How to Talk to Friends & Family Members That Are Bad With Money

5 Comments

We all have that friend or family member (or many) that are terrible with money.

They spend more than they earn, use credit cards with abandon, think only in the context of the monthly payment. They’re going to save for retirement “later,” they don’t have an emergency fund, and they think insurance is for people that aren’t careful. They shop when they’re sad or happy or bored. They buy things they can’t afford because they “deserve” them.

And so on.

We all know this person. We’ve actually all probably been this person at one point or another. So how do we get them to stop their bad behavior and join us in the light of good credit and ample savings?

Well, you can’t.

You can’t save your friend’s money

If you’ve got your finances in order, you know exactly what it takes to do so — and how nice it is not to have to worry about money. So it’s no surprise you want to convey your wisdom to those close to you so they can reap the rewards of good financial management.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually go over well.

Even if your intentions are good, offering unsolicited advice about saving, investing, or debt repayment will probably be met with resistance. People don’t like to be criticized, and money is already a sensitive topic. Because of this, any criticisms of someone’s wayward financial habits will usually cause them to become defensive or dismissive of your well-meaning advice. Once you get someone worked up on defending the reasons of why they spend the way that they do, they’re even less likely to listen to your advice. For this reason, often the best thing you can do when someone is spending themselves into trouble is nothing.

When in doubt, choose subtlety

If you can’t keep yourself from helping, at least make yourself do so in an unobtrusive, subtle way. Instead of lecturing someone about how much interest they’ll pay over the lifetime of their loan if they only make the minimum payment, point them direction solid financial advice so they can discover the error of their choices on their own.

Sending someone the link to a personal finance blog (like this one!) or gifting them a good personal finance book is always preferable to a stern conversation about the financial doom that awaits them if they don’t change their ways. You can’t make someone fix their finances, but you can put the right resources in front of their faces over and over again. Hopefully, they’ll eventually take notice.

You’re only responsible for your finances

Watching someone ruin their credit or compromise a secure retirement is like witness a car crash in slow-motion, but the fact of the matter is, you are not the driver.

You cannot pay someone else’s debt or save for their retirement (well, you can, but it’s usually at the detriment to your own), you can only take care of your money. As much as we hate to see our loved one’s make self-destructive choices, the only financial lives we’re really responsible for are our own, and that’s where we should maintain our focus. I’ve written before how your scarcity mindset can ruin your finances, but it will ruin your finances even faster if you’re doing it for someone else.

Everything you worry about takes from your limited reserves of mental energy, so expending valuable financial resources fretting about someone else’s finances can hurt you as much as spending money carelessly.

Forget what everyone else is doing wrong, and worry only about what you can do right.


5 Comments

  1. I think it’s always best to keep judgment to yourself. Who wants to be told they’re doing something wrong? I think the best thing to do is lead by example and suggest money-friendly alternatives.

  2. Irene

    What if you are someone else’s retirement plan? Your parents have failed to save and expect you to care for them financially in retirement whilst continuing an inflated lifestyle.

  3. Great post 🙂 I always refrain from making judgements, it is clearly the way to go here.

  4. Nolan

    This is an excellent blog post – one that I really needed to see. Thanks, Bridget! I’ve been adjusting my financial performance along the lines of your advice (pay down debt, understand and maximize tax-sheltered investments & don’t be scared of the stock market) and it’s worked well. But all I can do to help a couple of my friends, in particular, to do better is lead by example .. and refer them here .. I can’t do as much for them as I’d like to.