The M-word: families, financial worries, and the festive season

For the most part, our families all want us to be successful. Chances are, when you landed your first job, your parents couldn’t have been more proud. Things can get awkward when you start looking a little closer at your finances and realise you are earning more than your parents or siblings.

You don’t want to seem like you’re being competitive, showing off, or putting anyone down, but neither do you want to feel like you have to hide how you are doing. Perhaps your interests took you towards a higher paying industry, while your brother or sister went for a career that is immensely satisfying and fulfilling but not as well paid, such as teaching, nursing, or freelancing.

Differing salaries and budgets don’t have to make a huge impact year-round, but one of the times of year we are most likely to notice it or feel the strain can be around birthdays, Christmas, and other gift-giving or gathering holidays.

Worried about your finances, but unsure if you should open up to friends? We share six things you should consider before talking about money with close friends.  

W, 31, found the holidays became much more stressful and a cause for potential embarrassment since his career in the tech industry began to take off. He shares his tips for tackling the holidays with different budgets, setting limits for gifts, and avoiding overspending:

“When I was in my mid-20s, I’d just moved onto my second job since graduating. I’d started doing fairly well at work, was moving up the career ladder. I’d already managed to pay off most of my student debts and car loan, and I really wanted to do something special for my parents and brothers for Christmas.

“Turns out, I really misjudged it and ended up spending more than our parents had. While I didn’t mind – I love the funny, small bits my Mum always manages to find us – I could tell it really bothered my parents. They weren’t comfortable that I’d spent more on their gift (and both of my brothers) than they had.

“That was a bit of an awkward Christmas. Now, we’ve worked out a bit more of a system we can use each year. Each November, we try to set a maximum budget per person so no-one feels pressured to spend more than they can afford, and no-one feels embarrassed if they get something that’s a bit more expensive than they spent.

Now my youngest brother is about to become a dad, we’re thinking of switching to just getting the kids gifts instead to take the pressure off even further, or doing a bit more of a family secret Santa among the adults.”

Can having very different salaries impact your relationship? One couple shares their experience, and we outline five things you should keep in mind before talking money with your partner.

E, 26, finds the lead-up to the holidays to be extremely stressful due to family budgeting and money lending. She shares her tips for setting boundaries, helping your family, and looking after your own finances first:

“My Mum’s always been there for me when I need her. Whether it’s as emotional support or helping me move back home after my first big break-up, she’s been the one I call first with news – good or bad.

“Now I’m a bit more established in my career, I’ve moved out, started planning my wedding, and we’re tentatively planning for where we’d like to live a couple of years down the line. I wouldn’t say I’ve got money to spare, but it’s a lot more comfortable than it was growing up with a single working mum trying to support us without any other financial help.

“While Mum’s always kept us afloat, she’s never exactly been good with money. You’re feeling sad? Let’s go shopping. Had a bad day? I bought you a little gift. Good grade? Let’s go out. It’s just how she’s always been, and it’s something I’ve picked up from her over the years.

“I’d do anything for her, so when she started asking to borrow money here and there, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. She paid me back each time like clockwork, but before I knew it, she was borrowing more and more each month. The more frequent it became, the more I started to judge her spending habits. I hated that I was doing it, but it felt like I couldn’t help myself. If she really needed to borrow £50 here or £100 there, why was she buying a new outfit,  new shoes, or going out to lunch when she’d just said she needed cash for bills?

“I started feeling embarrassed to ask her out for lunch or coffee with us, as things were always too tight for her to pay her own way, much less take it in turns like my partner, his parents and I do. In the run-up to the holidays, things just started feeling impossible. I’d already fallen behind on saving for our wedding, and my own gift budget was completely messed up from lending Mum more than I’d expected her to ask for to help with a last-minute car emergency. I didn’t know what to do.

“In the end, my partner could see how much stress and anxiety it was causing me. He sat me down, and reminded me I could ask what she needed the money for, I could say no, or I could try breaking the borrow-repay-borrow cycle we had fallen into by making a small gift to her, rather than her paying it back. We are lucky enough to be in a position where we could do this, but I didn’t want to offend anyone.

“It was awkward at first, but it took the pressure off, and let me get back to enjoying time with Mum without resenting her updates on Facebook and Snapchat. I’m still trying to accept that she’s never going to be great at managing her own money, no matter how many articles I try and slip her, or candid conversations we have about it. She just isn’t ready to make significant changes to how she manages her money. It’s tough, but I have to remember it’s not my job to make things better for her or to be the parent. All I can do is be there if she needs to talk.”

Talking about money and debt can be a stressful time; it’s no wonder over 70% of us spend time worrying about our finances. We’ve put together some tips on how to make talking money with your partner less stressful.

If you are worried about talking money with your family, or any potential spending stresses over the holidays, we’ve got a few simple tips and reminders to help you feel more grounded, confident, and in charge.

Ditch the shame

No matter what you earn, there’s never a reason to feel ashamed. Our salaries aren’t a sign of success or worth. No-one would argue how hard a teacher or nurse works, yet it’s clearly not reflected in their earnings. That isn’t to say a high-paying job is easy or less fulfilling. It can be tough but remember: you can’t directly judge the time, effort, stress, or worth of one job against another. Avoid getting stuck in a comparison trap.

Presence, not presents

Spending time with family and loves ones doesn’t need to be all about going out, spending money, and having an extravagant get-together. If travel is a bit too expensive for some of the family, see if you can carpool to have a get-together, or take the gathering closer to them.

Family meals at home can be more engaging and meaningful than expensive meals out, as you can spend time cooking together in a relaxed atmosphere without time-pressures to leave (or spend more than you are comfortable with on just one more drink, a round for the table, or a dessert you didn’t really want). Spending time together, not money on each other, is what really matters. Focus on being present with your family – not on buying expensive presents that will be forgotten on boxing day.

Challenge yourself

Whether overspending is your downfall or money is a little tight, setting a limit (and sticking to it) can be a fun challenge. Have a candid conversation together in-person, or suggest over the family group chat that you try something a little different this year. Set a smaller budget per person’s gift, try couple-gifting, or do a family secret Santa to keep costs down. If you’ve got a lot of nieces, nephews, cousins, kids, or grandchildren, suggest only buying for the younger generation. This can help keep spending in check whilst upsetting fewer relatives.

Money doesn’t solve everything

When you know things are tight for someone you love, it can be so tempting to just offer to pay for everything. Try to remember that money can’t fix everything. Try putting yourself in their shoes: would you feel comfortable if they offered to pay for something, or assumed you couldn’t afford it? Or would it be a relief that they offered a helping hand? It differs from person to person. Try talking things over if you can. Even if feelings are a little hurt or things don’t go quite as smoothly as you had hoped, as long as they know you have good intentions, that’s what really matters.

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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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