The Do’s and Don’ts of Complaining About Money

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You’re in a bit of a financial predicament, and you really want to talk to someone about it. The thing is, bringing up money woes is often considered taboo, so you’re not sure if doing so is appropriate.

Carrie Glenn, founder of Etiquette at Hand based in California’s Monterey Peninsula, said there are really only three types of people it’s OK to talk to about financial issues. One of course includes your spouse or partner — most of the time.

“This is not the case if the woes are a direct result of his or her actions,” she said. “Then, it’s not polite to stick it in their face or make them feel bad.”

She said everyone makes financial mistakes and complaining about your partner’s missteps will negatively affect your relationship. If you can’t vent to your significant other, Glenn said it’s also acceptable to talk to a close friend or trusted family member — assuming their financial burdens aren’t worse than yours.

“If hearing your money problems will just remind them of their bad situation or highlight how much more you have than they do, it’s never a good idea to go there — even if they insist,” she said. “This is the time for you to be a good friend and find someone else to complain to.”

When in doubt, she said it’s always OK to complain about money to a paid professional — i.e., a psychiatrist, financial advisor or bookkeeper — especially when they’re in a position to help you.

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“Having a financial professional in your corner gives you free rein to let it all out,” she said. “That’s what they are there for — as long as you’re not pointing the finger at them.”

Regardless of their own financial situation, Glenn said to remember that this topic tends to make people uncomfortable. Therefore, she encouraged opting to keep private financial issues to yourself, so you don’t cause the conversation to take an awkward turn.

“It is to be hoped that careful consideration outweighs the immediate gratification of complaining,” she said.

Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, agreed that knowing your audience is key when discussing money woes. In fact, she was recently on the receiving end of inappropriate financial disclosure.

“I was at a lovely lunch about a week ago when one participant went on about ‘having’ to buy a new horse — [a] second horse — for their child and how ‘terribly trying’ it was to find a stable for both,” she said. “The rest of the table just sat in stunned silence.”

While Smith recognized that the person genuinely found her situation troublesome, she noted this was clearly a 1% problem.

“It might have slipped by as passable if she was speaking with just one person, but the table setting turned lunch into a humble brag,” she said. “That topic would be perfectly acceptable at the stables with other horsey parents while the children rode, but was totally lacking in self-awareness at the lunch.”

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She said a little empathy can go a long way when discussing money concerns.

“Just as you would not go on and on about how wonderful you feel during your pregnancy with a friend who is on their third round of IVF or how romantic your partner is while speaking with someone who was just unceremoniously dumped, so too with money,” she said. “You need to be considerate to your listener’s situation.”

Smith said it’s important to think before you speak and find people in your friends and family circle who it’s appropriate to confide in.

“Just like Chris Rock preaches with humor, you always punch up, not down,” she said. “You should vent to someone on equal financial footing or someone with more means.”

If you’re having money issues, you’re not alone. Most people experience financial issues at some point and venting to someone can help you feel better — just use good judgment to ensure the conversation won’t make the other person feel worse.

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