The Awkward Question of Money Talks: Part 2

DH = dear husband

“Every comment expressed disagreement with me”

Two weeks ago, I wrote about when and how to talk with friends who are clearly sabotaging their finances. Every single comment from readers expressed some form of (very respectful) disagreement with me. I really appreciated the honesty!

New (and unexpected) perceptions

I’m wrestling with this issue since it is relatively new to me. For most of my adult life, I had no clue about anyone else messing up their finances because I was too busy messing up my own. Since starting our journey out of debt 6 years ago, I’ve become aware of the fallacies in my old ways of thinking and operating financially. And there has been an unexpected side-effect: I’ve developed a new perception of the same fallacies in others. It’s not comfortable!

It was more comfortable to be able to join in the defeated complaint-fest and say things like, “I know! Life is so expensive!” or “It’s never going to be the ‘right time’ to buy it. So just buy it!”

Now, I find myself dealing with thoughts like, “It really isn’t the right time to buy it. Please don’t.” These are not comfortable thoughts! They reek of judgment. I don’t want to be that person! But I can’t pretend that I don’t notice what I now do notice.

What to do? Seeking advice

So what is the best thing to do when someone you care about is managing their money in a self-destructive way? Let’s start by taking a look at what all of those people who disagreed with me had to say.

Tonya: ” … but the thing is for me, I don’t know the whole of anyone’s situation. Unless I thought they were going to do major harm to themselves or someone else, it’s really none of my business. I can feel concerned, but for the sake of my friendship, all I feel I should do is be there for them if anyone reaches out to me and/or lead by example … I’m not saying I never think judgmental thoughts. I definitely do, but I try to shake them off and keep them to myself.”

Brian: ” … It does bother me when I see family and friend make, what I deem unwise financial decisions, but like it’s been said sometimes I don’t have the complete picture. My usual approach now is to try and bait the conversation with our failures, and now success to see if they will bite, and ask “how”, and then I know I have a willing participant.”

Laurie: “Sometimes it’s necessary for a person to hit bottom before they acquire the willingness to change. If you want to inspire others to adopt good money management, the best thing you can do is to be a power of example. If a person wants what you have, they will ask about your experience.”

Kay: “I think the key is being able to express your beliefs without being preachy and telling someone what they should do. Telling them what you did or do can be a model if that’s what they want. But some people seem to enjoy the thrill of the oncoming bus. Those are the ones we need to pray for the most.

Abigail: “I’m never comfortable talking to people about how they spend their money … By and large people seem to get by. Even if they struggle a bit at times. I just don’t feel comfortable risking friendships … by talking about something that rarely goes well … If they didn’t want my input, I’d leave it at that.”

Revanche: “Some people have to be hit by the bus to stop walking in front of the bus. Some people get hit by the bus repeatedly and will KEEP WALKING IN FRONT OF THE BUS. Some people hear a bus coming down the road, remember that near miss or seeing their friend hit by the bus and step ten feet back … The people who want to learn use what I’ve already put out there and then ask me for nuanced advice. The ones who don’t already know me well and want me to answer really basic simple questions without doing any digging are often the ones who don’t intend to learn. They just want you to fix it for them.”

Hiro: “… I try to be cognizant of when they’re looking for advice and when they’re just whining about their own situation, and try to give advice when they’re looking for it, and laugh it off when they aren’t. It’s an iffy line, but we’re all adults … And I hate to be the preachy friend! Especially since I obviously don’t have everything figured out either!”

Kalie: “…It’s also invaluable to recognize I don’t know everything and my way of doing things is not best for everyone …  If I’m super close and very concerned, I’ll speak up no matter what. If I’m super close and it’s a mild concern, I will decide based on the other person’s openness and if they’re asking for help/looking for solutions. If I’m not very close, the person’s interest in seeking help is a bigger factor.”

Moving forward

It’s clear that many people are disturbed by the poor financial practices of their friends. It’s also clear that these people want to help more often than they’re welcome to help. To avoid being right but ineffective, here are some pointers to follow, based on the comments above:

  • Start with the humble truth that you don’t know everything and that it’s not your place to preach.
  • Try to discern whether your friend wants guidance or simply the chance to vent.
  • Don’t engage in the topic if the person just wants to complain.
  • Wait for your friend to ask the question before giving the answer.
  • To avoid being confrontational, instead of giving an answer, consider asking questions to encourage your friend to think about his/her situation and motivations.
  • Openly provide the example of your personal experience, sharing both mistakes and triumphs – but only if your friend is receptive.
  • Ask, “Are you open to some advice about that?” before offering it.
  • Let your friend be the one to move the conversation deeper or to cut it off.
  • Be there if and when your friend reaches out to you, but do not enable or “rescue” him/her.
  • Accept the fact there’s nothing you can say or do to stop someone from descending to rock bottom.
  • Only in the case of a really close friend about whom you are very concerned is it wise to initiate the conversation. Even though you might have the best of intentions, recognize that you’re risking your friendship by doing so.

