Money Manners: Should you Stage a Money Intervention for Your Family?

Talking about money with trusted pals and your boo may be hard enough. But, envisioning a holiday sit-down for a mature pow-wow with your family over finances? Well, that may feel like a far-fetched, unicorn scenario.

But, what should you do if you have a relative who is royally screwing up his finances, especially if you know this mess may have a ripple effect on other loved ones? You may need to step in and intervene.

Take a look at our tips for determining whether you should stage a money intervention with the fam bam during the holidays, and our shortlist on how to proceed.

Assess the Gravity of the Situation

Communicating about money matters is well, extremely complicated. Add to the mix deep-rooted resentment, history and family dynamics, and you may feel like you’re precariously tip-toeing over landmines.

To gauge whether you should set up a money intervention, figure out exactly how serious the matter is. Is someone committing an act of financial infidelity, such as running up credit card debt, hiding bank accounts, or keeping a huge sum of student loan debt under wraps from a significant other? Or, maybe you have a teenage cousin who has no idea how to manage her finances and constantly spends everything she has. This can turn ugly once she hits college.

If it’s a serious matter, think about what would happen if nobody stepped in to intervene. If doing nothing can lead to debilitating, long-term consequences, a money intervention may be in order.

Figure Out If It’s Appropriate to Stage an Intervention

On the flipside, let’s say your sister has been complaining about how her money habits don’t align with her boyfriend’s. Perhaps she’s a saver and he never puts enough in a savings account. This would perhaps be considered a minor “flare-ups” and may be better handled between the two of them. While you feel inclined—or may have even been asked —to have a “little talk” with the couple, it may heighten feelings of tension and cause resentment.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around the types of money matters you’re comfortable discussing with your relatives. And, perhaps you can simply suggest resources or a money management app that can help them with some of the issues they’re facing. Maybe this is all that’s needed to point your family members in the right direction.

Determine If You’re the Right Person

Let’s say that you’ve looked at the facts at hand, and determined that a money intervention is appropriate. If that’s a given, it’s time to decide whether you are the right person to facilitate this type of discussion.

Ideally, the facilitator should be an unbiased person who can remain calm throughout the intervention. Maybe a family friend who knows both parties would better suited. Or, you may want to bring in an experienced, trained professional, such as a financial therapist. Someone like this has no emotional ties to your family and may be the best person for the job.

If you’re the one handling the intervention, here are a few dos and don’ts to get started:

Don’t: Make Assumptions

Most of the time you only know one side of the story. For example, you may only hear from your Uncle Bill about how his wife Jane neglects to pay the bills on time. But to be fair, you may not have gotten wind from your Aunt Jane that Bill is no money saint, either.

It’s tough to do, but leave your assumptions at the door. Go into the situation with an open mind, and get the facts and details from everyone involved. If you take an unbiased, balanced perspective, you can then stage a more effective intervention.

Do: Time It Well

Just like it’s a major faux paus to ask for a loan during someone’s birthday party (yes, I’ve been guilty of this), a holiday gathering is not be the best time to stage a money intervention.

Instead, choose a time that works for everyone involved, and pick a private space so you can discreetly discuss touchy matters.

While the holidays are one of the few times during the year when all your family members may be in the same place, avoid discussing money matters over the dinner table. If you must have an intervention the day of a holiday gathering, schedule it before or after the festivities in a separate location.

Don’t: Go for the Jugular

While you may know what the main issue is, consider starting out by having a general conversation about money. This can lead into deep-seated matters, such as financial infidelity, debts that have remained long unpaid, issues with gambling or bouts of overspending.

The key here is to harbor healthy and respectful communication. Otherwise, it can escalate into a shouting match and reflexive rounds of pointing and blaming.

Do: Defer to a Professional If Necessary

As I mentioned above, it may be easier to bring in a pro, such as a licensed therapist or maybe even a money coach who works with couples or groups.

A money intervention can cause tension, and dredge up deep-seated, bad feelings. Without proper training, a well-intended conversation can quickly go south.

Handle the Situation Gently

When trying to decide whether staging a money intervention is appropriate and necessary, just keep this in mind: For every action, there is a reaction.

Do your best to create a safe space before bringing out the elephant in the room. And whatever you do, tread with care. If executed properly, facilitating a family financial intervention can shift your family’s money situation in a positive direction. It can also foster deeper communication and trust.

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