Talking Money Over Turkey // Breaking the Family and Money Taboo

Published November 16, 2016   Posted in Having some fun

Hey folks! I am absolutely delighted to bring you another guest post today, this time from the one and only Our Next Life. They are two awesome mountain-dwellers who have taken their financial freedom by storm and have a lot to be thankful for. Today, they are writing about talking money over turkey. Let’s go!
Our Next Life, smilie-style!

Mr. and Ms. Our Next Life

Thanks so much for hosting me, Steve! I’m delighted to be here on Think Save Retire.

Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday. Instead of being about consumerism, like virtually every other holiday, Thanksgiving is about gratitude and family (and pie… lots and lots of pie). Gratitude is something I write about a lot, because approaching life with an attitude of gratefulness is good for us — it’s good for our spirits, and it’s even better for our health.

But family is hugely important to me and Mr. ONL, too. And when you think about money as much as we do — and as much as you probably do too, if you’re reading this — it’s natural to want to find ways to overcome the social taboos around talking money with family. We’ve managed to do it, and have gotten to a place with our relatives where we’re all pretty open with each other about money. That openness is the reason why we bought a rental property for a relative, felt comfortable loaning money to another relative, and convinced the family to do a no-spend Christmas last year. We’re fortunate to be in a position to help folks in the family, but none of that would have been possible if we hadn’t found ways to break those ingrained taboos.

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when families and friends gather. It’s a time to catch up on each other’s lives and celebrate being together. But it’s also a time when there’s a lot of emotions flying. Especially after a brutal election like the one we all just endured, there are going to be some touchy subjects around the table. The last thing you want to do is make money one of those touchy subjects. But given that money is both a major source of stress for many people, and potentially a hugely empowering force, it’s worth breaking down the barriers that stop us from talking about it, because we all have a lot to learn from each other.

Today we’re sharing our best tips for breaking those family and money taboos.


Talking money with family, without hurting feelings

Going into an emotionally-loaded gathering like Thanksgiving, it’s especially important to keep feelings in mind first and foremost. Even if you’re talking about money outside of a family gathering, money is one of those subjects — like politics and religion — where our emotional sides tend to lead the way. So even if you have a whole slew of rational arguments ready to go, remember that it’s not your job to win a debate, it’s your job to be compassionate and loving. None of us wants to be told what to do. We want to be supported. So think about how you can best support your family when you open up the money subject.

Lead with humility — Think about the last time you encountered a know-it-all. Were you inclined to listen to that person, or did you want to roll your eyes and get away? Don’t be the know-it-all at the table, even if you do know a lot about financial principles. We call it personal finance for a reason: because it’s personal. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else, and vice versa. Go into your family gathering knowing that you don’t know everything, and that you certainly don’t know everything about others’ unique situations. Remember that you’ve probably had money struggles at different times, too.

Be an open book, and frame it with feelings — Rather than give advice, strive to share what has worked for you. And open the subject by going there on the money topics. When asked, “How have you been?” it’s a perfect time to respond, “You know, we’ve really made an effort to get our spending under control, and as a result we’ve saved more, and I can’t tell you how much happier we feel.” Putting it in terms of what you’ve done and how that makes you feel will make it much easier for people to ask questions, and that’s when the barriers start to fall. If you sense that you’re in a very different income situation than other family members, you don’t need to share actual numbers, but can still be open about the money principles that are working for you, and especially the positive feelings that you’re bringing into your life.

Don’t judge — When people start asking questions, that’s when you know you’re making progress. But resist the urge to give a lot of advice, and especially resist the urge to judge. Answer their questions openly and honestly, share the places where you’ve struggled, and keep that humility throughout. If they start asking for specific advice, point them to resources you’ve found helpful rather than offering to be their financial planner. And absolutely stay away from declarative statements like “You’ve got to get your debt under control,” or even, “You could retire early, too, if you stopped spending so much.” Any statement that triggers a defensive feeling will make a person less likely to talk to you about money in the future.

