Talking about your finances with folks requires tact and the right timing. But throw in some eggnog and a dinner table packed with extended family, and any hope for a reasonably civilized conversation about money goes right out the window. Depending on your family dynamics and your financial situation, heading home for the holidays means preparing to field some majorly awkward money questions. Consider it a cross-examination where the courtroom is the dinner table, and the jury includes a great aunt, a distant cousin, and some in-laws. Any good lawyer would advise you to prep before you take the stand, so consider us your counsel on all holiday money talk. We've compiled an assortment of awkward questions you might have to field this holiday, along with some tactful ways to answer—or deflect—them.
Is that a real job?
Whether you're one of the 37 million freelancers, starting your own business, working in the creative arts, navigating the startup world, or doing anything that your relatives might not consider conventional employment, the answer is always YES. Because that is the truth and because you shouldn't have to defend your chosen career and the goals you're striving everyday to meet. It's important when faced with this question that you answer confidently, if not for their sake, for your own.
When Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach and author of the book Poised for Success, was starting her own business, she had to deal with this line of questioning over the holidays. "My answer back then was the first thing that came out of my mouth which was, 'I have a real job.' That's all I said. Sometimes that's the best answer," Whitmore tells Time. If you're worried you'll come off as defensive, Whitmore offers another tactic. Try saying: "I am doing what I love, and you know what they say, 'when you do what you love, the money will follow.'"
How much are you making?
File this question under one you never have to answer directly, unless you really want to. Your income is your business, and unless you're asking for financial help, you are entitled to keep your business to yourself—especially at the dinner table surrounded by distant relatives.
Wisebread's Emily Guy Birken suggests responding to the question playfully —"for instance, by saying "Half of what I'm worth, I'd say," or by placing your pinky against your mouth and intoning 'One million dollars!'" Then, feel free to change the subject. ("So, what's the secret ingredient that makes this stuffing so delicious?")
You're still living in that place?
Here's one you might get from a parent or sibling. Whether they're prompting a discussion about your investment strategy or pressuring you into home ownership, the question may be well-meaning, but it's also dripping with judgment and condescension—and that's no way to begin a productive financial conversation.
One tactic is to shut it down with a simple, "Yes, and I'm still very happy there, thanks." But if you really want to address the elephant in the room, state your case. There are plenty of solid reasons millions of millennials are choosing to rent their homes rather than buy—from a volatile housing market to lowered insurance costs.
"Be honest with your parents, laying out the ways in which renting is a better fit for you right now and how much better off your finances are as a result," suggests Learnvest's Marianne Hayes. "A big mortgage payment may have meant not being able to afford your plane ticket home, for example." If they won't listen to your reasoning, maybe they'll listen to Warren Buffett who believes the best investment you can make is in yourself.
Why don't you hire your cousin/invest in her company?
Yeah, this one is really awkward. One of your relatives is playing job recruiter, or worse, you're confronted directly by a relative who wants you to invest your hard-earned cash into a business that doesn't seem financially sound.
There's nothing wrong with helping out a family-member in need, but the holiday table isn't the best place for financial matchmaking. If your cousin needs a job, you can respond by saying you'll be happy to help in any way you can, but that you're not in a position to make hiring decisions at this time. Feel free to ask him to send you his resume in the new year, and add that you'll be happy to pass it along or keep your ear out for opportunities that might be the right fit.
If you're being hit up for a financial investment you're not comfortable making, you can be a bit more direct. "Instead of saying you have anything against the product or her method of doing business, just blame your budget," suggests Refinery29's money expert Priya Malani. "If it's not entirely true, think of it as a white lie for the greater good: 'I'd love to but it's not really in my budget right now. Thanks anyway!'"
Can I borrow some money?
The answer to this question all depends on who's asking. Is it a parent or sibling? Is it someone you trust with financial decisions? Is their need dire? And most importantly, are you flush enough to meet their requests?
"If you're able to take on the responsibility, pinpoint how much you're comfortable offering," writes Learnvest's Hayes. "In other words, lend only what you can afford to part with. From there, establish a clear payoff timeline and put the agreement in writing."
Still, Hayes suggests listening to your instincts before you jump into any agreement. "If the idea of loaning cash to little bro makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut," she writes. "Politely saying that you can't afford it right now is better than a ruined relationship down the line."
When are you going to find a stable partner?
This one is a doozy. You may be dating someone who isn't as financially stable as your family would like. Even if it's an issue you've grappled with in your relationship, it's not healthy or fair for your family to interfere with your romantic choices—financially or otherwise—unless you're soliciting their advice. Being too defensive can open a can of worms, and take the conversation further down a road you'd rather not go. Try citing a positive career shift your partner has recently made or touting an achievement you're proud of them for. Then, change the subject as fast as you possibly can.
