fbpx How Do You Have Conversations About Finances With Your Family?
Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on December 21, 2021

Dear Dr. Michelle:

My siblings and I have good jobs and each of us can take care of ourselves. We all pay our bills, feed our families, and enjoy some extra pleasures. My parents are retired, and while their income is meager, they too can take care of themselves. The issue is that I make more money than my parents and my two siblings and this can become awkward at times. Whenever I buy something a little more expensive for myself or others, they ask me how much it cost. If I tell them, they gasp and make a big deal of it. Sometimes they insinuate or try to guess my income level to see if I will confirm or deny their suspicions. I try to deflect their questions, but it doesn’t usually work. How do I handle these uncomfortable situations? I don’t want to tell them how much I pay for things, or my income, and I wish they wouldn’t ask.

Best,

Chuck

Dear Chuck:

I can appreciate how this would be a difficult situation to navigate. Social norms reinforce that it is more respectful to avoid asking people about money and that a person’s financial situation is a personal matter not readily shared. Unfortunately, some family members might believe that social norms do not apply.  

The Direct Approach

If you want to be direct and deal with the situation head on, there are a select number of choices in how to respond to questions about money.

  • Do not answer their questions. Tell them you are not comfortable answering and request that they stop asking. Stick to your guns if they pressure you or make you feel bad. This is the most direct approach and seems to be the most authentic response given what you have described.
  • You could answer their questions when they ask. If you choose to go this route, be matter of fact, do not make a big fuss about it, and don’t feed into their attempts to make it a big deal.
  • You can ask them why they want to know or why they ask you about your money in general. Discussing the issue might be an effective approach because it could allow you to express how you feel, which might encourage them to stop asking.
  • You can misrepresent how much you spend. I do not recommend this approach because even though they are asking you how much you spent, that is not really the point of their question. People generally know the rough cost of items on the market. They are more likely asking because they want to know more about your financial means.

The Subtle Approach

If you want to take a more subtle approach, it will include putting effort into controlling your environment and avoiding exposure to your spending habits as much as possible. For example:

  • Limit which presents you open in mixed company. During holidays or gift giving events, limit which presents you have your children open when you are in the presence of mixed company. If you are hosting, have your children open the more expensive gifts before guests arrive or after they leave.
  • Keep your spending habits private. Pick and choose very carefully what items you purchase in front of your siblings and parents to avoid exposure to your spending habits. If you choose to buy more expensive items when others are around, you are in essence choosing to expose your financial capabilities.
  • Limit how much you spend on gifts. When you buy gifts for your siblings and parents, limit how much you spend to limit the flashiness of your purchases.

While I hope the above suggestions help you identify ways to respond, I would like to recommend that you reframe and ascribe a positive meaning to why your siblings and parents ask about your finances.

Maybe they are just being nosy, but perhaps they are in awe of your resources and simply vicariously living through you.  Asking about your money could be their way of recognizing and showing you how proud they are of your ability to purchase nicer things. They could believe that family is exonerated from the social norms and they can be trusted to be in the know based on the relationship they have with you.  They also may not understand how it feels to be asked about their spending habits, so they don’t appreciate how you might experience it as being awkward or disarming.

Reflect on Your Own Feelings

Try to view their questions as more about them then about you. At the same time, you might want to reflect on why their questions bother you.

  • Are you more sensitive to their questions than you need to be?
  • Do their questions create fears such as will they ask you for money, or expect things from you?
  • Do you feel a sense of guilt or shame about what you have achieved? This is a natural phenomenon in families when a child or sibling has a perceived sense of rising above other family members.
  • Do you feel badly about the way that you spend your money?
  • Do you believe that you deserve your resources?
  • Are you comfortable with where you spend your resources?

You might be assigning your own judgment of yourself to your family. Find a way to evaluate and resolve your own feelings about your resources. The more comfortable you are with your situation the less likely you will be uncomfortable with how others feel or think about your situation. Once you resolve your own feelings about your finances, you will know better how you want to respond to others when they inquire.


Dr. Michelle K. Murray, CEO of Nexus Family Healing and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, answers questions about family relations or mental health. Submit Your Question.

Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature.  The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.

Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.
 

Dr. Michelle Murray