The M-word: should I open up to friends about my money worries?

It’s hard to face the facts, but we may as well be honest: talking about money? It’s not something we really like to do. Whether it’s bringing up salaries with our colleagues, talking budgets with our partners, or bowing out of expensive nights out with friends, the chances are, we’re more likely to grin and bear it (or to pull a last-minute sickie) than admit we just haven’t got the cash to splash.

Money is one of the greatest sources of anxiety for us here in the UK. 30% of us say it causes us more anxiety than anything else. For 18-34s, that rises to 38%. When given a choice between getting more free time or more money, 62% of us would rather take the cash over having more time to relax and unwind, while a staggering 78% of us prefer to have more money and keep our hours the same rather than working fewer hours each week for the same pay.

Four in five of us experience stress regularly. With over a third of us feeling stressed for a combined 24 hours each week, our biggest cause for concern? Money. Women and students aged 18-24 are the most likely to be stressed by money, with the 35-44s citing money and work as equally stressful.

Despite the figures overwhelmingly pointing to us reaching a breaking point when it comes to our financial worries, relationship charity Relate revealed one in seven of us has hidden our debt from our partners, and over half of us feel ashamed about revealing our money problems.

The thing is, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We shouldn’t feel like the things that cause us stress and anxiety are things to be hidden. By giving in to our fears to open up and discuss what is troubling us, we risk perpetuating the cycle. Through taking that first step to open up, you may be surprised at how many others feel the confidence to share in return.

We share six simple reasons why (and how) you can open up the conversation around the m-word, and start working on your money worries (without missing out on those memory-building moments) with friends.  

Avoidance hurts

In the long run? Being honest is a lot less painful for everyone involved. Being unable to join in on a night out due to financial reasons is not only a completely valid, understandable reason; it’s also a lot less hurtful than a last-minute cancellation. Nobody really believes that late group chat that you’re not feeling well so you’re just going to bow out this time. Calling things off repeatedly, or declining invites with made-up excuses really doesn’t help in the long run. You may risk seeming like you’re avoiding friends, or are purposefully trying to distance yourself from them.

By being frank about your reasons, it shows you feel close enough to trust and be honest with them, and that? That can totally trump the disappointment they may feel about not being able to spend time together. By taking the step to speak up, it can also give others a little boost of confidence to share their own stresses and struggles, and may just help you feel closer as friends than you were before.

Ditch the embarrassment

We all struggle from time to time. We may not like to admit it, but we’ve all been there; an unexpected bill pops up, the car breaks down, your washing machine needs replacing, or a small commitment suddenly comes in over budget at the worst possible time. Things happen.

Being honest when unexpected expenses come up that may impact plans you’ve already made with friends can help alleviate worries that something more serious is going on. That’s not to say money worries aren’t serious, but if you are already feeling stressed, the last thing you need to add to the mix is additional worry from concerned friends who may think you’re avoiding them, or that you’ve had a falling out with another friend.

Being upfront can open the way to making alternative suggestions for cheaper (or free) ways to spend time together. Who needs to spend ££’s on a night out at the cinema, when you could catch-up on Netflix together with some home cooking or a potluck dinner? Being the first one to speak up may seem scary, but sharing can help to strengthen friendship bonds, where our embarrassment and instinct to hide our troubles could strain things.

Worried about starting a conversation around money with a loved one? You’re not the only one. Discover how one couple in their late 20s and early 30s approached talking about the m-word, and try their simple tips for how to start the conversation around money.

Are things really set in stone?

Plans can (almost) always be changed. If you’re thinking about going over-budget to avoid missing out on a great time with your besties, take a moment to consider: are you reeling going to enjoy your night out? Or are you going to spend every moment feeling guilty, counting coins, and dreading how you are going to have to balance the rest of your monthly budget?

Plans can be pushed back or made cheaper. Your friends would probably rather wait another week (or month) to spend time together, rather than finding out you’ve felt pressured to spend money you just don’t have to spare. Give them some credit. If they are real friends, they will have your best interests at heart.

Be a leader

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: being honest opens up the way for others to speak up when they are struggling. It might not be today or this week, but next time they are feeling under pressure, they might just feel a little more ready to talk candidly once you’ve got the ball rolling.

This can apply to more than just financial worries. Perhaps someone isn’t feeling emotionally or mentally up to a night out after a hellish day at work; maybe their new commute has taken it out of them and they could do with unwinding at home rather than hitting the town. We’ve all been in that situation where we hope someone else will pull out first, opening the way for us to cancel too. Being frank can help break that barrier, and may just open your friendship to becoming even closer.

Tackling FOMO

Fear of missing out (FOMO) can have a great impact on our behaviour. From keeping us scrolling for hours on Facebook, to only posting our best possible selves on Instagram, it seems like we’re constantly trying to show our best – and only our best – to the world. When we let our FOMO rule, we risk ignoring our money worries (potentially making things worse in the long run).

The more we ignore our worries, the more likely we are to begin feeling guilty, irresponsible, and secretive. Being honest and facing things head-on now may mean missing out in the short term, but by taking that step back today, you may be in a position where you can say yet to even better times with friends in the future.

Are you in a good place to talk?

We don’t just mean physically. Take a moment to consider – are you in the right place mentally, emotionally, and physically to start the conversation around finances? If your friends open up in return about money worries or debt issues, are you mentally and emotionally prepared to stay calm, discuss things together, and leave any judgements at the door?

It’s OK to feel angry, worried or scared, but if you aren’t ready to talk about the potential ups and downs, it may be beneficial to hold off until you feel ready to talk – and listen. 

We won’t pretend being open about money with friends is easy. How open and frank you feel willing and able to be can vary between friendships, personal histories and relationships with money, as well as group dynamics. The chances are, if you come from a family that didn’t talk much about money (or if those conversations were more like arguments than discussions), you may feel even less comfortable bringing up the subject.

Unfortunately, there’s no real magic solution or ‘right way’ to get started. Wait until the time feels right, or try bringing it up while organising a lower-key get together that fits your budget. If you can’t afford to do something, try to be frank and up-front to avoid feelings getting hurt. As with many things, getting started is the hardest part; once you get in the habit, it will start to feel easier and more natural.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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