Breaking the Last Taboo—How to Talk About Money and Debt

5th October 2023
 minute read

Table of contents

Is talking about money the last great taboo? For many of us, the answer is ‘yes’. Even although money worries are one of the biggest causes of tension and arguments in relationships, most couples just don’t talk about the issue enough. The same goes for friends and family—finances don’t seem to be something that we discuss at the dinner table (or anywhere else for that matter).

Interestingly, a 2015 study by University College London found that we are seven times more likely to talk about the number of sexual partners we’ve had than to talk about money. And that’s a real problem, as opening up about your finances is one of the best ways to get support for any  challenges that you might be facing.

And here’s the thing—almost everyone has money worries. Maybe it’s not understanding how your pension works, maybe it’s that your electricity bill keeps going up or that you can’t pay off your credit card. Yet no matter what your specific worry might be, talking about it can help. Because whatever you’re going through, the problem might not seem so big if you can start opening up about it. 

And yet this can be a whole lot easier said than done, especially if you aren’t in the habit of talking about money or were raised in a home where there was a lot of stress or secrecy around the issue. Another block can be having a powerful inner critic who berates you and makes you feel ashamed about your financial situation.

In other words, talking about money can just be really hard for lots of reasons. So here is our simple, three-step guide to opening up about your finances:

1. Be honest with yourself 

We all need help from time to time and there’s no shame in that. It might not always feel like it, but the pain and stress of burying your head in the sand about money worries is always so much worse than facing up to them. Financial problems and debt are a little bit like tea—the longer they brew, the worse they taste. So admitting to yourself that you need to do something differently and need some support around money is a huge step to feeling better about it.

2. Reach out for support

Once you’ve admitted that you need to talk to someone, it’s time to choose who that will be. This could be a friend, family member, therapist, or money advice charity, whatever makes you feel most comfortable. Just make sure that you choose someone trusted, sensible and discreet. And remember, it might feel really hard at first to open up about what you earn and how you spend it. This is especially the case if you’ve found yourself in a tricky financial situation or are dealing with debt. But things will begin to feel easier when you find someone trusted to talk to.

If you’re struggling with the idea of opening up, then writing down what you want to say first can make it feel way less scary and give you a framework to follow. When you’ve done this, make that phone call or start that conversation. You could say something like ‘I’ve been worried about money or paying my credit card bill and wanted to talk it through with you’. Then make sure to tell the person if you want them to start by listening or you want them to jump in with solutions. Then just begin. At first, it might feel a little bit like pulling off a plaster but it will get easier with every word. 

And if you’re really struggling with the idea of talking to someone on the phone or face to face, then text-based therapy could be a good alternative for you. Just don’t feel that you have to deal with everything alone. Don’t forget that issues like anxiety or low mood can isolate you and affect your ability to see things clearly. 

3. Make a habit of talking about money

Once you’ve opened up about your finances for the first time, you don’t necessarily have to stop there. In fact, you might want to form a habit around talking about money, maybe by finding a sympathetic friend or family member who will agree to be a financial accountability partner for you. A good therapist can also play that role for you. And this way, you can avoid issues building up all over again.

So make time to talk about money regularly. Try doing it at the beginning or end of the month when you’ve just been paid, so that you have a better chance of planning things like budgets and bill payments in advance. And make sure to talk about money even when you haven’t got any current worries. For instance, even if you’re feeling flush, your accountability partner or therapist could still encourage you to save for a rainy day, rather than just splurging on a shopping spree.

Set money goals then keep the conversation going about them, including why those goals are important to you and what you’re doing to reach them. Talking about money when things are going well will make it feel so much more normal to talk about it if a problem pops up sometime in the future.

Finally, remember that even when thoughts about money are going around in your head in a repetitive loop, things are rarely as bad as they seem. Making budget plans, getting confidential advice from charities, and working with a therapist on creating a healthier relationship with money can all help a lot. By bringing the big, scary topic of your finances into the light, you might find that everything is much more manageable than you ever imagined. 

Worried about money, debt or compulsive behaviours around spending? Therapy can help a lot. Connect with a world-class Lumo Health therapist today and start unburdening yourself about money.

Breaking the Last Taboo—How to Talk About Money and Debt
Clinical Director
Lumo Health team
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