Discover more from Healthy Rich
Prepare yourself for budget culture talk this holiday season
Tips and scripts for fielding those vexing comments about money from the people you love most.
A pep talk as we head into Thanksgiving in the U.S. and the long holiday season ahead of us.
Holiday gatherings are tough1 for a lot of people.
Gathering with the people you know and care about most digs into the deepest parts of you. Every stray comment goes straight to your heart.
Thanksgiving dinners, in particular, seem to be rife with diet talk, political minefields and questions you weren’t prepared to answer. If you’ve been reading Healthy Rich for a while, you might notice another irritating trope this year: budget culture talk.
Healthy Rich is a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money. Become a free or paid subscriber to support our work.
Like diet culture, budget culture is a paradigm that captures people regardless of their other political or social views. Your favorite aunt might join you for Pride every month, but she could still skip bread at dinner and worry about how your cousin is spending money at college.
To keep toxic money talk from activating financial shame or anxiety you’re finally unraveling, follow these tips to steel yourself against budget culture talk this holiday season.
1. Manage your expectations
The best piece of advice I’ve heard about dealing with loved ones (and I’m sorry; I can’t remember the source!) is to remind yourself, “Grandma’s gonna Grandma.”
Swap “Grandma” for anyone at your gathering. It means you can’t change who these people are, and you can’t expect them to be who you want them to be.
This doesn’t mean excusing or implicitly condoning anyone’s behavior. You can do all the calling out or walking away you want — but for your own sake, don’t go into this holiday season convinced they’ll be different this time.
With money, in particular, if you’re already taking a budget-free approach, you’re one of the first (woohoo!).
If your loved ones have learned to talk about money at all, it’s been through budget culture beliefs and talking points. Don’t go in hoping you won’t hear about how no one wants to work anymore or how they can’t believe the price of dessert — assume you’ll definitely hear about it, and you can’t be disappointed.
2. Name your support system
Sometimes, you need a release valve. Identify it before you go in.
Who are friends you can text for commiseration and advice? Who are your allies within the group at the event? If you’re going with a partner or a friend, do they have your back?
Check in with these folks before the event to let them know you’ll need them. Make sure your friend keeps her text notifications on throughout the holiday. Make a plan with your like-minded allies for how to respond to anything egregious. Explicitly ask your partner whether they’ll stand with you on certain issues.
Once your support system is in place, remind yourself in the most trying moments that it’s there. When everyone seems to disagree with you, remember, you’ve got your people.
3. State your boundaries clearly
If you have a history of shaming or annoying money talk with someone you otherwise trust, pull them aside when you arrive (or even call or email in advance) to name your boundaries. Let them know you don’t want to discuss the vexing topics while you’re trying to enjoy your holiday.
They might not comply entirely, but stating the boundary gives you the space to enforce it. If something comes up, you can remind them of your request or simply leave the conversation, and no one will wonder where that came from.
You can do the same after the fact, too. Follow up with an important relative or friend individually to let them know something bothered you, or to offer a correction for something they misinterpreted. This could start a great conversation that turns them into a budget-free ally for the next holiday gathering!
4. Walk away
Setting and enforcing boundaries doesn’t have to mean stating them out loud. You can hold boundaries for yourself in any way that makes sense for you.
If an unexpected conversation brings up shame or anxiety for you, care for yourself by simply walking away. You can explain yourself if you want to, but you don’t owe anyone that explanation.
5. Prepare your replies
If you know the money talk that’ll come up, prepare your responses in advance, so you don’t have to react in the moment.
Remembering most people aren’t thinking about a budget-free approach, keep your retorts focused on how you’re caring for yourself, rather than on what they’re thinking, saying or doing wrong. Here are some examples.
For talk about how expensive the holidays are: I’m focusing on gratitude this holiday season and not depriving myself.
For judgments about anyone’s purchases (including self-directed): I’m learning a lot from XX lately, and I’m trying not to think of spending as “good” or “bad.”
For one-upmanship about busyness: I’m loving the work I do! or I’m grateful for the life my job affords me.
For “no one wants to work these days”: I’m grateful so many people have gotten opportunities to pursue more satisfying work. I hope the current labor progress means even better prospects for my/our kids.
For comments about how certain kinds of people spend their money: I used to believe that stereotype, too, but I’ve listened to a lot of stories from people in their situation, and I was surprised by how much about their experience I didn’t know.
6. Remember, you love these people
Above all, do what you can to spend your holidays with people you love (and avoid spending them with people you don’t). Remember you’re there because these relationships are important to you.
Everyone has a complicated relationship with money, because we’re all victims of budget culture. Ignorance is infuriating — and it should be — but you can have compassion at the same time. Notice the fear and insecurity behind comments about money, and recognize your shared experience.
Let holiday gatherings be what they’re meant to be: a chance to be with people you love. Care for yourself before, during and after — including building in that extra day off of work to unclench and reset! — so budgety money talk doesn’t stick with you for the rest of the year.
🎁 Want to (wish)bone-up on budget-free talking points before heading into the holidays?
My Budget-Free Fundamentals series gives you everything you need to gain a fresh perspective on your relationship with money. In a few short lessons, you’ll gain tools to use money the way you want without relying on restriction, succumbing to shame or following advice rooted in greed. Paid subscribers have full access to this and all Healthy Rich classes — a subscription makes a great gift, too!
Image by RDNE Stock project via Pexels
Holidays are more than tough for some. If being around your family of origin is toxic, abusive or trauma-triggering, these tips aren’t for you. You have no obligation to gather with them, and mitigating their harm isn’t your responsibility.