Talking about the debts you owe is never easy. Regardless of the situation and who it involves, conversations about money are awkward. These conversations, as difficult as they are, are important. To make them easier, it helps to have a plan going into them.
Here’s how to start the conversation, and how to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Put Kindness and Empathy at the Forefront
Approaching a conversation about debts in a kind and empathetic way will help take some of the pressure off. Everyone grows up with different ideas and baggage around money. A conversation where you’re expecting the other person to think about money exactly as you do is not likely to work out the way you hope. Going in with kindness and empathy leaves you open to hearing the other person’s point of view. Leaving you the best chance at coming to a mutual understanding.
Listen and Offer Help Without Judgement
If someone is coming to you in a vulnerable moment of financial insecurity the last thing they need is to be criticized for their spending habits. The best thing you can do in this situation is to listen. Only offer advice if they ask for it and, when you do share advice, offer it without judgement or expectation. If you’re in the position to help, tell them how you can help and be clear about the details of the help you can provide. Help doesn’t have to be financial. It can be recommending a financial advisor you trust or giving them a place to stay for a few weeks until they get back on their feet.
Reach Out and Ask
If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with money issues, it’s okay to reach out and ask if they need help or support in any way. Most of us don’t feel comfortable and are conditioned to avoid talking about money or asking for help. Someone carrying many debts also tends to carry a lot of shame. Many will hide the issue until it can no longer be hidden. If someone you care for appears to be dropping hints about money issues, privately ask them if you can offer any advice, or if they need help or support. They will appreciate not having to be the one to bring it up first.
Share Your Own Debt History
Sharing your own personal debt history is an effective way to lay a solid foundation for a constructive conversation. It creates financial intimacy and trust, so the other person doesn’t feel like they’re the only person who has ever struggled with debt issues. Almost everyone has carried some debt in the past, it’s just rare we talk about it with each other.
If someone is struggling with a spending habit, or unable to hit a savings goal, what they may ask for or need is someone to hold them accountable. This is an easy way to help without enabling them further. Being their accountability partner can mean checking in with them every few days, once a week, or once a month. Set up a timetable that works for both of you. These check-ins are the perfect time to talk about money goals, go over the budget, or discuss spending habits. Having someone checking in on them makes them more likely to stick to the goal.
Don’t Be a Part of the Problem
Often, when people finally come forward to talk about their debts, they might ask to borrow money. While lending money to them might be a band-aid for today, it won’t help them solve their issue. In fact, if they think there will always be someone to bail them out of bad financial situations, they’re more likely to continue to struggle. Learning how to manage money long-term is an invaluable skill that needs to be prioritized. They may benefit more from you sharing great financial literacy resources with them or even teaching them yourself.
Take the Time and Space You Need
If money is creating problems in your relationship, it’s okay to take a step back and clear your mind before jumping into a conversation. Money issues are emotional as much as they are financial, and they deserve compassion and kindness. If you’re upset about something else, it’s not a good time to have these conversations. If you’re stressed about the situation, it’s okay (for the best even) to ask for the time you need to process before sitting down for a conversation.
Use Good Communication Strategies
Positive communication skills are as important in life as financial literacy. When it comes to the topic of money, the better your communication skills are, the smoother the conversation will be. If you struggle in this department, it’s okay to bring in a third party to help ensure the conversation goes in the direction you intend. A financial planner or advisor can be a great objective third party in this situation. If it goes beyond standard money issues and emotions are running high, therapists can also help. They can guide you in developing strong communication skills around a heated subject matter.
Recommend a Debt Relief Program
Another great way to help a friend struggling with numerous debts is to recommend a debt relief program. Often, the stress and shame of unpaid student loans or credit card debt can render someone mentally and emotionally spent. They just don’t have the bandwidth to do the research required to find the help that is available. The simple act of finding these programs and even setting up the call or meeting for them can come as a great relief.
There are a lot of ways to ensure a money conversation goes well if you keep these key factors in mind—empathy and understanding. No one intentionally chooses to rack up bad debt or be careless with money. Talking about debt and money issues will never be completely easy. Following these guidelines can help turn an awkward conversation into a comfortable talk.
Struggling yourself? Reach out to see if one of our debt relief programs is right for you.