Etiquette 101: How to Navigate Financial Decorum

Etiquette 101: How to Navigate Financial Decorum | Positively Smitten #mustread #money #finance #polite #etiquette

In one of the most famous “Peanuts” comic strips, Linus laments conversation topics he feels are inappropriate to discuss in polite company. “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people,” he says, “religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

While the Great Pumpkin isn’t on my list of topics to avoid, there is one subject I’d sub in for Linus’s already-excellent advice: finances. In the age of social media, some people tend to think every topic is open and available for discussion. Call me old fashioned, but I think there are just some things that are not appropriate for people to ask about. Here are a few topics I think aren’t open for discussion and ways to drive the conversations away.

The situation: People specifically asking about your or your partner’s income.

How to deal: In casual conversation, this can be jolting; generally, you aren’t expecting such a personal question. Even when you are close friends — or even related — this is in bad taste. Avoid specifics by saying something like “Enough to get by” and change the subject.

The situation: People asking what you paid for a specific item or what you pay for a particular bill.

How to deal: Generally, unless a person needs information for a specific reason (like wanting to move to your particular area so they ask how much rent you pay) they shouldn’t be asking. Even if they are asking for a specific reason, they should divulge that reason to whomever they are asking. It’s only fair. Sometimes people are genuinely curious about an item, like a purse, because they might think you got it on sale and they’d like to nab one, too. Either way, it’s up to you to tell them, or if you’d like to reveal that you got it for a steal. If it feels awkward to answer, you can also say you got it as a gift, or politely let them know you feel uncomfortable sharing that information.

The situation: You’re enjoying a day out when someone makes a snide remark about how you’re spending your money — and now you feel guilty.

How to deal: Some people have a way of making sure the best things in your life can cut you down. Sometimes people say something out of concern. If that’s the case, you can thank them for the concern and politely turn the conversation a different way. In general, take a moment to reflect on their concern. If you feel the comment was judgmental  try not to let it bother you.  Remember that it’s up to you how you spend your money, and it’s not anyone else’s business.

The situation: You want to share a recent purchase on social media.

How to deal: Be mindful of how you sound on social media following a splurge. While it’s absolutely okay to talk about and appreciate a nice meal or finally getting something you’ve wanted for a while, it’s in poor taste to brag about how much money you dropped at any give store. It can make others feel bad or worse, make some feel as though they suddenly have a right to judge your finances.

The situation: Paying when you go out feels awkward.

How to deal: When you’re with friends or family it is critical to figure out how the bill will be paid before you begin ordering. You know your finances. If you came out with the idea you were going to have water and a small meal and you simply wanted to hang out with family or friends, you definitely don’t want it to get to the end of the meal and everyone wants to evenly split the bill. Try to make that clear before everyone settles down to eat. On the other hand, if you invited a friend out and she said she didn’t have enough funds to go out and you insisted on her coming out, pipe up and offer to pay for her drinks or meal. If you can’t pay for someone else, it’s a good idea to make it clear to begin with — you can do so by subtly mentioning how much the restaurant is and ask if they are in.

The situation: Debt becomes the topic of conversation.

How to deal: With school loans universally sucking everyone dry, this conversation may not be as uncomfortable as in previous years. At least we’re all in massive debt together, right? It’s nice to dish it out with your friends and complain how much school loans are screwing you over. However, if the topic starts to go toward other personal debt, like credit cards, don’t be afraid to nip it right there. Unless this is some sort of an intervention for serious credit card debt, that is going in the “too personal” area and is inappropriate for general conversation.

The situation: Someone owes you money or you owe someone money.

How to deal: If someone owes you money, you need to have a clear repayment date and schedule not only in mind, but openly discussed, before they borrow the money. If they miss the dates on paying you back, revisit the conversation (honestly, a written contract is best, but I know that can be weird) by mentioning you need to know so you can figure out your own finances.

If you are the one who owes the money, you need to ensure you have clear parameters on the repayment. Are you paying back in one go or are you setting up a payment plan? Ensure you can pay back as you originally said you would. If something comes up and you cannot repay when you said you would, be honest with the person; you owe them that, at the least. If money is given and it is stated it doesn’t need to be paid back, make sure you feel comfortable with this and make sure there won’t be judgment in the future regarding that. Only borrow from or give to people you feel comfortable with. Having personal debts with friends and family can create issues if it isn’t handled well.

The situation: Miscellaneous random awkward financial situations

How to deal: Keep in mind finances aren’t really something most people feel comfortable talking about. It’s not the case for everyone, of course — maybe you and your best friend are totally fine sharing your salary and what you pay for monthly rent and how much certain bills cost. That’s great! But do know that money is a sensitive issue for many others.


If a friend opens the conversation about her finances, and you don’t mind chatting about it, then go right ahead. If you open the conversation about your budget and debt, be prepared for honest recommendations from whomever you’re taking to.

In general, when it comes to spending money, if your main resources are taken care of, try not to feel guilty about spending money. Everyone’s financial priorities are different, after all. Conclusively, you should never open the conversation about another persons’ finances, only your own and only if you truly want to. Do not feel pressured into a discussion. When all else fails, go ahead and cite Linus as the reason for wanting to opt out of any discussion of finances; everyone loves a good Charlie Brown reference.


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