By Holly Perez
Being financially literate, or understanding all aspects of your financial life, is crucial to becoming confident about money. But often, we’re too embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk about money openly.
According to a 2013 Wells Fargo survey of over 1,000 adults, 44 percent of respondents said “personal finances” is the hardest topic to discuss with others, followed by “death” at 38 percent and “politics” at 35 percent.
Money topics such as debt, student loans, salary, credit scores and even saving for the future can cause paralyzing anxiety. A 2014 National Foundation for Credit Counseling study on financial literacy showed that only 2 in 5 adults believe that, if their money could talk, it would say. “We’ve been a successful team.”
So to help improve your relationship with your money, we’ve raised 10 potentially embarrassing money topics and offered some suggestions to tackle them with confidence.
1. Spending well above your means. Though keeping up with the Joneses feels like a problem we should have grown out of in high school, we are all guilty of this from time to time. Insisting on paying for dinner out with that friend who makes twice what you do so that you can impress her is just not worth the strain on your finances. It’s OK to be honest with yourself and others when making plans, and push for activities that will fit your budget instead of racking up debt or running through your whole food budget in one meal.
2. Debt because of overspending. We’re looking at you topic No. 1. Getting into debt is easy. Digging out of debt is hard. It can feel even worse if it’s due to lavish spending habits or poor budgeting. Personal finance apps can help show you the big picture of where you are financially, so you can stay in control of your finances and feel good about the purchases you make (within your means, of course).
3. Debt because of bad advice. If you’re seeking financial advice, start with trusted and reliable sources. While friends and family are great and can hold you accountable to your money goals, organizations such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Consumer Credit Counseling Service can give you that extra professional support you need.
4. Loaning money to friends and family. You’ve heard the saying money and family don’t mix, but they can (with caution). Check out these four simple steps to follow if you are considering loaning money.
5. Credit card(ssss). You don’t need more than two credit cards to help build credit and to use on a consistent basis. More than that, and you can actually damage the credit reputation you’ve built. Avoid the tempting discount offers from store credit cards. Their interest rates can skyrocket and only increase your debt.
6. A weak credit score. A low credit score can put a damper on more than you think. It can be difficult to obtain insurance, apply for a car loan or even rent an apartment. If you have loaded up on credit cards and have a habit of overspending and paying bills late, you may find your score is low. But knowing your credit score, and working to improve it, is what financial literacy is all about. So while it may take some time to boost that low score, diligently paying down debt will slowly raise your score and open new doors to you.
7. The burden of student loans. Pursuing a higher education can be financially challenging. And once you look at the amount of interest that student loans can generate, it can feel impossible to pay them off. But you can do it with just a little bit of planning.
8. Managing a 401(k). Planning for retirement in your 20s with student debt and a small paycheck may sound ridiculous, but it’s not. Even contributing just 2 to 3 percent of every paycheck (and gradually increasing the percentage every year or so) is an easy way to build your 401(k) and retirement savings without having to be a personal finance expert.
9. Not knowing how to save. The key is automation. Having your bank automatically put aside as little as 1 percent of your income to deposit directly into a savings account is a great start. You probably won’t even notice the money missing from your checking account after a few weeks.
10. Money and my significant other. Though you’d probably prefer to talk about anything else, talking about money is key to any successful relationship. Start by sharing how you each feel about money such as wants and needs. Slowly ease into the stickier topics such as who pays for what, long-term saving versus short-term spending and your comfort level with investing together. Schedule recurring money “dates” where you can comfortably have ongoing money conversations together.
Now that you’ve made it through the list (perhaps with a bit of squirming), don’t feel like you have to tackle all of this. Start small and commit to improving one aspect of your financial life at a time. Before you know it, the taboo money topics will be a little easier to discuss and manage.