Put things in non-financial terms — In addition to sharing how your money choices have improved how you feel, putting things in non-financial terms can help a lot, too. I’m convinced that people love talking about decluttering and minimalism because they let us talk about spending decisions without directly talking about money. Instead of talking about your investing strategy or coming across as sanctimonious about your frugality, perhaps talk about how you’ve made a big effort to figure out what truly adds value to your life, and to stop buying things that only add clutter. Or how you’ve realized that you can cut years off your working life by giving up just a few things like eating out and shopping for trendy clothes.

Be patient — It’s unlikely that you’ll go from never talking about money to total family openness overnight. In our case, it took years to get where we are now as a family, with every year bringing a few more inches of progress. We never would have gotten to the no-spend Christmas if we’d proposed it 10 years ago, but when we suggested it last year, after having had years of sharing our early retirement plans and supporting others through their money decisions, everyone was open to it.

Don’t become the family piggy bank — The flipside of being open about money is that people may feel that they can come to you for actual financial help. Depending on your family dynamics, you may be okay with that, but if you’re not, make sure that you’re not sharing actual numbers, and that when you talk about being able to retire early, you emphasize the sacrifice that’s necessary to do so, and that you will be living frugally to make your money stretch the decades you need it to last. And if people do come to you for financial help, offer to link them to helpful resources rather than actually writing a check. Though we’ve been willing to help a few relatives out, we’ve made clear to them that we’re willing to help because the arrangements are also good investments for us. And with other relatives, we’ve offered to provide moral support but have made clear in the gentlest way possible that no money will change hands. Standing firm on this is important if you don’t want to be fielding requests for the rest of your life.

Good luck breaking down those money taboos this Thanksgiving! If you have found other ways to talk about money with family without hurting feelings, please share them in the comments. 🙂


Our Next Life's LogoMs. ONL blogs about early retirement, happiness and adventure at She and Mr. ONL will be retiring to a life of adventure in 2017! You can also follow along with their journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


48 responses to “Talking Money Over Turkey // Breaking the Family and Money Taboo”

  1. These are great things to keep in mind when broaching such a touchy subject! I would say that we have stayed clear of talking money with relatives, but my older brother could benefit from a little conversation.

    He’s already stated that he’ll be working until he drops dead at his office because he’s putting his kids through private college and never had the chance to save up before hand… He must be tens of thousands of dollars in parental educational loan debt. Not to mention that he hasn’t saved for retirement in years. He’s 55. I’m not sure any advice would be well received coming from his “baby” brother.

    Where to even begin…

    • My older brother is the same way Jon! He’s 53 and still has two kids to put through college. I think he was an original “YOLO” promoter and he always has let my brother and I know that (we’re both pretty frugal and financially independent, as our parents are too)…. He’s just wired different. I like the point Ms. ONL makes about not judging. That’s hard to do at times – but offering resources when they start asking questions, rather than acting as the “expert” might work great (especially at first!) Great ideas!

      • Yes, I completely endorse that approach! Don’t try to become anyone’s financial planner, but DO share books and blogs that you trust. I’ve lent out YMOYL more times than I can count. 🙂

    • I’d strongly recommend you don’t give actual advice, because that’s rarely received well by anyone, and certainly not someone who has a lot of money anxiety like your brother probably does. Instead, maybe you could just talk about your own situation when asked and share how surprised you’ve been at how quickly you can actually save when you cut out the stuff that doesn’t add to your happiness. Maybe that will inspire him to rethink his situation.

  2. Good advice. I think the most important thing is to not come off as if you’re telling them what to do. People don’t want to be told their way of doing something is wrong. Especially if you’re the one bringing it up, and thus they didn’t ask for your advice in the first place.

    Also, know the person your talking to. Are they direct or indirect in their communication style. Knowing this will better help you frame your message so they hear the point you’re trying to get across. You can’t control how someone hears your message, but you can control the way you present it to them.

