Dealing with a serious financial problem is often a lonely and stressful time in someone’s life. Research shows that people who suffer with poor financial health also often suffer with mental health issues. Any stigma around debt and mental health problems only makes financial difficulties worse. Many suffer in silence, too ashamed to reach out for help.
Awareness campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk teach us a lot about how to relate to people who are emotionally or psychologically distressed. Simple acts like listening; changing the words we use, and knowing the right questions to ask can make a huge difference in the way someone is feeling.
Indeed, talking helps. It’s why we think a similar conversation about the way we talk about money can benefit those who are struggling financially and emotionally.
How should you talk to someone who isn’t doing well financially? What are the triggers to avoid and the positive words of encouragement you can share that will contribute to someone’s road to recovery?
Here are some tips to help you lay the groundwork for creating a safe space in which your friends and family will feel more comfortable about sharing their financial struggles:
It’s always a good idea to remember that no two financial situations are the same. Being mindful of the way you talk about money will go a long way towards making your friends and family feel comfortable about opening up to you about their financial problems. Are you tempted to complain to your friends and family about how much money you owe on your tax return? About how you can only afford to take one vacation this year and not two? Or that your credit score moved from very good to “just” good this month? Try to be considerate of how this would come across to someone who is dealing with issues more serious than your own.
Oftentimes people will lack empathy for someone’s financial hardship because they believe that their problems are self-inflicted. Certain narratives can sound dismissive of a financial problem: “They chose the wrong career.” “They didn’t try hard enough at school.” “They lack willpower.” A common misperception is that a person’s financial successes are always directly related to their efforts, and that good fortune, demographic factors or other social phenomena have little effect on someone’s financial situation. In fact, more often than not, there are unexpected life events and emergencies, like health problems, medical bills, job loss or loss of a spouse, that are to blame. Moreover, assigning blame or perpetuating generalizations might make someone in your life question your capacity to understand them and their struggles.
When a person is trying to take control of their finances, they are likely already trying to curb unnecessary spending. Do your best to encourage positive steps like mindful spending and a monthly budget. If someone you know is hesitant to spend on an activity or an outing, try to be open and willing to think of less expensive options. Being mindful of the negative effects of financial peer pressure will not only help them stay true to their goals but will also go a long way towards relieving any stress or shame they feel about their financial limitations.
Talking about money isn’t always easy. Pushing your financial advice on someone who might take it badly can make the conversation even more difficult. Instead of directing and telling someone what they should do, model the behaviour you think would help that person. Share your experiences and challenges openly. Share a story of how you were able to resist buying something you didn’t really need. Or share the ups and downs of your debt repayment journey. Trying to overcome money problems is a goal that almost anyone can relate to. For someone who is struggling financially, this can help them feel less isolated.
In any relationship, it never hurts to let someone know that they can talk to you. Make this explicit. Reassuring someone that they don’t have to bottle things up and pretend that everything is fine can be a real comfort, especially if they’re going through a tough time financially. Being patient and empathetic may also help them take the necessary steps towards getting debt help.
Financial problems alone can cause plenty of stress for an individual on top of everyday life. Poor mental or physical health can make financial health even more overwhelming. If your friend or family member is struggling with their finances, you can help them in other areas of their life to ensure their focus can be on their financial problems. You could invite them over for a healthy home-cooked meal and ask them to go on a walk or exercise class together. If they have children, you could offer to babysit or give them hand-me-down clothes. Small acts of service can make a big difference in their life.
Creating a budget is a key step in solving financial problems. If your friend or family member is comfortable sharing their financial situation with you, you could help organize their finances into a budget. Creating a livable budget while still making reductions on spending can be difficult to do alone. Having a second set of eyes and ideas can help them create a more optimal budget than one they would have created individually.
If you have arrived at a place where a friend or family member is able to open up to you about their financial struggles, knowing the resources they can turn to will make their journey a lot less intimidating.
If their employer offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), help them explore this resource. You can also suggest some money management tools and options. Or you can contact the BDO debt professionals in your area for resources and advice on everything from budgeting options to debt solutions.
Do you have a friend or family member struggling to overcome money problems? Consider suggesting a meeting with a BDO Licensed Insolvency Trustee for trustworthy and empathetic advice on all matters related to debt.