Talking Money this Holiday Season

With the fall and winter holiday season rapidly approaching, many are prepping to host their traditional family gatherings in new and creative ways in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the settings may be different this year, and we may be gathering virtually, one thing is unlikely to change: when family and friends gather, uncomfortable topics will come up in conversation. One of those topics is likely money and personal finances. In July of 2019, TD Ameritrade conducted a study that asked participants about their comfort levels discussing certain issues, primarily focusing on money/personal finances. Below are some of takeaways that I found important from the study:

  • Money/Personal Finances ranked higher than religion and politics on the list of items that respondents were least comfortable discussing in social settings. Although this survey was conducted pre-COVID, one can only imagine that the money conversation has become even less comfortable with so many struggling.
  • Respondents were MOST comfortable talking about money topics with their spouse. This is surprisingly good news, as it perhaps indicates that people are more open to having healthy money conversations in their marriage than in the past, when money arguments consistently ranked as one of the top reasons for divorce. There is still a long way to go, but this is an encouraging sign!
  • 63% of millennial respondents said that they wish they could discuss their finances more freely.
  • Boomer and Gen Xers both felt that not investing in a 401(k) was their biggest financial mistake, but millennials view the lack of an emergency fund as their most critical mistake. This perhaps is the result of the different life stages that these age-groups are in, but it is encouraging to see the younger generation focused on financial stability.
  • When asked what emotions they felt when they shared past financial mistakes with others, the top 3 responses from all participants were GUILT, EMBARASSMENT, and REGRET. Over 40% of Gen X and 39% of Boomer respondents felt embarrassment when sharing financial mistakes.


To summarize, people are generally uncomfortable talking about money in social settings, largely due to the fact that they feel guilt, embarrassment and regret when sharing money mistakes. However, half of respondents, and the majority of the younger generation, also agreed that society would be healthier if we talked about money more freely. So, as we are approaching the holidays and potentially gathering with friends and family (either in-person or virtually), how can we approach the money conversation without shaming our loved ones and while avoiding the blowout argument? Here are some suggestions to help keep your money conversations happy and healthy this holiday season:

  • Remember to come from a place of love and mutual respect. The people we choose to gather with for the holidays are, generally, friends and family. These are people that we care about and that care about us. Remember that when you are having conversations about money (and everything else!).
  • Avoid the details, keep it high-level. Rather than talking about specific spending habits or dollar amounts, which can often lead down the rabbit hole of accusatory language and defensiveness, instead talk generally about good money habits and lessons. Providing helpful tips rather than specific criticism can keep the conversation from getting too personal.
  • Tell positive stories, and focus on the long-term. We all know that, especially when you are just starting out your savings journey, progress can be slow. It can be frustrating, particularly when those around you are further ahead. Sharing positive stories about your own experience can help the younger generations put some context around their own journey, and focusing on the long-term benefits can really help put things in perspective. Remember, compound growth is a lot of slow, steady stacking of gains, until one day it starts going a lot faster…
  • Practice, practice, practice! The best way to get better at anything is to practice. If you want to be able to have effective money conversations with your family, but aren’t quite comfortable, practice with someone you are comfortable with first. That could be your spouse, a friend, or even a financial advisor.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if you feel like you can’t do any of the above, like you can’t have conversations about money with your family without it going negative, just don’t do it! Sometimes, pleasant time spent with loved ones is more important than getting your point across (we could all learn that lesson these days). Take a step back and practice until you can have a mature conversation about money, even with your family.
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Information contained herein has been obtained from sources considered reliable, but its accuracy and completeness are not guaranteed. It is not intended as the primary basis for financial planning or investment decisions and should not be construed as advice meeting the particular investment needs of any investor. This material has been prepared for information purposes only and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any security or instrument or to participate in any trading strategy. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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