The coronavirus pandemic has taken our social lives away from us, killed our own people, and left millions of us without our jobs all across the globe. 2020 has definitely been a very hard year for most of us, and things don’t seem to look any brighter in 2021 either, as the new COVID strain takes over the United States.
While millions of people lost their jobs, others have experienced pay cuts, salary reductions or furloughing, making it very hard for some to live their lives as they did before the pandemic. Even though you were among the lucky ones, that haven’t been hit so hard by the pandemic, you always need to think about your friends who might not have been as lucky as you. Some of your loved ones might be experiencing a totally different financial situation than they did before COVID-19, and you need to be there for them during their harsh journey and offer your support.
Talking about money is never easy, especially with people outside your household, and some people find it really hard to open up about these types of problems. According to Shannon McLay, founder, and CEO of the Financial Gym, discussing money issues with friends can make people feel ashamed and inferior. McLay has seen a lot of people being ashamed right now for losing their jobs and not being able to pay the bills.
“However you’re managing through this period of time financially, give yourself a break,” she said. And it’s important to know that no matter how big your financial problems are right now, everything is fixable. So whether you’re missing payments or spending too much money on online shopping while staying at home, you need to know that it’s ok.
In order to get past the shame and fear caused by your financial problem, you need to be ok with talking about these issues with the people that care about you. While it won’t necessarily be a fun talk to have with your friend, it’s better than hiding and neglecting the problem. Also, if you’re going through a hard time right now, you probably need all the support you can get.
As the future is unpredictable and COVID has taken a lot from us this past year, some of us are probably thinking about discussing these problems with our closest friends, either because we’re looking for support or comfort from them.
McLay and Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, have the best advice for you, so read on to discover how to talk to your friends about financial problems during the pandemic.
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You need to be honest.
Maybe you were used to talking to your friends about wanting to save money or spilling the bill at a restaurant, but you didn’t really have an honest conversation with them about your actual financial situation. Talking about money is never fun nor easy, and even today, it’s still a taboo topic for many of us.
According to McLay, we’re more comfortable discussing intimate topics with our friends than we are with talking about our financial problems. Since we’re living in a pandemic and you might not be able to meet with your friends in person, scheduling a Zoom call might be ideal right now and be prepared to have an honest conversation about your current financial situation.
McLay recommends being direct and having straightforward conversations, who knows, maybe you’re friends are going through the exact situation as you, and they were also ashamed to open up. Ask questions to find out how much money they are making, how much they have in their bank account, and what’s their credit score.
While these questions might be too straightforward for some people, it will help you find similarities between you and your friends and you’ll feel more comfortable about discussing this topic. If you know that your friends weren’t as affected as you by the pandemic, is still ok to talk to them about it without feeling like they will judge you. It’s also important to understand that people avoid bringing up money in the discussion because they don’t want to make their friends feel bad.
Therefore, if you were among the lucky ones in this pandemic and you’re finding yourself in a privileged financial situation, you can still check in on your friends that might be going through some money problems. According to Palmer, “Being the person to raise the issue [of money] gives permission to talk about it.”
She even suggests asking questions like ‘Is money an issue for you right now?’ or ‘How are you doing financially these days?’ The great part about these general questions is that it allows the other person to open up as much or as little as they want, so they won’t feel pressured into sharing with you things they don’t really want to share.
If you’re the one going through a harsh financial situation right now, it’s ok to talk to your friends about it and share your struggles with them. Let them know you probably won’t be able to hang out as much as you did before or go to the same places you used to go because you can’t afford to spend extra money these days.
Make sure they understand your reasons and tell them it’s not that you don’t want to hang out anymore. According to Palmer, you need to know that you’re not alone in this, millions of people are going through the same exact situation as you right now, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it.
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Don’t start making assumptions.
Don’t believe everything you see on social media these days about someone’s financial status, as it can be very deceiving and so far from the truth. Just because you’re seeing someone having a good time, doesn’t mean they’re not dealing with financial problems.
McLay says she’s always hearing things like this from her clients: “Oh, she’s doing really well because I see her doing all these things on Instagram.” But what you can’t see on social media is someone’s financial status or the money issues they might have. And it’s normal to be like this, no one wants to share these types of problems on social media for the whole world to see.
According to McLay, you can always assume that your friends are in a better financial situation than you, but it might not always be the case. It’s easy to assume that you’re not saving as much as your friends, or you’re spending much more than them, but the reality is everyone has their struggles and you can’t know what happens behind closed doors. But rather than making assumptions and feeling bad, start an honest conversation with them and simply pop the question. Most likely they’re having financial problems on their own and wanted to talk about this topic with you also.
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If possible, gift money instead of loaning them.
According to McLay, you should never loan money to friends. If your friend is going through a hard financial situation right now and you have the ability to help them, gift them the money without expecting to get them back later on. According to McLay, don’t do this unless you’re in a financial situation that allows you to do such gestures.
McLay doesn’t recommend loaning money to friends because the situation can get very messy over time, especially when they haven’t returned your money. “When you see your friend buying something, going out, or doing something [that costs money], then that’s going to create a microaggression in your friendship,” McLay added.
And no, you’re not expected to gift your friend a lot of money to show your support. In these situations, small gestures mean the most. Offer to pay for their dinner when you go out, give them gift cards they can use for buying the groceries, or try to be helpful in some other way, Palmer suggested.
However, more important than money is emotional support, especially during challenging times, so let them know they can come to you every time they need someone to talk to.
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Help each other overcome the situation.
After you’ve managed to open up to your friends about your financial problems, pay attention to the things that make both of you feel uncomfortable or ashamed. After identifying those things, ask yourself what you can do to solve the problem.
According to McLay, “You have a workout or happy-hour buddy. Why can’t you become your friends’ financial accountability buddy, too?” But be aware that being someone’s financial buddy requires constant reminders every time they want to buy something they don’t need, holding onto credit cards or simply making sure they do not forget about their money goals.
According to McLay, the most important thing you can do for a friend that’s going through a not-so-great financial situation right now is to be there for them and not letting them feel alone in this.
Find new ways to socialize that don’t include spending a lot of money.
Our social life was highly impacted by the pandemic, and most of us are missing the weekends out in the city with our friends. However, for someone who’s having money problems, spending a lot of money just to have a little fun is not quite a good idea. So if you want to be a good friend, don’t pressure them into hanging out if they’re not comfortable with it, and try to find new ways to socialize and spend time together without spending a lot of money.
For instance, instead of going to a restaurant for dinner and then to a bar for drinks, plan a small gathering at home, where you can enjoy each other’s company for a fraction of the price. If you’re not allowed to gather because of the restrictions in your state, you can always opt for virtual meetings on Zoom where you can enjoy a glass of wine and a nice conversation from the comfort of your couch.
Also, if you want to go out even though you’re not exactly in a good financial situation, Palmer recommends setting a budget and letting your friend know how much you’re allowed to spend. This way, they will adjust their plans to your budget so you can all have a good time without spending more than you planned.
The most important thing when having money problems is being honest with your friends and letting them know about your situation, rather than hiding it and compromising your financial well-being for a night out.
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