Talking about money is important. Like talking about dating, work, family, or the search for an apartment, it’s a good way to relate to friends, feel understood, have fun, and get feedback from people who’ve been there. And for women, I would argue that it’s more important to talk about money than almost anything else, as money is an often-taboo subject for us that gets ignored for fear of offending, judging, or falling too far outside of the bell curve. And our reluctance to talk about money — combined with our insecurity about our own knowledge in the subject — is undeniably hurting us. Personal finance can and should be a vital, empowering part of life, and often it’s the only topic that doesn’t get covered at the brunch table, and doesn’t make it to the top of our priority list at home.
Getting good with money can only happen in the same way everything else does — with practice. Learning how to cleanse your life of unnecessary expenses, budget your income, and invest your money intelligently are all elements of a larger, more important picture: financial independence. We strive to achieve in work, love, and health, and accept that those things take prolonged, deliberate action — and constant discussion with our social circles — but tend to put our money on the back burner. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and, at least at the beginning, saving money isn’t really that fun. But it can be, and as with anything else, the more involved your friends are, the easier it will seem.
So bring up money with your girlfriends. Ask questions you may think are dumb, or talk about the issues you’re currently facing. Make it a topic as common and universal as dating. But before you do, remember the dos and don’ts of talking about money, because it can be uncomfortable, and you don’t want to accidentally offend or judge. Respect and empathy are the foundations of any good talk, and they are never more important than with money. Follow these commandments, and stay in the clear.
DO ask questions if you don’t know something. “Do you guys have a 401k? Cause I’m not even sure what that is…” is a perfectly smart, healthy way to start learning.
DO be supportive of your friends’ successes. When they negotiate a raise, or move to a better job, or reach a saving goal, celebrate with them! Let them have their awesome financial moment.
DON’T count other people’s money. You can’t know what someone else’s full financial story is, and even if you could, it wouldn’t affect your own. Stay in your lane.
DO remember that you are not obligated to keep up. If you have friends whose lifestyle or looseness with money is making you feel like you need to prove yourself or impress someone, you may need to hang out with them less often for now. Preserve your own mental and financial health.
DON’T keep financial awkwardness bottled up. If you have a friend who consistently tacks on an extra bottle to a shared bill, or proposes vacations you can’t afford, have a calm, open-minded talk with them. Say, “hey, I’m really trying to save and I want to be able to hang out with you but I hate having to say no to things — can we plan some more budget-friendly things for now?”
DO have suggestions for the budget-friendly things you’d like to do.
DO bring the topic up in a productive, positive way, so that everyone can participate. Say something about the new budget you’re using at home, or the savings app you read about, or something you saw on Glassdoor. Take it upon yourself to get the money talk ball rolling.
DON’T judge anyone’s situation. The quickest way to stop productive financial discussion in its tracks is by making someone feel judged for their situation or choices. (And you know you wouldn’t enjoy someone doing that to you.)
DO accept that everyone’s situations are going to be different. There is going to be a bell curve — of backgrounds, incomes, goals, parental help, lifestyles, and financial maturity. That’s normal, and you don’t have to worry about where you fall. As long as friends are open, caring, and non-class-conscious (see the previous point), you can overcome most of these differences.
DON’T compare yourself to other people. Talking about money with friends should not be about one-upping, or proving where you are in relation to them. The less it feels like a competition, the more everyone will want to talk.
DO help one another out if you’re trying to save, or budget. If one of you is looking to buy a home (and saving up for that down payment), don’t invite them out to bougie, boozy brunches every weekend. The more you know about one another’s lives and goals, the more you can help each other reach them.
DON’T get caught up in envy. It doesn’t matter if it’s justified; it only holds you back.
DO be honest. Avoid the desire to seem more advanced than you are when it comes to money, and accept that you may need some help figuring things out. Allow yourself to grow with their help, and understand that “googling the different types of speciality savings accounts” over cocktails to inform yourselves is not weird. The more honest and open you are with one another, the better your independent financial lives will be. Period.
Feel like you’ll never save enough money to be a real person? So did Steph Georgopulos. Read about it in Some Things I Did for Money.