Talk About Money: How to Do It the Right Way

People like to talk about money. That’s because people like money, plain and simple. Or more specifically, they like what money can do.

Many people make bad decisions with their earnings. I am one of them. Maybe you have made some mistakes, too. But either way we often find ourselves in a money conversation, either as the one seeking advice or the one giving it.

Whether or not your advice makes a difference depends on how you talk about money with the people in your life, and whether you are able to find the right balance when you talk about money.

Telling People What to Do with their Money

Some people feel the need to tell others what to do with their money. Some do it openly and without prompting.

This is not a good way to talk about money.

For the record, I’m never going to take you aside and tell you I think you are being irresponsible with your money. But if you take me aside and ask me if you are spending like a fool, I’ll say yes if it’s true.

That’s the difference: if you are asking for the truth, you deserve it. If you are minding your own business, you deserve to be left alone.

If you want to rack up tons of credit card debt and have a boat and a motorcycle, and you work hard and take care of your family, then I don’t mind.

I’ll probably come over and chill on your boat if you ask me.

The people who milk their credit dry often raise a good point: you can’t take it with you. They are probably right. Of course it’s a nice gesture to die with a pile of money to give to your heirs, a last act of superiority after you are in the ground, having your words spoken post-mortem by an attorney in some dark office.

But what harm is there in leaving life with an even balance, nothing owed and nothing left over? At least you can say you lived your paycheck to its fullest. After all, there is no rule that you have to die with money left over, though your retirement advisor is doing his best to convince you otherwise when you talk about money with him.

You may, however, feel there are some ethical issues to dying with debt you knew could never be paid, but that is a discussion for another day.

Some People Can Be Told What to Do with Their Money

When you are in debt, people CAN tell you what to do with your money.

A judge can force you to pay things you owe, or take away your property. In a courtroom under oath is a bad way to talk about money.

While they might not be able to arrest you (though debtors who fail to appear for mandated court hearings can be jailed in some states), a large portion of your paycheck is not within your control.

If you are spending more than you make each month, adding on the credit card debt, you really aren’t making any money. You are just writing IOUs, promises that you will give someone money at some point down the road when you start earning it.

The feeling that you don’t control your paycheck can be a motivator to get out of debt. It is for me. That is what the term “financial freedom” means. Only when you pay off every last dime in debt do you have full control of your money. Every penny that comes in is controlled by you. It can be sent wherever you wish, in multiple directions. Fancy vacations. Precious metals. IRAs and 401ks.

How to Talk About Money with People We Love

Even though it is usually best to mind our own business, sometimes you feel that you can’t go on not having a serious talk about money with the people you love. This can be especially true if they owe you money, or are constantly borrowing and repaying loans. It can also be the case if you see someone you love in a destructive relationship. Maybe a sibling is having marriage problems because of money.

What I said earlier about minding your own business about other people’s money is another rule that can be broken for love. But if you do want to help, be careful how you approach it.

If someone is coming by to borrow $100 yet again, put it in between the last few pages of your favorite personal finance book, maybe the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and tell them they can have it once they read every page. If they need to borrow a large sum, require them to attend some financial counseling and pay for it yourself.

If they chronically owe you money, it is your right to talk about money with them.

If someone in your life is asking for advice, it’s important for you to be honest. As the economy worsens and we become more reactive to price spikes, inflation, plunges, shortages, outages, bubbles, borrowing and deflating, the more dangerous and inevitable debt becomes, and the more intense our feelings about helping the ones we love become.

Who knows? Maybe all debts will be erased one day and those who sacrificed and saved and struggled to pay them off quickly will be the fools.

What if in ten years the government just wrote off everyone’s home mortgages and devalued the US dollar by half? Your friends who lived their life on their credit card would call you up and laugh at you, especially if you had lectured them about their ways. That’d be the way you talk about money coming back to bite you.

But if you care about money and making it by working hard, I still think the goal of work should be debt freedom and retirement, and we can’t live our lives hoping that in the future everything will be okay. That’s what got you in debt in the first place. It is a vote of confidence in the system and yourself.  You should proceed with paying off your debts as fast as possible so that you can dedicate your full arsenal of earnings towards retiring as soon as possible.

That’s why it’s best not to talk about money, just make it and spend it wisely.

But if you only care about living the life of your dreams on borrowed money, and it isn’t causing you stress in your life, I won’t judge you.

In fact, I’ll be upset if you don’t invite me on your boat for some beers.


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  1. In America debt free is the only way to live. It’s something that is really scary if you don’t attack it earlier than later. I am attacking it early and so are you guys…


    • Definitely Jai - I’m someone that doesn’t like to leave items on the checklist for too long. I’d rather get it out of the way sooner than later. Good to see you!

  2. John - great post. One of the most difficult things to deal with as a financial planner is talking about money … the other part of planning is just numbers … When first I meet with a couple I have them play the Money Habitudes game. It gets the conversation going and people are almost always surprised about their money habits.

    • Hey Thomas, sounds like a topic for a guest post! Great to have the perspective of someone who works with people every day on their long term plans. Thanks for reading.

  3. About the only person I talk money with is my wife. Sometimes I get asked for advice, but more often than not I demur.

    • That can be a good strategy. Most money conversations are going to be uncomfortable for one of the people involved. If you know the other party will be hurt, might be best to keep quiet.

  4. Excellent advice and points on this subject. I always find it fascinating how different people approach this topic in different ways. Personally, I have no problem talking about money with whomever. Hence, my blog about money! But then again, I am just an average joe. Money can be a very touchy subject for both those with very little of it or those with a lot.

    • Hey Matt - I agree. People need to hear sane voices that challenge the debt status quo. I like talking about money and helping people figure these things out. Thanks for reading.

  5. I have made the mistake of criticizing my friend of her money management. For the past two years she had frequently been asking me for little loans. At first, it was $20, then $25, then $100. I started making suggestions like don’t move out of our four bedroom and get a one bedroom apartment, don’t this, don’t that. The worst part is that she would borrow money from several friends and then spend on xbox games. I felt like the money I had lend her, I had saved by depriving myself of these fun things. So, I just stopped lending her money and giving her suggestions.

    • It’s a shame when money complicates a relationship. Sounds like you did the right thing.

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