Cash Conversations: How to tackle those difficult money chats

by | May 7, 2019 | Tips | 0 comments

Having a tough conversation is difficult enough. When the topic is around money, it seems to make it even more difficult and emotional.
It’s because the piece of paper (or nowadays the electronic numbers on a screen) that we call ‘money’ has a lot of meaning attached to it. 

Money Meanings
Money doesn’t just represent an exchange of energy.  Today, it has more meanings associated to it. It represents our status in life, our survival and safety, our ability to provide or contribute. Even power, love, control and our sense of self-worth has been linked to money. 

Because so many meanings are attributed to money, such deeply personal meanings, there will be emotions related to it. And so, this mix of meaning and emotions can be uncomfortable when we need to confront the topic and talk about money matters.

In all relationships this topic of money, or what it can buy, will come up. Guaranteed. The child wants the toy, but there’s not enough wriggle-room in the budget to purchase it. One spouse is a spend thrift, the other buys carelessly and frivolously. The employer is trying to cut back on costs, the employee is looking for a raise. The seller wants the highest price, the buyer, the lowest.  There is this constant exchange between people and money is so often linked to that exchange in some way. 

Thus, the chat about cash is bound to come up many times in our lifetime. What tends to happen often though, is we avoid the topic because it’s just too icky and uncomfortable. Or we bulldoze into it, hoping to get the conversation over and done with as quick as possible.

Cash Chats
Money talks are conversations that count, because money matters so much.  The importance of these talks also adds further weight to the conversation and so adds to its difficultness.  

Just like any other type of tough conversation though, there are a few things to keep in mind to make it a more positive experience, even if it remains emotional and uncomfortable. 

Prepare yourself
With any tough conversation, conflict or confrontation, it is best to start by being aware of what is going on for yourself first. Think through your meanings about money and your own triggers related to talking about money. 

It is also good practice to think about how to present your view of the money issue to the other person, and also to be clear on your intentions for having the conversation.

If you go into the discussion ready for a battle, or to try to prove something, you are less likely to have a constructive outcome. Instead of judging, we will get further if we go into the discussion having processed our own stuff, and then wanting to air our views and concerns, and asking about their concerns, with the aim of finding a solution that suits everyone.

By doing this, you start with a positive purpose top of mind, with being clear on the issue at hand and thus what you want to ask of the other person.

Invite the other
Then it is useful to give the other person a chance to prepare too. 

By inviting them to have a conversation and giving them a heads up that you want to talk about money, they are less likely to be defensive, feel awkward, put on the spot with a confrontation or attacked about the issue. 

This will help to set a constructive tone to the talk.

Check assumptions
Especially when it comes to money, we can have stories going on in our minds, that might not be the actual reality. So ask questions to clarify facts, and check your assumptions.  It is also useful to explain your version of the situation, and to check where the other person is on the topic.

Often this step is what resolves the matter, as we get clear on each other’s intentions and on the facts, and thus can make more informed decisions around this matter regarding money.

Emotions are ok
Knowing we are talking about money, we ought to go into the conversation expecting some emotions to arise – on both sides – as it is a very vulnerable topic. 

It can be scary or embarrassing to open up about money, because of the meanings around the topic and the possible outcomes of the conversation.  So be prepared and don’t make the emotions wrong.

Emotions are useful because they are data, and they show us what is important to us.  If there are no emotions from one of the parties involved in a conversation, then either the topic is of no significance to the person, or the relationship is not important to that person.

When we feel the emotion or notice it in the other person, it is beneficial to just acknowledge it by naming it. “I’m feeling quite embarrassed about this, and it’s still important to talk about.” Or “It looks like something is going on for you, what are you feeling?” 

When we can just be with the emotion and talk about it if needed, we will be more likely to not only feel heard, but also get more understanding and learn about ourselves and the other person.

Time-Out when necessary
Another useful strategy is to use a Time-Out if needed. Take a moment or so to gather ourselves when our emotions rise, and then to come back to the discussion feeling a bit more centered.  (see my article about Time-Outs here)

Specific tips related to talking about money
With the topic of money, here are a few pointers to help the discussion:

  • Talk about money often and proactively. Bringing up the topic a little bit here and there helps it not to become a big deal. If you wait until there is an issue, or you hide what’s going on related to money, it becomes a big, uncomfortable, difficult thing to talk about.
  • Start slow and simple. It’s easier to start talking about fun money topics, like what you would do with a million bucks, or your long-term financial goals, before you tackle the heavier issues, like credit histories, debt or spending habits.
  • Put the relationship before money. Keep the intention of growing the relationship top of mind, and be willing to pause when the emotions are high, and to check-in with yourself and the other person often during the discussion.
  • Yet also keep to the numbers when needed. Make the distinction between your feelings and meanings about money, (like why a purchase is of value to you), and the actual figures (like in a salary negotiation or doing the budget). Sometimes it’s about meaning, and sometimes it’s just number crunching and decision time.

End with Action
Once you’ve had the discussion, aim to end with some resolution and a way forward. 

That might mean that you decide on goals that you both agree on, and a related plan to reach those goals. Or you agree that you need time to ponder things or research an aspect, and to then come back to the discussion at a later date.

Be Courageous
With these points in mind, I hope you find the courage to tackle the money conversations more often. If we stop fearing talking about money, there will always be a way to solve any money problem. 

By being proactive in the way we deal with our money issues, we won’t let money run our lives and it will remain a tool and a servant to us – rather than a master over us.

As the author Ayn Rand says:

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”

Here’s to you staying in the driver’s seat, and having the conversations that count about money.

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