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Would you tell Mom about your debt?

If we can talk to family and friends about our hopes and fears, why can't we talk about money?

By Donna_Freedman Oct 21, 2011 9:58AM

The Girl Next Door has come out of the debt closet. On her blog, The Girl Next Door's Guide to Finance, she shared how she told her mom about her debt -- and survived.

Not that it was easy. Until recently, shame had kept her silent.

The 20-something blogger had previously run amok with credit cards, buying herself some nice stuff and some not-so-nice debt.

"I've always wanted to make my family proud," she wrote. But being in the red made her feel like a failure, which is why she hesitated to come clean.

Surprise! Her mother was "totally supportive of me and proud that I had taken charge (no pun intended) of the situation."

Talking about money -- debt, salary, retirement -- is still off-limits for many young adults. Confessing to Mom and Dad that you're struggling might set you up for a scolding or, worse, be construed as a loan request. Besides, shouldn't you be standing on your own two feet? Post continues after video.

But what about friends? If we can discuss everything else with our pals, why can't we be frank about funds?

"Friends can offer encouragement, information and advice that can help with financial issues," financial therapist Amanda Clayman told the Daily Worth website.

In a post called "Talking about money with your friends," Clayman says it's OK to ask BFFs to dish about dollars. Be specific about what you're after, though: advice or just a chance to vent?

And if a friend wants to share in return, keep an open mind because we all grow up with different money habits and beliefs.

Doing the best we can?

Then there's that whole salary issue. Some of us feel that such things should remain private. Others say that sharing paycheck particulars helps us know what we're worth and thus helps keep us from being underpaid.

Finding out that you make a lot more (or a lot less) than your friends may feel odd. Keep an open mind, and think carefully about offering responses like, "You make how much? Wow! You should ask for a raise/look for a new job/eat more ramen." Your friend may not actually be asking for help, but rather looking to talk out some issues.

Advice might also feel like judgment. This is particularly touchy if overspending is actually the result of an underlying problem such as depression.

It might also fall on deaf ears if the person isn't able or willing to look critically at his own actions. J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly notes that "if they're not ready to listen, you run the risk of doing more harm than good when you offer advice."

Having struggled with debt himself, Roth now wonders if people didn't see this as a problem, or simply didn't think it was any of their business. In this post, he suggests that some people don't want to talk about their own money situation because they already think they're doing the best they can -- or that they don't want to be lectured to or judged.

This is particularly true if the "advice" is unsolicited or laughable, or both. In a post at Wise Bread, Andrea Karim tells of a friend who, though deeply in debt, harangued Karim about a personal-financial choice.

She wrote that talking about money is considered "crass" in the U.S. but that wasn't the case when she lived abroad. Karim noted the irony of "the country most associated with being obsessed with money (being) the country with the fewest friendly discussions about it."

Readers: Do you talk to family/friends about debt? About personal finance in general?

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