    • Agree 100%. No one wants to be told what to do, or to feel judged. That’s why we just talk about what we’re doing but mostly focus on how it all makes it feel. And we find that those happy vibes are contagious, because that seems to drive the questions… and then we’re happy to answer, but without giving actual advice! 😉

  3. Really practical tips! I agree that keeping it humble and non-judgmental is huge. I’d say don’t directly give advice unless someone directly asks for it, and even then, watch your tone and try to read the underlying message. Do they really want practical tips or are they expressing frustration or other emotions about their situation? Your point about framing your experience in terms of feelings/how it’s affecting you is another great idea.

    • Totally agree with you about not giving advice! It’s hard to sit on our hands sometimes, but we try hard to live by that rule. We share what’s working for us, and offer resources we trust if people ask, but leave it at that. It’s so hard to avoid coming across as judgmental if you start offering advice!

  4. While these are certainly great advice for how to have these discussions I personally make it a point of not going there with family unless asked. Too often folks just want someone to listen to them complain rather then any sort of advice.

    • I think avoiding giving advice will always serve you well! But you never know when you might inspire someone to have their money epiphany. It’s worth sharing what you’re doing, without judging anyone else or giving advice, and then leave it at that and see if anyone comes back later with questions.

  5. Chuck says:

    Very timely post as it’s one of the conversations that I’ve been trying to start with my brother. If I can just nudge him in the direction of the right reading material and get him to put together a plan, I think it will do wonders. He’s not in bad shape, he’s just sort of winging it.

    Thanks for the pointers!

  6. Kate says:

    Our family uses humor a lot. Keeps things light but you can still be honest.

    We also stopped exchanging Christmas gifts last year and it was so nice to be able to enjoy the day together without that formality. I was the one who suggested it and our parents said that they were just waiting for us to decide it was time to stop. It pays to speak up!

    • Having a new generation of kids can also help the gift-a-palooza. It was ridiculous that all the adults were buying big presents for each other, but now that there are little ones we only buy for those under 18. It’s so much more fun watching them open presents than opening something myself that I don’t want or need and then have to find a way to quietly donate without hurting anyone’s feelings.

      • Absolutely true! I don’t think we could have gotten much traction on the no-spend idea back when it was only the adults. But people saw that things got a little out of hand once there were grandkids, which helped make the case.

    • How fantastic that you got to a no-spend Christmas, and that you were the one to suggest it! And I wholeheartedly agree that using humor makes things a lot lighter and easier to talk about!

  7. ExploreMountainsOnSkiFoot&Bike says:

    I think this is a really important topic. It is expected that personal finance be taught in the home and not in schools. As a result, we need to ensure that basic money principles are taught to our children and adults need to continue the financial dialog throughout life. The truth is that the more ignorant an individual is about money, the easier they are to fall into traps (whether initial or not).

    I have decided to talk about money with friends, family and coworkers. I have benefited tremendously from the concepts, ideas and advice provided by FIRE community, and that sharing the word is how I am contributing to the community. Additionally, I learn a lot just by asking an open ended question and listening.

    I agree it takes time. It has taken a couple of years for my brother and I to be comfortable discussing financial specifics (e.g. debt) (I am so excited for him because he is so close to being student debt free). Through discussions with my parents, I have learned how they are funding their retirement, which was a learning opportunity for me and reassuring (because they are in a financial solid position).

    I have shared information by loaning books (The Simple Path to Wealth) and emailed links to resources I have found useful. I often then followup with them weeks later.

    Another way I have found to be helpful is to celebrate their successes. This does not have to a material gift, but can be just recognizing it. Obvious examples include paid of loans, maxing out IRA, etc. Other smaller victories is having an emergency fund and getting beyond the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck. When my sister in law and her husband paid off their house in 2 years, I sent a very complimentary email and congratulated them when I saw them in person next. It was a huge goal that they accomplished, and something that should be celebrated.

    Great subject with good timing.

    • It’s awesome that you’re such a supportive friend and relative! I’m sure people have appreciated big time that you’ve helped them celebrate their financial milestones — that’s not something that our society tends to do. Keep lending out those resources and offering those high fives!

  8. Two of my favorite bloggers in the world, ONL and TSR, together. It’s a beautiful thing. Nice tips for the holidays, will certainly apply a few of them in my own life! Thx for sharing thoughts on this sensitive topic, we can all learn from The Big Dog’s success!

