on you when you see the results stack up!

If the mere idea of talking or thinking about money sends shivers of anxiety down your spine, then set a timer. You can do anything–even make a list of bills due–for ten minutes. Knowing your numbers, even if you don’t like those numbers, gives you clarity, enables you to make a plan, and therefore reduces stress. For real. Give it a try!

Also, be mindful of the ambiance and location for your money date, even if you’re doing it solo. Pick a cozy spot, prepare a hot drink. Do you need mood music or lighting? Would the promise of a homemade charcuterie spread be a helpful lure to this destination in your week? If your money date can be a brief oasis of calm and intentionality where you remember that you’re in control of what happens with your money and you’re able to recognize the good results of your actions, you’ll come to really treasure those few minutes every week.

making a list of financial goals, money on table by piggy bank

2.) Track your spending where you/everyone can see it

If your family or household is pulling together financially, then all the responsible adults in the household need to have the information necessary to make wise decisions. So make the information easy to find and easy to analyze. There are many good budgeting apps available that let you share the account, so each of you can log in and see what’s happening in real-time. 

Or you could load a favorite spreadsheet expense tracking method onto your phones in a spreadsheet app and enter your expenses while you’re at the check stand or as soon as you push the buy button online.

A basic spiral-bound ruled notebook lying open on the kitchen counter with a pen at the ready is another great way to get your data front and center. You’ll quickly get into the habit of writing down everything you spent that day as soon as you get home. Or use a whiteboard in a central location in your home. As soon as kids are doing addition and subtraction on their own, they can be given the task of tallying for the week. 

dad talking to daughter about finances at the kitchen table while dad drinks coffee and child holds cell phone

3.) Be open about financial goals and the actions you’re taking to reach those goals

These days, kids, and even adults, have no good way to pick up on personal finance best practices via osmosis. With so much of money management happening in the digital realm, there’s nothing to see, nothing to watch. You’ve pressed a few buttons online and paid your electric bill, and the tween using that electricity playing video games in their bedroom has no idea what just happened. So the adults have to be intentional about talking with their kids all the way through what feels like really mundane processes, more so now than in any previous generation.

One way to reel kids in, in terms of interest in money management, is to work with them to set some (relatively easy to reach) goals that require their participation. For example, if you have a kid who wants to play a particular sport or go to camp next summer, help them research the cost of that activity (a ballpark number will do), and then tell them you’ll split the cost with them. If your kid isn’t yet old enough to work outside the home, you will also need to provide opportunities for your kid to earn their half of the needed funds. So it takes some advance brainstorming…but expecting the kid to pitch in toward the desired activity cost will actually help them appreciate it so much more when the time comes. It’s all about skin in the game.

If you’re operating solo in the financial arena, then share at least one of your financial goals with a close friend. Even if you don’t want to share exact numbers, you can still say something like, “I’m working toward paying off one of my credit cards by the end of December.” The friend who knows is the friend who can support you. I’m pretty sure that encouragement will end up going both ways, too.

woman wearing glasses looking up and feeling awkward thinking about finances

Money, especially personal finance, is a culturally sensitive topic–something we typically shy away from discussing with one another. But the way we choose to use money is highly reflective of our values, and the way to pass on meaningful values is to talk the talk while walking the walk.

Picture of Tina Birch

Tina Birch

Tina, one of Birch’s financial literacy counselors, meets regularly with our participants to discuss how to make progress toward their financial goals. She loves taking a values-driven approach to decision-making and stewardship. She is also an avid reader and writer, so we are excited to have her share her knowledge about financial literacy with us.