We all have taboos about money that make us uncomfortable discussing certain subjects, like how much we make, what we paid for our house or car, or how our investment portfolio is doing. Although the etiquette around discussing money is changing, many social cues tell us to avoid talking about the ups and downs of our finances in public, or even with trusted family or friends.
If you do decide to open up about your finances, you may feel uncomfortable or unsure about what to say or how to act. In general, remember the golden rule about treating everyone the way you want to be treated, and avoid telling others what to do, even if you’ve found financial success.
Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & Regular podcast as we discuss financial etiquette, and keep reading for some financial rules that can help you maintain peace with friends and family.
We each have our own golden rules that we live by, and these rules are designed to help us keep perspective and remember that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life. When it comes to money, consider the following before starting a conversation that might get heated.
Don’t complain about money.
It can be easy to get caught up in our financial disappointments or setbacks, but complaining about your market returns when your friend is struggling to make ends meet might create resentment between the two of you. Be conscious of other people’s circumstances when speaking about your finances, and don’t be unfeeling to another person’s problems.
If you’re comfortable opening up, that’s great, but others might not be, so it’s best to determine if someone is able and interested in speaking candidly about their finances before starting the conversation.
If you ask a friend to do work for you, pay them.
Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do, even if they’re your friend or relative. While you might feel entitled to this person’s time and energy, remember that they are a professional who needs to make a living, and it’s still work for them, even if you feel you should receive a discount.
Offer to compensate your friend at their regular rate, or, if they’re open to it, explore a barter system that is fair to you both. For example, if you’re a lawyer who needs a business card or logo design, offer to look over your graphic designer best friend’s next few contracts and review them in exchange for design services.
Don’t judge other people’s spending.
Just like judging someone’s actions without knowing the whole story can get you into trouble, it would also be disadvantageous, and a little condescending, to think that you know someone based on their spending habits. Remember that how your friend or family spends their money is their business, and they don’t answer to you.
You can express concern gently and respectfully if you feel like their spending might be causing a problem, but they may say that they don’t want to talk about it. In that case, you need to respect that and move on with the conversation.
Don’t try to guess at other people’s values.
Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and values, especially around money. Your friend or family member may not feel comfortable talking about how they grew up or the messages they received about money from their parents. Unless they’re willing to open up to you, their motives may remain a mystery, which means you may never understand how or why people spend the way they do.
Going out to eat or buying the latest gadget might be a fun and worthwhile experience for you, but your friend might have a scarcity mindset and feels like they need to save every dime. Respect someone’s right to choose how to spend their own money, just like they (hopefully) respect your right to spend yours.
When in doubt, be kind and remember that every person’s values are individual to them, and not everyone wants to look deeper into themselves. Money is often a touchy subject for many of us, and relationships have been lost over perceived resentments around finances. Do your best to keep things in perspective and treat other people with respect and courtesy. Feeling strongly about a situation does not mean that you are right or that your advice or values are more important than the other person’s.
Treat others the way you want to be treated, and keep your eyes on your financial growth.