  9. Great advice, ONL.

    My family never discussed money growing up. And as such, I developed an unhealthy relationship with money. I was never comfortable spending money and felt guilty when I did.

    My parents owned their own businesses so there were times when things went well and other times when money was tight. We alternated between “we can’t afford that” and when the money came in, we tended to over spend as we felt deprived. For instance, my father bought two new cars the same day.

    I have taken a different approach with my family and seek out opportunities to discuss financial matters and how they impact us.

    Good advice.

    • Oh man, that sounds like a rough start on the money front! That makes it even more impressive what you’re doing now! Obviously there are some families where money topics are extra sensitive, but that sounds like all the more reason to talk about things in terms of happiness instead of money directly.

  10. I’ve never been a fan of Thanksgiving myself; I think it’s because I just don’t like traditional Thanksgiving food! But anyhoo, I do think there’s a consumer-driven message behind Thanksgiving: buy food, buy food, buy food. I’ve personally spent $200 on Thanksgiving one year for a small crowd, so it can get pretty spendy.

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve been open with my family about our money-saving plans, but I get the feeling they assume it’s all lip service. Instead of trying to “convince” them, I’m just going to live out my plan to completion. 🙂 It’s a shame that they don’t believe me when I say I could retire by 35, but oh well. I’ll just continue on my merry, frugal way. 🙂

    • You don’t like Thanksgiving food?!?!?!?!?! Haha. And even if your family doesn’t believe you now, they’ll sure have to when you retire in a few years! I’d put money down you get more questions then, if not sooner. 😉

  11. TJ says:

    I LOVE that I got a double dose of ONL thoughts today! I don’t talk money with extended family. I’ll talk with my sister or my parents individually, but that’s about it.

  12. I’ve found that these conversations always go well if the other person brings the topic up. I’m studying to be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and that’s lead to my family asking for lots and lots of advice, which I’m always happy to give.

    On the other hand, I tried to broach the subject with one of my longest friends and it didn’t go well. He has been evicted from every apartment he’s had for the last 10+ years because he didn’t pay his rent. He’s 40 years old and has a negative net worth. He has no savings and other than a really crapy car he doesn’t own anything. Whenever I bring up anything financial related (savings rates, investments, etc.) he just completely shuts down. One part of me says I should stop bothering trying to engage with him, but on the other hand it’s just so hard to see him struggle and see his happiness obviously affected as a result.

    I liked the advice to lead with humility. I’ll try that tactic the next time I see my friend.

    • It’s so tough when you have a specific relative or friend who’s in an especially bad way with money. I think you just have to stop trying to be helpful on the money front with that friend, and just be there for him in as many other ways as you can. As you well know, there’s a ton of shame that comes with having your finances in disarray and I’m sure he’s feeling that in a big way, even if he doesn’t express it.

  13. My family were really open where it came to money, whereas it’s my friends that I struggle to talk about money with. You have to judge the best approach for the friend, but I find that letting people know about something I’ve found or learned that has come from another source or website works well because it feels less like personal advice from you to them.

    • That’s a great approach! No one wants to feel judged or be told what to do, and having someone give you advice feels like both. And coming from a friend, it’s almost worse, because that feels like the worst judgment! So I think it’s great you’re focusing more on sharing what you’ve learned and what’s working for you and leaving it at that.

  14. Mr. PIE says:

    Patience and good judgement are critical in any endeavor to discuss PF with family or friends.

    If someone does not open the conversation on the subject, I would be very hesitant to open it up for discussion in such a setting. And I think it has to be tailored very differently depending on the family member. For example, I took a VERY different tactic with my father and brother based on what I knew worked for them. The open table of a family dinner / gathering would have been a yuuge disaster.

    Once any information is shared then best to let it sit for a while and perhaps ask a few weeks later if they have any questions. Here patience is the key and being very cognizant not to force further discussions. Being kind and considerate of their feelings, even if you don’t understand them, will always play out welll.

