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How to navigate awkward money conversations with your family this holiday season

Talking about money with your loved ones can be awkward and uncomfortable. Here's what you should and shouldn't do when talking finances with your family.

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As you get ready to visit family and friends for the holiday season, you might dread talking to your relatives about politics, your dating life or your money habits. Whether it's having conversations with your parents about their retirement plans or how much money your siblings earned on their cryptocurrency investments, engaging in discussions about money can end up making most people feel uncomfortable.

While it may seem easier to avoid the taboo topic, there are ways you can talk about money with your loved ones without making them feel awkward — you might even find them rewarding. Select spoke with personal finance expert Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez, the host of the Real Simple Money Confidential podcast, about how to best discuss money with your relatives this holiday season.

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Don't rush to judgement

Whenever you're talking about money with your relatives, the one thing you should absolutely avoid is making judgements about someone's spending habits or giving anyone unsolicited advice, says O'Connell Rodriguez. By doing so, you're putting people on the defensive, which can shut people off from having a frank conversation about money. 

Try depersonalizing the conversation by talking about news stories you've read or podcasts you've listened to, O'Connell Rodriguez recommends.

For example, you could start a conversation about student loan debt by bringing up news about the federal student loan forbearance period ending in a few months or a story about someone paying off a significant amount of student loan debt in a short period of time. By bringing up the topic in reference to the news, people may be more likely to engage in a conversation if they don't feel like it's being targeted toward them.

Don't lecture your parents

Whenever it comes to talking to your parents about money, you want to refrain from giving them a lecture. If you're visiting your parents this holiday season, and want to use the opportunity to talk with them about their will for example, don't badger them about hiring a lawyer or deciding who their beneficiaries are. 

Instead, you should come from a place of curiosity, asking them if they have advice about whether to get life insurance or who you should consider as beneficiaries for your own accounts. By framing the initial conversation as a question, your parents are able to give you advice, which can make them feel more comfortable than you giving them advice, says O'Connell Rodriguez. 

Don't be afraid to set limits

The holidays can be a time for higher spending because of all the gift-giving and travel. If your family is opting to go on an expensive trip this year or is expecting lavish gifts from you, don't be afraid to communicate boundaries with them, says O'Connell Rodriguez. 

While it may be uncomfortable to be frank with your family about your financial goals and limitations, you should be clear about your priorities. For example, if you're not planning on going on the holiday trip this year, you should tell your family that you're opting out because you're prioritizing paying off your credit card debt by the end of 2021. If you're being honest and open about why you can't participate this year, it's likely your family and friends won't be so disappointed you can't attend.

Bottom line

When visiting loved ones this holiday season, you might find yourself navigating conversations that make you uncomfortable. Money is often a taboo topic that's associated with guilt or shame, so try and refrain from putting anyone on the defensive by lecturing them about their spending habits.

But if you approach these tough topics without judgement and condescension, it's possible to engage in healthy discussions, and maybe even walk away with a few ideas, whether that's the best new credit cards to sign up for or a robo-advisor to help you kick start your wealth-building.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.