I’m totally into personal finance and love to help with money. I could teach the subject and shell out advice for hours. That’s why I love leading Financial Peace University classes so much. It satisfies my appetite.
But in everyday life I rarely get into conversations about money.
Because people rarely ask.
And even more rare are those times when I bring up the subject to someone else, even though I see bad personal finance decisions around me all the time.
I’ve learned that when I initiate conversations about money it doesn’t go so well. People feel violated, like it’s an intrusion on their personal space. It’s like offering unsolicited advice on how to parent or what political party could best solve our problems. All three of those topics are an invasion into personal privacy and opinion, so it seems.
It’s a challenge to know when to jump on a person’s comments about their personal financial situation. If I’m in FPU class it’s no problem. The people there are motivated to change and I know they want my advice.
In normal everyday life it’s hard to tell if people are just whining or truly want help with money. Are they complaining and have no desire to change? Or are they throwing out innocuous comments to see if I’ll bite?
To help me in these situations, I’m working on a go-to list of statements and questions to determine a person’s intent. Each one can’t be used in every situation as they are tailored to certain types of statements. However, the responses from the individual tell me if they are willing to move the conversation along and if they really want help with money issues.
Do You Want Help With Money?
When people insinuate, complain about or make general statements about their financial life, interject these statements to find out how far they want to go:
1. “No, I don’t/can’t/won’t do it that way.”
Why this works: You are offering them a contrast. Perhaps they believe their financial problems are common to everyone. By making this statement you peak their interest into why you don’t have the same issues.
2. “I’ve dealt with that before.”
Why this works: If there is one thing I’ve learned from blogging it’s that readers relate to personal stories. When people know you’ve experienced the same issues they want to hear how you managed through it.
A note of caution on this one though: Only use it if you have actually dealt with the issue (because people also value honesty).
3. “That must be really frustrating.”
Why this works: It gets them talking more about it and unloading emotion. Many times people can’t discuss an issue properly until the emotion subsides. By extracting the emotion you create an opening to take the conversation to a rational level where problems can be solved.
4. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
Why this works: It takes people aback. They may actually think their problem is the worst thing in the world. You diffuse that by bringing a sense of normalcy to the issue.
They will probably respond with a question like “Really?” or “Why do you say that?” They may even get angry that you are not being sympathetic to their situation. So be prepared with a quick and legitimate answer on why you think it isn’t so bad.
5. “So what I hear you saying is…(then repeat/reword their statement).”
Why this works: It builds a connection. People love to know they have been heard and understood. By rephrasing what they said in your own words you show that you are listening and caring. That will draw people in and hopefully open doors for further communication.
5 Questions to Dig Deeper
The great thing about questions is that they generally spawn more questions. So once a person has answered one it opens the door for more to be asked. Try starting with these. If they bite, it’s a good sign they want your help with money problems.
1. “Can I help/share some advice?”
Why this works: It’s bold and shows you care. This is by far the most direct approach. Some people will be looking for that and really appreciate you are quick to step out to help. If they hesitate or make an excuse like “I can handle it” you know they are not ready to move forward. Any advice you give at that point will fall on deaf ears.
2. “Is that normal/routine/typical?”
Why this works: It makes them analyze their patterns. Some people aren’t aware of how their everyday actions create routines that cause them to spend money. By tossing out this question you make them think through what they are doing. They’ll probably share that with you and that will create an opening for further discussion.
3. “Are you budgeting for that?”
Why this works: It raises tension and/or curiosity. This is the most in-your-face question you could ask because it speaks to their habits and might expose a personal flaw. So be prepared for some excuses and maybe a little tension after you ask this question.
But they may never have made a budget and understand why one is valuable. Or maybe they tried one in the past and it didn’t work. By asking the question you imply that you have been using a budget successfully. That could raise their curiosity to the point where they inquire of you about it.
4. “How is that working out?”
Why this works: It makes them face the results of their actions. Be sure to say this in the right tone of voice and with lots of empathy. Otherwise it comes off as condescending and rude.
It’s an effective question though because many people can’t connect the dots. They don’t see that behaviors 1, 2, and 3 lead to results 4, 5 and 6. You’ll be leading them to accept responsibility for their actions and opening the door for further communication.
5. “Is there another way?”
Why this works: It helps them think outside the box. They may immediately say “No” or “I don’t see/can’t think of one.” If that happens you can follow up by asking something like “Can I offer a suggestion?” (which is similar to Question #1).
Or they may come up with another scenario and ask what you think about it. Either way, you’ve helped them probe deeper and prove they want to talk with you more.
Getting Them Help
I’m using these questions to determine a person’s intent to seek help with money and figure out if they are just whining and complaining about their situation. So from that standpoint they do keep me from wasting my time or putting my foot in my mouth.
But my ultimate goal is to lead people forward so that I can help. I desire nothing more than to see people win with their money. However, it’s a balancing act on knowing when people are truly ready for help. Their responses to these questions and statements help me analyze their readiness.
Questions: Do you offer unsolicited advice about money to others? How do you approach people who seem to want help with money but your not really sure? Have you ever offered financial advice only to have someone get really upset with you? What other statements or questions could you use?