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Whether you are visiting with family you haven’t seen in months (or years), or you are at a networking event with strangers, your job and money may become a topic of conversation. While most people know talking about money isn’t polite, the questions still come up. Here are some common money conversation topics and a few tips for how to handle them.

9 dos and don’ts when talking about money

While talking about money may seem like an off-limits conversation it is OK to have money conversations if you are doing it respectfully and with empathy. Remember, everyone’s financial situation (and knowledge) is different and that’s OK. Here are a few dos and don’ts to help guide your conversations.

  1. DO ask questions about something you’re not sure about. Whether it’s 401(k)s or cryptocurrency, if your friends or family members are talking about something that you don’t fully understand, it’s OK to ask someone to break it down for you. It’s a smart and healthy way to learn more about a certain topic (and of course you can do more research after the conversation is over).
  2. DON’T answer questions you’re not comfortable with. Things like how much you make, how you afford INSERT THING, etc. can be left unanswered. Rather than simply walking away or changing the subject, be sure to politely explain that you’re not going to be discussing certain topics, so the same question doesn’t continue to come up. Remember, you don’t owe anyone a reason why you don’t want to talk about something, and you can’t control how they’ll react either.
  3. DO cheer for your friends. Celebrate your loved one’s wins by congratulating them on their new job, raise, etc. Don’t make it about you and complain about how you never get raises, aren’t appreciated, etc. This is their time to shine, so be sure to acknowledge their accomplishment(s).
  4. DON’T feel obligated to do something you can’t afford. If your friends or family members are planning something that you can’t afford, thank them for including you and let them know you won’t be participating this time. Do have recommendations for more budget-friendly activities if they are open to alternatives.
  5. DO keep your opinions of others’ spending habits to yourself. It’s their money, they can do what they want with it. Let’s repeat that in a slightly different way: it’s not your money, therefore it’s not up to you to decide how they spend it. While it may seem like someone is making questionable money decisions (like living outside their means), it’s not up to you to decide what is right or wrong for them.
  6. DO speak up if you think someone has fallen for a scam. If you hear details that don’t seem quite right, it’s OK to suggest that they look up their “good deal” with the Better Business Bureau or FTC to make sure a fraudster isn’t getting their money, or consult their financial to get guidance.
  7. DON’T take everyone’s advice at face value. While everyone has their own experiences and ideas to share, it doesn’t mean all the financial advice you hear is good advice. Respectfully listen and thank people for sharing their ideas, but then be sure to look it up on your own to make sure what they are suggesting includes sound financial tips. It’s OK to tell someone who is very insistent that you follow their advice that you need a little time to think about it before making a decision.
  8. DON’T make decisions based on your FOMO. It can be easy to fall into the jealousy trap or be envious of what others have or are talking about doing, such as buying new cars, going on luxurious vacations, etc. Keep in mind that what people share at various gatherings and on social media isn’t the whole story—it’s typically a highlight reel and everyone’s will be different. If you hear about everyone’s big plans for tropical vacations and quickly book a vacation of your own on your credit card, you will likely be missing out on deals (not to mention incurring interest charges) by acting too quickly. Take time to plan it out and save up so you can enjoy your vacation and not spend time worrying about how much it costs.
  9. DO be honest. It can be easy to pretend that everything is smooth sailing, and while you don’t have to divulge all the details, it is important to be truthful. You’re not a failure simply because you don’t have everything all figured out or your finances in order—it’s OK to be open about your challenges. Odds are high that others are also figuring things out and will appreciate the breath of fresh air you bring with your honesty.

Looking for more money etiquette tips? Check out our other money etiquette blog posts for other helpful tips.