Talk About Money During the HolidaysDuring the holidays, people who gather with their families tend to stick to fairly safe topics of conversation like sports, movies and the weather. However, a holiday gathering is actually the perfect time to talk about something that’s usually considered taboo in American conversation: money. Money is a fundamental part of our lives, and talking about it with the people who are close to us can yield a deeper understanding of one another, as well as valuable advice. Read on to learn about how you can make finances a topic at the table this year while minimizing your chances of offending someone.

Money talk is less taboo now

A lot of traditional American etiquette, including the rules for talking about money, can be traced back to the values of wealthy aristocrats in Victorian England. In upper-crust Victorian society, talking about money was considered vulgar because wealth was much more visible, so it was easier to tell how well a family was doing by looking at their lifestyle. Additionally, people in those circles had so much money that they didn’t have to worry about it on a day-to-day basis.

Obviously, that’s not a luxury modern individuals have, so now even longstanding etiquette rules, such as not discussing how much money you make, are beginning to break down. Younger generations in America are much more likely to talk about their salaries compared to older generations. With economic issues such as stagnating wages and climbing housing costs on many young people’s minds, talking about money can help them find out whether they’re being underpaid at their job or overcharged for rent.

The right approach

Have a reason: When you broach a financial topic at the holiday table, have a purpose behind it beyond pure curiosity. People are much more likely to engage in a conversation about money if they think they’re helping you and you’re not just being nosy. Having a reason becomes doubly important if you’re asking people for specific figures, such as how much they pay in housing costs or what their car is worth, as these are highly personal questions.

Ask questions: Asking your family for tips on how to budget, save and invest can be a great way to get a discussion going. It can also be a connection point between the younger and older people at the table. Young people who are early in their careers, or just starting to earn money of their own, can learn a lot from the advice of their elders who have been dealing with finances for a number of decades. This is especially true when it comes to building a nest egg, which is something that many people don’t think about until later in life, but that can greatly benefit from early attention.

Keep things vague: In a group setting like a holiday dinner, try to avoid mentioning or asking for specific figures. Instead, keep discussions hypothetical. For instance, instead of asking “how much money did you have in savings at my age?” you can ask “how much money do you think is good to have in savings at my age?” Topics such as saving, investing and credit cards are excellent conversation points because they usually pertain to a broader audience. Fifty dollars means different things to different people, but earning an effective 2% cash back on all purchases with a Citi Double Cash Card (a NextAdvisor advertiser) is appealing to people at every income bracket. If you do want to ask someone a question that involves a specific number, it’s more polite to do that in a private conversation, as opposed to a crowded dinner table.

What to avoid

Bragging: Whether it’s healthy or not, people often tie a lot of their self-worth to the amount of money they have. Using a financial conversation as an opportunity to brag about your salary or how well your stocks have been doing may lower the self-esteem of the people around you or cause others to think that you crave attention, which will make the rest of the holiday event more unpleasant for everybody. This also applies to offering unsolicited advice, which is often not welcome. If you have some piece of advice you’d like to share, save it until someone asks a relevant question or brings up a related topic.

Bringing up debt: About 73% of Americans will die with at least some debt to their name, which means it’s quite likely that someone at your Thanksgiving table is struggling with debt. Considering how carrying debt can feel like being stuck in an endless cycle, to make sure everyone’s spirits stay high, it’s best to just avoid the topic altogether.

Talking about the economy: While the economy can be a great topic, as it starts impersonal but can easily lead to deeper and more intimate discussion, be very careful as it can also lead to the bane of Thanksgiving or holiday tables: political talk. For families with strong political divides, it’s best to minimize any possible risk that the conversation will turn to politics, even if that means steering clear of an otherwise good dialogue starter.

Asking to borrow money: Your close friends and family are great resources if you need to borrow money, and may lend to you for low or no interest rates. However, asking for a loan is an extremely touchy subject with a lot of people, and is best done privately after the holiday festivities. Asking someone for a loan in front of the entire family is probably one of the worst ways you can put that person on the spot, and is highly likely to embarrass them. Additionally, when you ask be prepared for a swift and definite rejection, and have a back-up plan if you really need the money.

Above all of these etiquette tips, remember first and foremost to respect other people’s boundaries. You can talk about money in the most polite way possible, but if the topic is still making the people around you uncomfortable, it’s best to just change the subject and focus on enjoying some the festive foods. For more tips on how to live a financially fulfilling life, read our personal finance blog.

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