Sunél's Blog | How to have a difficult conversation about money

Sunél Veldtman, | 23 June 2023

It’s hard to talk about money. I was recently reminded just how hard in a difficult money conversation. You’d think by now I’d be good at it, but it was messy. It made me ponder on why exactly it is so hard.

Money isn’t just the currency accepted for payment of goods and services. It’s not just a store of wealth either. It’s how most of us value ourselves.

Woven into that is the way we measure the value of our work, which is the measure of our contribution to our employers or businesses, and our relative standing in society. The value of our work measured in money becomes a part of how we measure ourselves.

It shouldn’t be a measure of our worth, but it is for most people. And if we are honest, there are very few that can deny it.

It’s the most concrete way that we can, and do, outwardly express our value. I believe this is the reason that it is so difficult to talk about money. It is so challenging that most people find it even harder than talking about sex.

In romantic relationships, business partnerships, employment, or even with our kids, it can be torturous. We convey how much we value ourselves relative to others, in this hard currency. 

In a long-term romantic relationship for example, whose career is more valued? Who pays for the holidays and luxuries? Who does the investing? And how much? In a business partnership, whose contribution is more valuable? It isn’t always apparent, yet it is seldom vague, even if it is not spoken. It is concrete. An amount.

It’s not absolute either. It’s relative to the past, the other person, industry peers, and expectations. And even if our contribution was absolutely measurable, the remuneration could still fall short of our expectations or the value that we place on money.

When we talk about money, we must bear this in mind. We bring to the conversation our values, our history with money, and our expectations. And we can’t hide all this silent baggage when we go into conversations, no matter how hard we try. At best, the weight of what we bring will show up in micro expressions – the slight frown or faintest pursing of your lips. At worst, the dam wall of our money stuff will burst and the hurt, humiliation, or grievance will pour out.

What I keep learning is that it is best to talk about money, sooner rather than later. It’s best, to be frank from the start. But above all, the two sides of the coin, when two people are talking about money, should be respected as each person’s reality. Those two people must make it work and they must both feel heard. If not, that conversation won’t be over. It will happen again, and perhaps again, until it is resolved.

Money conversations are seldom really about money. In most cases, financial experts may help to decipher fact from fiction, but the real conversation is not about the financial facts. It is about how it makes us feel.

So, when your next challenging conversation about money must happen, talk soon, talk frankly, and talk about the feelings behind the financial facts. And listen well.

Ps. This is the last blog for a while. I’ll be pausing to seek some sun, solitude and to strategise for the second half of the year. I hope you will take a mid-year break too.

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Kind regards,


//23 June 2023