Talking about money isn’t easy. It’s also not easy to see a friend become overwhelmed by their finances because of bad money decisions.
So how do you know when it’s time to intervene with a friend’s money mistakes? Is a “money intervention” ever a good idea?
Syble Solomon is an expert in talking to people about money. That’s what she does for a living as the Founder and President of LifeWise Strategies and creator of Money Habitudes .
“Before offering anyone advice, ask yourself a few questions,” Solomon says.
5 questions to ask yourself
Consider these five questions before you decide to talk to a friend about money:
- Are your friend’s financial choices bad, or do they just reflect different values from yours? Solomon says, “Think about your values and whether your friend actually needs help, or you need to be more accepting of different values.”
- Do you have the full picture? It’s easy to make assumptions. “Before offering advice or having a talk, ask some clarifying questions to have a general conversation about other circumstances,” Solomon says.
- Is your friend aware they’re making bad choices? Your friend might be totally clueless. Solomon’s suggestion: “If the person actually makes comments about how others are lucky or how she never feels thing will be different, use that as an opening to say: You’ve mentioned a number of times that people who are doing well are just lucky. Is that how you feel, that you don’t have any control over how much money you have? I’ve had to learn how to manage my money and it’s been worth it. I’d be happy to help you or I know there is a class being offered through our credit union.”
- Is your friend aware of the issue, but they have no idea where to start? In this case, simply pointing them in the right direction can be immensely helpful.
- Does your friend make bad decisions despite knowing what they could do differently? If this is the case, it might help to point out any patterns in your friend’s bad financial behavior, Solomon says.
Before staging a full-blown intervention, it might be enough to simply let a friend know you’ve noticed their habits. Thomas Nitzsche of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions  adds that it’s important to give someone the chance to take control on their own.
“This way, it empowers your friend to take action and feel they took the steps to help themselves,” Nitzsche says.
Signs it’s time for ‘the talk’
Boundaries can definitely be a good thing. But sometimes a friend’s habits are completely out of control. And, as someone who cares about them, maybe you feel a responsibility to discuss the issue with them. How do you know when it’s appropriate to have this discussion?
If the situation a friend is dealing with start looking less like typical money problems and more like desperation, it may be time to intervene says Kimberly Allen, a certified credit counselor.
“Signs would be things like them talking about being behind on everything, worried about losing their home or having their utilities shut off, talking about bankruptcy, etc.,” Allen says. “Another sign would be if your friend is using credit cards for daily living expenses such as food or utilities, and not paying the balance off every month.”
Asking for money
If a friend asks you for a loan, that’s an organic way to address their financial habits. But there are more subtle ways friends ask for money, too.
“If your friend is spending money on non-essential items soon after being paid, but then asking you to foot the bill for activities together later in their pay cycle, it may be time to have a conversation about money,” Nitzsche says. “If you are financially secure, it’s important not to simply repeatedly ‘rescue’ your friend financially. If you do choose to give money to a friend you should consider it a gift, not a loan.”
If a friend is repeatedly engaging in “retail therapy,” it might be a sign that they have deeper issues taking over their life. In that case, a conversation with a good friend might be just what they need.
“If you witness your friend making emotional purchases…it could be an opportunity to talk about the root issue and hopefully also correct the money issue as a result,” Nitzsche says.
How to talk about money with a friend
So–you’ve decided it is indeed time to intervene. Tread carefully.
Remind them you care
“Open the conversation by reaffirming your friendship,” Nitzsche suggests. You can do this by verbally reminding them you care, or ” by doing something that’s specific to your relationship…your favorite coffeehouse or activity together, etc.”
When talking about money with a friend, it’s hugely important to not be judgmental.
“If your words, tone of voice and comments sound at all judgmental, your good intentions will not be well received and your friend will probably become angry or defensive,” Solomon says.
And judgment doesn’t exactly serve as motivation for change.
“As with most things, people have to actually want to change before they will accept help,” Allen says.
Stick to the facts
An easy way to avoid judgment? Stick to the facts. “Just share your observations,” Solomon says, giving an example:
The last three times we’ve gone out, whenever you have spent money you have said that you’ll have to hide what you bought from Jim so he doesn’t know how much you are spending.
Notice that the dialogue doesn’t accuse the friend of hiding purchases; it simply states a fact–something the friend has mentioned.
Offer your own experience
When butting in, it can help to let someone know you’ve been there. If you’ve ever had issues with money (and if you’re human, you probably have), let them know you understand what it feels like to overspend, to not pay your bills, to hide your purchases, etc. Remind them you’ve made money mistakes, too. Then, let them know how you moved past those mistakes and took control of your finances.
Give them a plan, but don’t overdo it
“I’ve sat down with friends and actually charted out how much goes where out of each paycheck for weeks to help put them on a budget and show that it can be done,” Allen says, adding that it’s also important to include their input, too. “Help them brainstorm ideas,” she suggests.
You should also make sure your own house is in order, too, Nitzsche says.
“Also, unless your own finances are in good shape, you probably shouldn’t be giving much advice or you will seem hypocritical,” Nitzsche says.
Be prepared for backlash
If you do decide to talk to a friend about their money mistakes, just remember — they might not respond well. After all, who likes being reminded of their problems?
“You need to be willing to have your good intentions rejected,” Solomon says.
If your friend is unwilling to take your help, the only thing you might be able to do is suggest that they refer to a professional. Your friend may be embarrassed. Your friend may be a private person. Or, maybe, your friend just doesn’t like people telling them what to do.
“It might help to simply suggest they contact their employee assistance program or a local non-profit credit counseling agency,” Nitzshe says.
And, if you’ve been enabling your friend by paying their way, or by helping them keep money secrets, it’s time to stop, Solomon says.
Money isn’t an easy topic for most people. When it’s a personal money issue, it’s even harder to talk about it. But by evaluating your intentions and approaching the subject delicately and methodically, it’s possible to talk to a friend about money without coming across as a complete jerk.
What do you think? Have you ever staged a “money intervention” with a friend? What was the outcome and what steps did you take?