Money can be an awkward topic to bring up. For example, getting a Venmo request from a friend to split the cost of the wine she purchased for the movie night she invited you to, or planning a trip with your partner when you each have different budgets.
Even if you’ve checked all the other boxes of getting your financial life together and then started to invest to build wealth, you still have to engage in money conversations. Failure to do so can disrupt the stable financial life you’ve built for yourself.
So no matter where you are in your own financial journey, here are just a few important money conversations you should have this year:
1. Ask a co-worker how much they make
Information is power. Whether you’re a full-time employee or an independent contractor, it’s important to start asking co-workers (or people who do similar work) how much they make.
This is especially critical if you believe you’re underpaid. You’ll find out the true market rate for your job by asking people and not just turning to websites that aggregate data. Plus, it lays the groundwork for future negotiations.
Just be sure you reach out to the right people. It should be someone who either does your job or just was promoted out of your job. Asking someone three levels above you is just being nosey.
Career and negotiation expert Alexandra Dickinson recommends a three-sentence script: “I’m doing research because…[insert reason (i.e., asking for a raise)]. And I think you have some information that could help me. Would you be willing to share your ballpark salary with me?”
Now, it’s possible you don’t feel comfortable asking a co-worker because you fear it could result in retaliation from management at work. While it’s usually illegal to fire you for asking about compensation, a boss can always manufacture another reason to lay you off.
If that’s your worry, you can turn to sites like LinkedIn to cold email people who do similar work.
2. Tell a friend about a financial goal for the year
You don’t have to share, for example, how much you want to save by the end of the year. Instead, you can keep it vague like, “I want to pay off one of my student loans by June” or “I’m aiming to get rid of my credit card debt by December.”
Aside from having a friend serve as your accountability buddy, sharing specifics provides context. Too often, we decline invitations that we can’t afford by simply saying, “No, I’m busy” or “No, I can’t.”
Your friends might brush that off once or twice, but if you keep saying no without any context, then they might start thinking it’s not you, it’s them. They might start inventing all sorts of reasons that you don’t want to hang out if you don’t give them one.
So be honest and employ the counteroffer technique: “I appreciate the invite, but I’m trying to rebuild my emergency savings fund after the dumpster fire that was 2020. Do you want to come over for game night instead?”
Saying no, giving a reason and then offering an alternative plan is a way to both protect your wallet and your friendships.
3. Ask your parents about their estate plan
Millennials and Gen Xers are aging (elder Millennials will hit 40 in 2021!). That means our parents are inching closer and closer to retirement, as well as aging into a stage where health issues will likely become a concern.
It is critical that we start to have conversations with our parents about their retirement and estate plans. Don’t get it twisted — you’re not asking about their will.
Yes, a will is part of an estate plan, but there are many other documents that are just as important. A power of attorney, advanced healthcare directives and a living will are all documents used while parents are still alive, but unable to make decisions for themselves.
You could be direct with your parents by stating your concern and the ask: “I know we have a history of dementia in our family, and that concerns me. So, I want to ensure we have all the legal documents in place so if that ever were to come up, we’d be prepared and could focus on your health and care right away.”
If you know that style is just never going to work with your mom and dad, try getting context clues about their estate planning preparedness by discuss your own: “Now that we’re married, Joe and I are working to get our wills and power of attorney stuff done. Do you have any recommendations for an estate planning attorney to use? [Or, how did you two decide who is your backup power of attorney?]”
An answer of “Oh, we never worried about that stuff” gives you a lot of insight about the state of your parents’ estate plan. You could even offer to go through the process together or pay for an estate planning attorney if money is an issue and you’re in the position to pick up the bill.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together” and “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Scripts, Stories and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.” Erin has been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and on CBS Sunday Morning. She has written for USA Today, Cosmopolitan and Refinery29. Follow Erin on Twitter @BrokeMillennial.