The pandemic has helped to break taboos about finances - Sarah Coles

This week, a friend of mine sent a message in the small hours. It was the day before payday, she had to make a mercy dash across the country to help a family member, and because there was no petrol, she needed to buy an extortionate train ticket.

For a big chunk of people, the pandemic has broken some of the biggest money taboos.

September is a hellishly expensive month, so she asked if someone could cover the cost for a day, and her friends stepped in. There was no hesitation or fear of judgement. We’ve gone through so much together over the last 18 months, that nowadays when we run into money trouble, we simply let people know we’re in a bind, and ask for help.

It’s something we come across all the time, so we surveyed people earlier this month to find out whether it was a widespread phenomenon, and if we’re becoming more open about money issues.

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We found that for a big chunk of people, the pandemic has broken some of the biggest money taboos. One in five people say the pandemic has made them more likely to discuss money problems with their family.

The younger people were the more likely to say they’re opening up. More than one in three of those aged 18-34 said the past 18 months made them more likely to talk about money worries, compared to less than one in six of those aged 55 and over. Younger people are also more likely to ask their family for financial help: one in three of those aged 18-34 said this, compared to one in six people overall.

Some of this is comes down to how hard the crisis has hit younger people. They’re more likely to have been furloughed or seen their hours cut. They’re also more likely to be renting, so couldn’t take advantage of payment holidays, and had to rely on the understanding of their landlord instead.

Younger people hadn’t had the same opportunity to build up their savings before the crisis hit, so they had less to fall back on. It meant they were simply more likely to need the help of their loved ones.

It also owes something to family relationships. It can be easier for someone in their 20s to talk to their parents about their worries: it’s the parent/child dynamic we’re all used to. However, many parents aren’t used to sharing their problems or asking for help from their offspring, so they may be more reluctant to speak up.

However, when we asked people whether the pandemic made people more likely to have discussed death and the financial issues around it, around one in three in every age group agreed.

For many of us, it pushed our own mortality to the front of our minds, and made us worry about things like how our family would cope financially without us, how they would pay for the funeral, and how we should leave our money to friends and family. Women have become increasingly likely to broach the subject, with a third of women saying they were more likely to talk about it now, compared to just over one in four men.

Some people made sensible plans a long time ago and were waiting for the right time to discuss it with their family.

The uncertainties of the past 18 months persuaded an awful lot of people to bite the bullet and bring it up. This is a brilliant step forward because it helps people understand the wishes of their loved ones, which takes the uncertainty and guesswork out of making financial decisions at an incredibly difficult time. Others had put off plans, and the pandemic gave them a reason to get it sorted.

You don’t need to rush into having money conversations with your family, but it’s worth considering whether there’s anything you should tackle, either to get some help, offer some, or simply let your family know your wishes. These issues are different for everyone, but there are ten topics you should consider:

1. Do you need help with debts? This doesn’t always mean asking for money. A family member could help you speak to the companies you owe money to.

2. Are you worried someone else is in debt? If they’re spending more than they can afford, or are starting to get stressed about money, talking to them about it can help them take stock.

3. Are you finding your finances overwhelming? There are times when we all struggle, whether it’s getting to grips with something complicated, or keeping on top of things when we have something else going on. Do you need help?

4. Is someone else struggling? Can you step in?

5. Have you made a will? And does your family know what’s in it? Will they understand your wishes?

6. Have your parents made a will? Do they understand what will happen if they don’t?

7. Have they left a register of assets? This list of all their accounts will cut the risks of mistakes or delays during probate.

8, Have they made a lasting power of attorney? These give someone they trust permission to make decisions if they’re no longer able to (they need one for health decisions and one for financial ones).

9. Do they have any specific wishes for their funeral, and have they made any arrangements to pay for it?

10. Does someone need care? And if they do, do they need help navigating the system? Do they know how they will cover the costs, and what help is out there?

It’s up to us all to help ensure we don’t lose the progress we’ve made on breaking financial taboos during the pandemic. We shouldn’t slide back to not wanting to bother anyone with our problems. The past 18 months has shown us that people actually want to be bothered, because that’s the only way they have an opportunity to help.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson