We know that talking about debt is hard – most people feel ashamed and guilty about it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When done right, talking about debt is the best way to get past the negative feelings and start exploring and understanding the solutions for managing and getting out of debt.
When it comes to money, you can always learn, grow and heal. It’s a real journey. So, it helps if you can talk about it with supportive friends and family members.
But how do you do that?
In this blog article, we have the privilege of interviewing Chantel Chapman, the CEO of The Trauma of Money, an innovative psychoeducational certification program, dedicated to creating a compassionate approach to financial education. As an expert in the field, Chantel offers unique insights and practical strategies for navigating conversations about debt, particularly when engaging with friends and family. In our conversation with Chantel, we explored valuable tips and techniques for handling sensitive financial discussions, ensuring empathy and understanding, and fostering healthy relationships around money matters.
We asked Chantel four important questions for navigating difficult conversations around money, with friends and family members.
If you know a supportive friend or family member, we recommend asking for consent before sharing and also disclosing what you are seeking out of the conversation first. Are you wanting to be heard and supported emotionally, are you looking for advice or for financial support. For example, you could say, “I'm struggling with my finances, are you open to listening to me?/talking through some of the solutions I'm not sure about?/venting my frustrations?" Letting them know this will lay a foundation for a more open and receptive space for you if they have capacity for the conversation. Once you are clear on what you are looking for in the conversation, it should help you with your approach in bringing up debt.
The most important thing to remember when sharing about debt is that compassion and forgiveness towards yourself are better motivators to get out of debt over shame and blame. Finding empathy for yourself by doing some preliminary work and introspection helps with this type of conversation. You can even share this with your supportive friend or family member as a way to guide the conversation in a helpful direction. “I was feeling depressed about my debt and finances, but I’ve started to focus on the positive things that I am doing, like starting to budget.” Keeping the focus on solutions is really helpful for guiding the conversation. Also, being direct and naming what you are experiencing can create a sense of relief especially if you have been carrying this alone.
It’s extremely important that you feel supported in these conversations, especially with the chosen friend or family member. With the stigma that we unfortunately see around debt at a societal level, creating supportive networks whether it be friends, family or debt recovery professionals is imperative for moving forward with debt recovery.
You should be able to find out who is supportive through general conversation. Listen to how people in your circle discuss current issues around unaffordability (housing, food, gas, interest rates, etc.). Having constructive conversations around these challenges and sharing how you and your friends are handling them will give you a sense of their ability to listen to your personal challenges. Empathetic friends will likely share how they have been affected by affordability.
Another way to find out is to ask them their viewpoint on debt and money management in a more general way and then you could ask them if they have capacity to be supportive emotionally if you do have a conversation around money. “I’m exploring some solutions for dealing with my debt, do you mind if I talked about them with you?” You’ll know based on their reactions if you want to keep the conversation short or if you feel comfortable opening up to them in a more substantial way.
One strategy is to start the conversation with some self-disclosure by sharing about a challenge that you may have had with money or debt. This could open up the space for deeper reciprocal sharing. Or you could simply say something like, “I know it can be taboo to talk about money, but I want you to know that I am available for conversations like that.”
Also, it will be helpful to be prepared to talk about it by understanding what resources and solutions are available. If you suspect your friends is having trouble managing debt, knowing who they can turn to for more formal advice is very reassuring.
There are lots of warning signs that you can look out for. One area is overspending on items like food and feel-good buys. When we are in scarcity, the brain is more likely to act out on temptations and take on a “treat yourself” mentality to soothe the stress and shame of financial distress. Another warning sign is financial avoidance - unopened bills in their home, avoiding phone class, disorganization. If they gamble or are making risky investments thinking they can recover the funds it can be another warning sign.
Parents likely feel shame based on the parent/child dynamic. If you’re the child, emphasize that you want your parent to be open and honest with you. You can empathize with them by talking about the financial challenges that exist in today’s economy.
When you approach this conversation make sure you create a lot of space for the conversation for them to share and you to empathetically listen. They likely need to unburden themselves and talking about it helps to decrease shame and open up a safe space of sharing. Overall make sure you emphasize that you’re there to support and help, not judge.
Again, knowing where to steer the conversation can bring a lot of comfort to an uncomfortable situation. You can have some potential solutions if you know something that can help. Show resources and do some of the homework for them if they struggle to do that on their own.
A good person to know in the debt relief space is the Licensed Insolvency Trustee – most people have never heard of them and don’t know about the types of services they offer. You can speak to them for free and explore all your debt relief options, from budgeting, debt management proposals to consumer proposals and bankruptcy. There’s a lot to know about!