The F-Word: How to Talk Finance at the Holiday Table

Many Americans would rather discuss any other “taboo” topic (like romance, religion or politics) with friends and family if it means avoiding finance.

With the holidays around the corner, you should be prepared to face the f-word. (And your mental and physical health depends on it, according to a recent study from LendingClub.) Whether you’re asking for advice on paying down debt or concerned about the family estate, here are some tips for navigating finance at the holiday table this year with low drama.

Know Your Audience  

If most of the people sitting around your holiday table are accountants (or fellow indebted millennials), it may be perfectly fine to say, “Please pass the gravy and don’t mind my 50k in student loans!”  But, if your family isn’t normally throwing around financial figures, consider sharing personal financial information or thoughts on sensitive issues in smaller groups, or even one on one. The more comfortable family and friends are, the more likely they are to participate in the conversation.

Get The Ball Rolling

Jumping into the conversation isn’t easy, but beginning with an open-ended finance question will ease your audience into the conversation rather than making it feel forced. Try to share personal goals, or communal goals, to make the conversation a team effort.  During the conversation, avoid giving (often unsolicited) finance related advice.  Instead, show friends and family members where to find the right guidance for themselves. Share valuable resources, talk less, listen more and don’t be judgmental. People are less likely to feel defensive if you provide them with tools to make their own smart decisions.

Keep It Civil

There are plenty of topics that families use to jab at each other (i.e., “You’re still single?!”).  Finance doesn’t have to be one of them. But, if you’re sensing a potentially touchy money discussion approaching, the most important thing to remember is to keep a level head.  Unlike strangers, family knows you at your best and your worst.  They’ll be able to catch more than just eye-rolls, glances at other family members, and other body signals. To avoid drama and ensure a productive outcome, monitor your body language and do your best to stay neutral. Worst case scenario, suggest that the conversation continues at a later date, so everyone has time to cool off.

One Conversation At A Time

Financial matters require ongoing discussion. Make progress one conversation at a time, and don’t expect one discussion over turkey and stuffing to be the be-all-and-end-all.  Instead of feeling frustrated due to lack of resolution, be happy that you have planted a seed. If this is the first family finance discussion, it’ll take time to get everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction.  Better still, make a plan to follow up in the near term. Talking about money does get easier with practice. Once you’ve broken through that initial wall, you may find that your family becomes a family that loves to talk about finance. Either way, be proud of yourself for bringing the conversation to the table and maneuvering it like a pro!

Tell your Charlie friends: What’s the most awkward conversation (finance related or otherwise) that you’ve had over a holiday dinner?  How did you handle it?


Also published on Medium.