Do you agree with these pointers? Are there any that you would add? Your comments are welcome.


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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • A great list. The key, I believe it to try to evaluate each person and conversation individually and apply the logic in the list. But still, be prepared for the curveball. There have been some recent times where I had no read on the person and where the money conversation was headed, and just nodded in agreement.

    • You are spot on there, Brian. General rules apply for this, but it’s so important to be aware of the subtleties of each unique situation and person. Nodding is a good skill that definitely has it’s place:)

  • That’s a pretty good list. I think most of my friends know I’m a money blogger so they know where to find me for advice if they want some. I actually have had friends…some even friends from the waaaay past reach out to me to say they enjoyed my blog and have changed some of their habits. I think it’s the best I can do.

    • I’m sure you’ve been very happy to hear that – especially about friends from the waaaay past:) And every person who actually tells you no doubt represents several more. That’s a pretty good “best I can do”, Tonya!

  • Thumbs up on this list! I would add that for a lot of people where it’s unclear if they truly intend to change, I ask more questions than I answer to encourage them to think about their situations and motivations. If they really want to change, I think the questions are a good way to avoid being confrontational while still sharing what your thinking might be.

  • I just heard a podcast about listening so people will talk (not specific to money). It was a great reminder about how we come to people sometimes wanting to change or fix them, but no one wants to be changed or fixed. People want to be heard, cared about, and loved. I think that applies here since there’s such an emphasis on discerning whether people are actually seeking input, letting them guide the conversation, and knowing when to stay quiet. It’s tough, though!

    • It definitely applies here! “People want to be heard, cared about, and loved” – very true. And sometimes they want to be supported in their denial – which is where I have trouble. But I believe the way to deal with that is with healthy boundaries – an avoidance of engaging rather than a preachy confrontation. Thanks, Kalie. And yes, it is tough – but I feel like I’m figuring it out:)

  • I had to go back and read Part 1 since you said that people respectfully disagreed with you. Upon reading both parts, I would say they were actually agreeing with you and giving examples.

    • I think the disagreement was with regards to where to draw the line in terms of having money talks. They were pretty unanimous in saying “Don’t initiate those conversations. Wait to be asked.” That’s advice that I will adopt. Thanks Krista:)

      • Ya … we cannot have more skin in the game than the individual who has the issue. If they ask … then give … what they do with the advice/info is on them. If they back away from the relationship it is usually because they don’t want to deal with their issues!

        • Yes, it is on them, but if they choose to ignore what I offer, I will avoid anything remotely in-your-face in responding to it. I’ll just let it go. At the same time, I won’t encourage the person’s sense of victimization or powerlessness. Healthy boundaries are needed in that case – which means I’d be the one backing away – at least in terms of this issue in our friendship. This is new territory for me!

  • A couple of years ago you showed concern for my retirement ~ something about not wanting to see me eating cat food while living in a sad apartment somewhere ~ something like that. Just knowing you cared, and cared enough to broach the subject, meant SO much. Thank you, Dear Ruth. You are a treasure. 🙂 P.S. Superb list indeed! 🙂

    • I remember that, Kay. And I’m glad you know that it was a matter of caring enough to broach the subject. I really am unsure about where the boundaries are in all of this, and it’s nice to know I didn’t overstep with you. Thank you so much for letting me know that 🙂

  • I’m thinking a good solution in many cases could be to ask people if it’s ok that you offer them some thoughts on their finances, and promising to drop it immediately if they say no.

    Even if they would annoyed by that, I think most people would be less bothered by someone asking for permission to give them advice (and then being very respectful of a no), than with someone flat out giving un-asked for advice.

    A potential middle ground where you are speaking up as a concerned friend, but with less risk of hurting the relationship.

    Maria

    • Thank you for your comment, Maria. I agree with you completely that there is never a good time for “flat out giving un-asked for advice”. When I’ve felt conflicted in these conversations, the other person has said something that requires a response from me – and I don’t always know how to answer effectively – without pretending it’s all OK, but without over-stepping. I think it’s a great idea to do as you say! “Are you open to some advice about that?” (Don’t be surprised if I steal that idea and add it to the points I’ve made above:)

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