How to help friends and family cope with financial stress

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Talking about money doesn't have to be such a taboo. It's often difficult to know where to start if you’re worried about the mental state of someone close to you. The good news is that there are some things you can do to navigate a potentially tricky conversation and we can show you ways to offer meaningful support.

Get a good grip on the situation

Most of us can instinctively tell if all is not well with a loved one, but it's best to be as sure as you can before you go in all guns blazing. It's usually easier to broach the topic if there's been a significant event such as a new arrival, new home, or a recent job loss, because it's more obvious that this would cause financial disruption. You can talk generally about how they're coping with all the change and touch on the financial impact if it feels appropriate.

However, if you suspect that it's more of an ongoing struggle, it's often harder to point to a specific reason. In these situations try and think of any times you've noticed a change in behaviour or mood when money has come up in conversation. If you can think of a number of times when this has been the case, or that your loved one may be dealing with debt, then this is probably enough to justify your concern.

Keep an ear out

Sometimes the idea of arranging a formal sit down to discuss something is too daunting. However, they might be dropping hints that they're stressed about money, hoping that you'll ask the questions that start the conversation. They might mention that they're struggling to make their cash last until the end of the month, or that they've had to rely on their credit card more and more recently. Cues like these can give you an easy in to ask if everything is ok.

How to open up the conversation

If they haven't raised any red flags or dropped any hints then you need to think about how you're going to raise the topic. Explain that you've noticed a change in their mood, that they seem more stressed or not quite themselves and you'd like to know if there's a way that you can support them.

Tone is really important here, you'll need to put them at ease and assure them that you're here to talk because you're concerned, not because you're judgemental of their situation. It's also important to be optimistic - that no matter their situation there is always something that can be done.

Share experiences

If it feels like your loved one is open to having a conversation, then it can really help to share some examples of when you or someone you're close to has been in a financially difficult situation, the effect it had, and what the solution was. Often, just hearing that they're not alone, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel can make a big difference to the persons mental state, who may have previously felt lonely in their financial worries

If you've always managed your money well then try sharing your top three tips or habits.

Suggest a starting point

If they're open to your help, a nice easy way to start is to suggest ways that they can take control of day-to-day spending. If they're comfortable, offer to go through all of their typical monthly outgoings. Write a list of any bills that need to be paid urgently, such as Council Tax, and look for any non-essentials that could be trimmed immediately to help pay these. The weekly shop is a good starting point, so go through the receipt identifying treats and luxuries that can be cut.

Magazine, satellite TV and gym subscriptions are other likely candidates for the chop. Some of these may still have time to run before they can be cancelled, so setting up reminders ahead of these dates is a good idea.

Signpost helpful tools and solutions to stay on track

Suggest online budget apps such as Money Dashboard and move on to a more general chat about what’s worrying them.

If the problem is specific to a particular financial event, then you can share some more relevant information and tools with them;

  • The cost of kids: Having a child is exciting, but also daunting. Many people don’t know where to start when it comes to costs, which is why online tools such as the Money Advice Service’s Baby Cost Calculator can be extremely helpful. Tools such as this one will tot up the cost of having a new tot, factoring in everything from nappies to cots. The sums involved can be staggering, which is where some savvy advice comes in handy.

  • Rent and mortgage issues: Anyone struggling to pay the rent or their mortgage needs to speak to their landlord or lender, as a brief break or temporary reduction in repayments may be possible. Charities such as StepChangeand Citizens Advice can help with this and other debt issues. If problems paying the mortgage or rent persist it might be time to move to somewhere cheaper.

  • Job worries: Not everyone earns enough or feels secure enough in their job not to worry about money. Political uncertainty also doesn’t help with feeling like you have job security. Looking for a new or a second job, or asking for a pay rise might be the answer here.

  • Debt: There are lots of charities who offer free, professional debt counselling. They can get to know their personal circumstances, and help decide on the best course of action. They're particularly helpful if your loved one feels under a lot of pressure from a lender or from debt collection agencies. Don't be nervous about asking for help. These are trained professionals who are paid to to get people back on track by finding the best solution for them. The only drawback is that they can take a while to get back to you, since the service is so busy helping lots of people in a similar position. But, there's no time like the present to kick the process off.

Examples of these organisations are;

Talk realistically about timeframes and offer ongoing support

These things rarely sort themselves out overnight. Try to help them set regular goals for the future to ensure that any positive changes made do go the distance.

Get an understanding of whether the conversation you're having is something they only want to do once, or whether they'd like more ongoing support from you. Depending on how involved they want you to be, you can offer to schedule some check-ins to see how they're getting on with the goals they set. Having someone friendly and encouraging who will keep them feeling accountable could be the push they need to stay on the right path.

Depending on the closeness of your relationship and your own circumstances you might be able to provide more than just support. You could offer to match savings made by a son or daughter or set up a joint bank account to help. This could be for a specific reason, such as raising a home deposit, covering university costs, or building up an emergency fund to help cover unexpected costs, such as a new boiler.

Know your limits

Whatever you do, don’t put yourself at risk. It’s probably best not to sign a loan guarantee, which would see you take over the debt if the other person failed to make repayments. Likewise handing over money as a private loan is equally risky and both could harm you financially, and ruin your relationship.

Ultimately, it’s up to each person to take control of their finances, but your support and guidance could be the extra push they need to get back on track.