    At the end of the day, irrespective of feedback, it is y(our) next life, not their’s!!😉

    • Oh my gosh, please don’t put “yuuuggge” in the vernacular just yet. 😉 Hahaha. We’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how many people have ended up coming back to us with questions later, including extended family members we NEVER expected to take an interest — but then we NEVER offer advice or even ask if anyone has questions. We just gently share what we’re doing and how much better we feel for it. Apparently the good vibes themselves are contagious, because very often relatives come back to ask for more info. And then we never give direct advice, but offer to lend books, recommend blogs, etc.

  15. Miss Mazuma says:

    Great point to mention that you told the relatives you’ve helped that it helps you as well. Its sets the terms up as a business arrangement and one they shouldn’t feel bad about as if they were a charity case. A win win for all.

    I won’t be the one to bring up money at our gatherings (unless to distract from politics). But should it come up, my family is full of the “I’ll never be able to afford to retire” type…and some are right the way they spend!! It is so hard to bite my tongue but, like all good addicts to consumerism, they won’t be ready to listen until their walls of stuff cave in on them. I still keep keen to any level of quiver in their voice that lets me know I have a chance to make a difference. In the mean time, I am working on the younger generation to give them a solid understanding of finances….I love that at 38 I am still at the kids table!!

    • Haha — Yeah, we’ve not only made it clear that it was a business arrangement, we’ve also vetted aspects of their finances like a bank would. (Okay, how heartless do I sound now??) 😉 But part of that is that our immediate families are all awesome humans who would never just ask for a hand-out, so doing that also made them feel better, like it was a win-win instead of a charity case, as you said.

      As for the “I’ll never be able to retire” types, you never know when you might inspire them to have their epiphany… it’s never too late! So keep at least throwing little nuggets of what you’re doing out there, even if you don’t expect anyone to bite.

  16. Mrs. Grumby says:

    Thank you for this post. It’s very helpful! I love the recommendation, “it’s not your job to win a debate, it’s your job to be compassionate and loving”. This will be our first Thanksgiving with family since we started our blog and there are sure to be some interesting conversations as people ask questions about what it is exactly that we’re doing – and why. As we’ve put our opinions out there for the world to see, I’ll remember that listening with an open mind is key to receiving feedback and to being able to help people. I also love the idea of “putting things in non-financial terms”. If we talk about minimizing and frugality as a means to achieve greater happiness and freedom, conversations will likely be friendly and inspiring.

    • I’m a HUGE fan of putting things in happiness terms. I’d love to know how your conversations next week turn out! And I think if you just talk about what you’re doing and avoid giving advice or coming across as preachy, people will most likely be very interested in what you’re doing!

  17. Mr. SSC says:

    Nice tips and ways to frame the discussion. At work, I do the “When I was in a lot of debt and spending like crazy, blah, blah, blah helped me out.” Or start with, “It’s nice you’re interested in this stuff now, it took me about 10 more years than you to realize how important it can be.” By starting off in a non-judgy or preachy mode I’ve gotten a lot of people to lsiten.

    When it comes to family, I’m thankful I am only hanging out with Mrs. SSC’s family. Mine is mostly a nightmare, and definitely of the “I’ll never be able to afford to retire” crowd. Although like MIss Mazuma’s family, the way they spend and what they put their financial priorities towards, I can understand why. 🙂 Even trying to suggest tracking spending to see where they could find some places to shift money from spending into saving fell on deaf ears. C’est la vie!

    • I totally agree with you! I think it’s always powerfully disarming to lead with your own weakness and humility. I talk a lot about when I was in credit card debt, or when we threw money down the drain, and that does seem to put the conversation in a very different frame.

      And yeah, there might not be much or anything you can do to fix people’s money views if they think they’ll never be able to retire… but you also never know. People can have their money epiphany anytime, and by at least sharing hints of your story, you might inspire them unexpectedly.

  18. Thanks for the really great tips! I think one other thing to be mentioned is that a lot of people tend to drink alcohol on Thanksgiving, which could go one of two ways. People might be more relaxed and open once they’ve had a drink or two – which could be good. Or, they could be in their own little world, go on tangents, take offense more quickly, and not give much thought to what you have to say.

