How to Talk About Money During the Holidays

By Melanie Lockert
November 11, 2017

The holidays are often a time of celebration with your family and friends. But let’s be real — the festive season can also be a tad awkward and stressful.

For instance, you may have to listen to your uncle tell the same story over and over again. Worse yet, you may have to keep your mouth shut about politics so that you don’t start a war of words with your sister. And, while trying to keep the peace, you may also be working hard to keep your wallet intact. According to a 2015 Healthline survey, the biggest cause of stress during the holidays is money. This is no surprise as, between buying gifts and traveling, you may end up spending more than you should.

What to do? How about talking to your family and friends about money? This way you can bring up this often taboo topic, break the silence and give yourself a little more peace this holiday season – instead of stress. Not sure how to begin? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to talk about money during the holidays.

1. Set expectations

One of the biggest stressors surrounding the holidays is buying gifts. Who should you give a gift to and who is not on the list? How much should you spend? More importantly, how much can you afford to spend?

To avoid awkward moments and disappointment, it’s crucial to set expectations with your friends and family regarding your plans.

“Have everyone involved talk in advance, explain how in order to meet financial goals, you prefer to exchange for X amount of dollars. If you have a large family, ask if the family can pull names out of a hat,” says money-saving expert Karen Cordaway.

While starting the conversation can feel a bit awkward, it’s likely your friends and family will be relieved if you set certain expectations. For example, maybe you spend no more than $20 on a gift. You can also commit to a no gifts holiday.

Jackie Lam, founder of doesn’t buy gifts for friends over the holidays but gives them a heads-up about her plans. “I usually bring it up, and people are usually relieved they don’t have to spend that money either. I bring it up early so there are no surprises,” she says.

2. Talk about your experiences

If you bring up the topic of money, some people get defensive. It feels like you’re attacking them or lecturing them. So, to discuss money without sounding preachy, try talking about your own experiences to help ignite conversations about money.

“I’m a huge proponent of making money a less taboo topic,” says family finance expert Catherine Alford. “However, you have to strike a balance because friends and family members don’t like feeling as though they are in a lecture. I usually talk about my own experiences with money to try to encourage my friends and family to be more thoughtful about spending.”

The key is to find the right time and place to discuss money matters. “For example, if a family member is complaining about how expensive gifts are, I might say something like, ‘I used to the feel the same way. That’s why I started saving $50 a month for Christmas starting in January,” says Alford.

3. Bring up your worth

The holidays are a great time to be grateful for what we have and all that has transpired in the past year. But that shouldn’t stop you from thinking ahead and planning accordingly. After all, the New Year is a great time to set new goals and ask for what you’re worth. For example, you can use this time to ask for a raise or promotion at work.

“The best way to start this conversation is to be transparent about your goals, especially if that’s something you want to accomplish,” says Anthony Copeman, founder of

Copeman suggests talking about money and asking for what you’re worth in terms of legacy building. For example, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How can money help you get there?

The holidays are a perfect time to bring this up with family and friends.

When you must speak up

There’s another instance when it’s imperative to talk about money — even if it’s the last thing you want to do. And, here it is: if buying gifts or traveling will send you into debt, you need to put on the brakes and have the money talk ASAP.

It may be uncomfortable, but trying to pay off your credit card for months or even years will be much worse. Remember to be honest with yourself and then discuss your finances with your family and friends. You may even inspire them to think about their own money situation!

Bottom line

As we’ve pointed out here, talking about money around the holidays can feel like a taboo topic. But, given the fact that money is the number one cause of stress, it’s important to do your part to change this statistic. You can even talk about money year-round to make it a little less awkward and more normal.

“Talking about money openly and honestly throughout the year helps to make it less taboo to have those discussions around the holidays. If it’s treated as a normal dialogue, it will become just that,” says financial coach Emily Shutt.

Besides, when you have the courage to talk about your money matters, you can inspire positive change in your family and friends. Now that’s a gift worth giving.

Melanie Lockert is the founder of the blog and author of the book, Dear Debt. Her work has appeared on Business Insider, Time, Huffington Post and more. She is also the co-founder of the Lola Retreat, which helps bold women face their fears, own their dreams and figure out a plan to be in control of their finances.

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