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NerdWallet: Can we talk about money among friends?

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

I know my friends’ joys and anxieties and Hogwarts houses. I can even identify their shoes from under a bathroom stall. (“Is that you, Lindsay?”) They know my family members and preferred pizza toppings.

But we know squat about one another’s finances.

That’s pretty wild, given the enormous role money plays in our lives. That’s like if my buddy had a boyfriend who shaped the way she made decisions and planned her future — and I didn’t even know the guy’s name.

Apparently, we’re not alone. Only 35% of Americans said they had discussed finance-related topics with their friends or peers within the previous six months, according to a 2018 survey by Capital Group, an investment manager.

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Many folks resist the topic because it makes them feel uncomfortable or vulnerable to judgment, says Meghaan Lurtz, senior research associate with Kitces.com, a financial-planning industry website. But friendships tend to survive uncomfortable and vulnerable conversations. In fact, they often come out stronger.

So let’s buck up and get chatting.

Discuss money, even if it feels weird

By discussing money, you’re “investing in the relationship,” says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, author of “Breaking Money Silence” and host of the podcast of the same name. You learn about friends on a deeper level and better understand their behaviors — like why they scrutinize the group dinner bill or sit out a $100 concert.

You may also discover that you share similar goals and challenges. Perhaps you’re both trying to negotiate a raise or silently struggling to come up with a down payment. This is stuff you could navigate together, says Gaby Dunn, who is behind the “Bad With Money” book and podcast. Last year, Dunn told her colleague (and peer) that she wanted to consolidate her student loans. Go figure — her colleague had just done that and happily gave her the scoop.

“The more that we open ourselves in these kinds of conversations, the more we can learn,” Lurtz says.

Maybe you learn from a friend what strategies have helped her get a raise. Maybe a friend learns about a first-time home buyer program from you. Maybe — probably — the more chatting and learning about money you do together, the less weird the topic will feel.

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I’ve started bringing up money with girlfriends and can report zero weirdness. For me, walks and hikes are the best time to discuss just about anything. On our judgment-free strolls and follow-up conversations, we’ve covered homebuying, budgeting and saving for a wedding. It felt good to talk about something on my mind, and I suspect my friends would agree.

How to bring it up

I’m following Lurtz’s lead. Her friends know she’s a “safe person” to talk to about money, she says, “because I talk about my own situation and have made it known that my financial health is something I care about.”

To normalize money talk, bring it up yourself. Here’s how:

  • Check your judgment. This is huge. Enter the discussion “from a place of love,” Dunn says. Respect your friend’s perspective, and remember that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to handle money, Kingsbury says. To that point — no lecturing. As with all sensitive topics, err toward listening over advising.
  • Start with small doses. The goal of early conversations is simply to establish that you’re game to discuss money in the future, Kingsbury says, adding that you can do that in just five minutes. Bail if the conversation gets heated, or your friend seems uncomfortable. Thank your buddy for her time, and ask to follow up later.
  • Keep it breezy. Broach the conversation privately, while you’re both sober, Kingsbury says. And start with a light topic. Maybe you want to track your spending. Does your friend do that, and does she use a particular strategy or app? Or bring up a timely subject, Lurtz says, like how you plan to tackle your taxes this week.

If a face-to-face conversation seems daunting, I get it. Another way I’ve hoisted my “Will Discuss Money” flag is via texts. In my friends’ group thread of dog pictures and dinner plans, I shared an article about how and why women are less likely to discuss money. We texted about how relatable the article was. Then, a friend replied with a message I should get printed and framed:

“But look at us, talking about money! Or starting to … thanks for sending!!”

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Laura McMullen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: lmcmullen@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.