    Thanksgiving does seem like the perfect time to discuss a no-gift Christmas. I will probably try to start that conversation this year.

    • Good point, Harmony! Drinking brings in a whole different dimension, or maybe many dimensions! Maybe hold off on the money convos over dinner if that’s the case. 🙂 Strangely enough, we’ve found that the best money chats have happened over football before the meal, not the meal itself!

  19. I’m loving all the recent blog mashups and a Steve ONL mashup is ab-fab! On family and finances… my dad and I have always been the PF geeks. My mom yells: “Numbers!” and runs out of the room. My sister is naturally like my mom but is the one that does the finances in the family, so she calls dad and/or I frequently… so talking money with my family is easy for me. On Mr. T’s side, the story is different. His dad is our accountant, so I ask him opinions every once in awhile. The problem is, his opinions are very politically charged (and we oppose politically), so I try to avoid arguments there. Also, I am the PF geek between Mr. T and I (obviously). So it always make me laugh/cringe every year when I email all of our tax stuff over to his dad and then I get no response. Eventually Mr. T will say: “Oh, my dad emailed me our tax return.” Maybe it’s his passive aggressive disappointment that Mr. T showed no interest in becoming an accountant as well. (I’m going to believe that rather than some sexist/political statement against me.) Oi!

    • Yay blogger mashups! And we’ll have one of our own very soon. 🙂 All of that gender stuff in PF is still so crazy to me. Even though I’m the primary mortgage holder on our rental property, most of the time when we get calls from whomever about it (mostly other mortgage companies trying to get us to refi), they ask for Mr. ONL. Or even my bank, which I’ve been banking with for 20 years, well before getting married, will ask if I need to run things by my husband. :::shaking head::: But let’s just assume in your FiL’s case it’s passive aggression over Mr. T’s rejection of accounting. 😉

  20. Mrs. BITA says:

    “it’s not your job to win a debate, it’s your job to be compassionate and loving”

    Well said. And really this is the hardest part for me to remember and actually implement. It is very easy to let it become all about winning, even when you know that doesn’t make anyone feel better.

    We are very open with my side of the family about money. My parents and sibling know about our plans and are interested and supportive. I’ve even managed to influence my parents spending habits just a little. They love to spend on other people, they are generous to a fault. The last time they were visiting us I gently suggested a few times that Toddler BITA did not actually need two suitcases full of new clothes. I was so surprised and pleased when they actually showed up with just five tops for her. And my mother admitted that it was pleasant to be traveling light and not lugging heavy suitcases, and worrying about hitting up against baggage limits. Very satisfying.

    Mr. BITA’s parents don’t talk about money at all. They are good with their finances though – their house is fully paid off and they helped pay for Mr. BITA’s ivy league education and refused to accept any payment in return. They don’t carry credit card debt. They are good at saving, but don’t ‘believe’ in the stock market or investing in anything other than CDs. As a result they are still working. Mr. BITA’s father’s knees are giving him trouble (he does a lot of physical labour still) and I would love for him to be able to slow down a little. They are visiting this Thanksgiving, so maybe we can try and gently broach the subject and see where it goes.

    • What a gift that you have parents on one side who are financially in great shape, and on the other side you can be open and talk about these things! Sure, more openness across the board would be nice, but given how much a lot of people have to worry about supporting their aging parents one day, you must get so much peace of mind knowing you don’t have to do that!

  21. Thanks so much for having me, Steve! It was super fun. And always good to encourage healthy money chats in those sticky family situations. 😉 Hope you and Courtney and your families have an awesome Thanksgiving!

  22. […] Ms. Our Next Life penned a guest post on Think Save Retire about breaking the social taboo of discussing money with family. She offered tips for making conversation without hurting feelings and without being judgmental. […]

  23. You say so many important things here, especially abut arguing a point. Whether it is money or politics or whatever, this is something that has been lost. The ability to argue a point respectfully and to listen to others. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. I understand the passion people have for what they believe in, but living in a society where we now only yell at each other has gotten us to a very frightening, dangerous place.

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