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Here's How to Handle 3 Awkward Money Moments

Originally published by The Ascent by Motley Fool Jan. 18, 2023

Key points

  • Talking about money more often can remove some of the stigma and awkwardness, but there's just no stopping some people from asking questions you'd rather not answer.

  • Exercise politeness and don't feel pressured to engage with anyone if you're not comfortable.

  • Some awkward money situations can be planned for in advance.

1. 'How much money do you make?'

While discussing salaries in the workplace can be good for a lot of reasons, including resolving race and gender-based pay inequalities, this is still an awkward situation to be faced with out of the blue. Plus, you might not be getting this question from a coworker who does the same job as you who is trying to build a case for a raise, but rather from your future in-laws at Thanksgiving dinner. If you're asked about your pay and you don't want to discuss it, what should you do?

This is your opportunity to express the politeness that the asker decided to disregard. If the question is from a nosy relative, you can laugh it off and say something like, "I make enough to get by!" At this point, try changing the subject -- and hope the asker remembers their manners. If you want to turn it back around on them, try being direct right back. "Why do you ask?" The question may come from a place of genuine concern, especially in the case of future in-laws who may wonder about your financial viability to be coupling with their child.

I'm not saying it's okay in this case, either, but generational differences and a protective attitude may be spurring the question. In this case, if they continue to pry, you may have to be firmer in your assertion that you don't want to discuss it. Family holidays can certainly be a minefield, and it's best to get on the same page with your significant other ahead of time so you have a strategy going into the situation. Good luck.

2. 'Let's split the bill!'

This is a fun one. You're out with some friends, possibly for a birthday celebration, and you ordered, say, the chicken -- while others in your party went hog wild and got the lobster and a few expensive cocktails. Now you're being asked to split the bill equally and fork over a chunk of your hard-earned cash to subsidize their dinners. Unfortunately, this is a situation that may have you looking like a jerk at the end, but your bank account will certainly thank you for being responsible with money. And your friends will forgive you, if they really are your friends.

Be the dissenting voice that says, "I only had the chicken and a Coke, and I can only afford to cover what I ordered and my portion of the tip." Check out the itemized bill and pay for what you got, and if the others want to evenly split the rest, they are free to. This is another situation where you can slay the awkwardness ahead of time. Ask the waitstaff at the restaurant for your own separate check before someone has the chance to spout off about wanting to split the bill evenly. You can also take out cash ahead of time and be ready to just plunk down the amount of your meal, and pretend you left your credit card at home.

3. 'Can I borrow some money from you?'

Loaning money to friends and family is never a great idea, especially if you're not sure they'll be able to pay you back. That said, you may decide to, if your own financial situation is good (say, you're not carrying credit card debt and have a solid emergency fund saved up). If you're not in such great financial shape yourself, it's easier to decline a request like this.

However, if your finances are in good shape, and the person asking knows this, it'll be harder to say you can't swing it. Approach with caution, and if you know this person will not be able to pay you back in a timely manner, or has some dangerous financial habits that you're not willing to participate in, politely (but firmly) say no and try not to feel guilty. You might point them to helpful resources for money management. And if you do decide to make a loan, set up a repayment schedule and clear terms, so you have something in writing to make things easier for you and the borrower.

Unfortunately, financial awkwardness frequently pops up in adult life, and if you've never encountered one of these situations before, just wait. Having a cool head in the moment and doing some thinking in advance to find ways around the discomfort can help. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own finances, and should feel fully empowered to stand up for yourself when someone tries to take advantage of your giving nature.

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