How to Handle Money Discussions Around the Holiday Table

November 21, 2013

family discussionsMy dentist has mounted a flat screen TV on the ceiling right above the dentist chair. As a result, as my teeth were cleaned the other day, I had a clear view of the Today show and what they were talking about. In one of the segments I watched, the hosts discussed holiday table etiquette with an expert guest.

The point of the segment was to figure out what items were appropriate for discussion around the holiday table. After all, the season moving forward is full of opportunities for far-flung relatives to get together and enjoy each other’s company. But all those personalities gathered together can also lead to interesting (and sometimes combative) conversations – including discussions about money.

As you get ready to spend time with relatives around the holiday table, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to talking about money:

1. Avoid talking in dollar amounts.

There’s no reason to share the specifics of what you make (or don’t make), or how much your new car is worth. The guest expert on the Today show pointed out that the fact that you remodeled your kitchen usually means that you’re doing just fine. There’s no need to share specific numbers.

Whether you are embarrassed about how much debt you have, or whether you are proud of your latest raise, specific dollar amounts aren’t needed when it comes to making conversation. Instead, it makes much more sense to steer the topics of conversation away from money and toward things like happy memories and swapping stories about what the kids have been up to, rather than trying to get into the nitty-gritty of each other’s finances.

2. Have a plan for presenting your situation.

If you are concerned about presenting your situation in a light that doesn’t alarm grandma, or trying to avoid seeming high-handed about your salary, create a plan for presenting your situation. If you are embarrassed about how much debt you have, and someone asks, you can simply say, “I’m making solid progress in my finances.” You don’t need to launch into a detailed account of your debt pay down plan, and the balances still on your credit card.

When I’m asked how much I make, I usually just say that we’re comfortable as a family, and our needs are taken care of. Think of how you can phrase things so that you convey a sense that you are on top of your situation and moving forward without having to delve into the specifics.

If someone persists, you can politely turn the conversation. Don’t let yourself be goaded into answering impertinent questions. Practice ahead of time for polite ways to answer questions and firm (but polite) ways to move on. You can also turn the question on the asker, after using your vague answer. “We’re doing great right now. How are you?”

Thanks to the current state of the economy, there are all sorts of money questions floating around. However, there’s no reason to turn a holiday get-together into an awkward affair by focusing too much on money topics and getting into each family member’s individual financial situation.

Are you going to have to have money discussions this holiday season? What will and what won’t you talk about? Leave a comment!


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Miranda writes about personal finance almost every day. An experienced freelance writer, she's covered your money online and in print from every angle and is always looking for new ones.

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