Any other awkward question we haven't covered yet...
You may not be able to predict what you'll be hit with before the holidays, but you'll know an awkward question when it lands.
"If it's uncomfortable for you, it's probably uncomfortable for everyone in the room," Bethany Palmer of TheMoneyCouple tells US News and World Report. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and follow her blanket suggestion for shifting the conversation. Try saying this: "That's an interesting question – let's talk about it later?" Then, ask about dessert. Better yet, ask if you can replenish anyone's wine glasses. A glass or two more, and they might forget all about it.
Between buying a new home and transporting yourself and your belongings to it, moving can be an expensive process. One often underrecognized cost of moving occurs before one's original house has even been sold, and that's staging the house. Homeowners often spend hundreds of dollars making a home appealing to potential buyers. To ease the financial burden of moving, here are several tips for staging your home on a budget.
Downsize Instead of Storing
The goal of staging a home is to create a blank canvas that potential buyers can imagine their own lives painted upon. To accomplish this, homeowners should depersonalize the home as much as possible, removing items that are specific to their family and eliminating clutter. This is where homeowners often incur their first costs as they rush to put as many older things in storage as possible.
To cut costs, focus on downsizing rather than storing items. Look for items that you can sell, donate, or give away. For remaining items, look for alternative places to store them, such as a friend or relative's house. This will also reduce the cost of moving your belongings when it is time to go to the new house.
DIY What You Can
There are times when homeowners should bring in a professional to manage home renovations and decorating, such as when a task requires specialized skills. These types of jobs, when done incorrectly, will incur even greater costs if attempted on your own. However, many of the home improvement tasks that go into staging a home are simple enough that the homeowner can DIY them, such as painting, installing a backsplash, or refinishing the deck. Doing these tasks yourself will save you a significant amount of money.
Don't Redo, Update
Homeowners are often eager to make their houses look as appealing to buyers as possible. However, recall that the point of staging is depersonalization, making a home presentable so buyers can mentally impose their own style onto it. When staging a home on a budget, focus less on completely transforming the space and more on making what is there look presentable. For instance, if you wanted to give your bedroom a facelift, trying to replace the furniture and flooring would be pointless unless it was damaged or unkempt. Simply organizing the space and replacing the bed's comforter would be sufficient.
Another way to update the space without entirely redoing it is to rearrange it to maximize the space that is already there. For instance, pulling the furniture away from the walls will make a room appear bigger and allows more space for those touring the house. Using window trimmings that maximize natural light and incorporating wall mirrors can also make a room seem more spacious.
Raising a larger family than most means that your lifestyle is going to change. Costs will continue to multiply as your family grows larger. However, just because your family is large doesn't mean your quality of life needs to suffer. It just means you need to make a few adjustments to help things work smoother and more efficiently. We've compiled a couple of money-saving tips for larger families to help you get the most out of your dollars.
Always Buy in Bulk
The benefit of having a larger family is that things you buy in bulk rarely ever go to waste. Smaller families can benefit from buying in bulk, of course, but your large family will see the most use out of shopping in large quantities. You'll want to avoid going to smaller stores for necessities such as groceries and clothes, as these places generally have higher markups on their items.
Buy Wholesale Items Online
If you want to take buying in bulk to the next level, one of the best money-saving tips for large families is to buy online from wholesalers. Buying online comes with a number of benefits that you won't get when you go to a physical store:
- You don't have to drag your kids to the store with you
- You have a lower probability of making impulse purchases
- You can search for exactly what you need
- Wholesalers sell in very large quantities for a lower price per item
Never Throw Away Something Useful
When you have to buy things for multiple children, your costs to replace items will be much higher. That's why it's so important to keep everything you can. Clothing is a big part of this. Hand-me-downs can prevent you from needing to replace entire closets every year. Try to repair or upcycle any clothes that may have damage, as this is usually much cheaper than buying brand-new items.
Stick to a Budget
When you support a large family, expenses can sometimes get away from you. Proper budgeting helps to keep the extra purchases that add up to a minimum. Budgeting correctly can save you a lot of heartache in the long run. It's up to you how much control you want to take; you can make your budget weekly or monthly, depending on how tight a ship you need to run. What's important to remember is that making the budget is only the first step—sticking to it is where you'll really need to enact some willpower.
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Sometimes there is no choice—a home needs to be sold in the winter.
Spring may be the most popular time to put your house on the market, but homes do sell in the colder months. With fewer houses available, your home may be someone's only choice when house hunting in your neighborhood. As your neighbors hold out until spring, you'll already be done and ready to shop for your next house!
Here are a few tips for selling a home in the winter to get you on the right track.
Keep Paths Safe and Landscaping Fresh
Landscaping is the last thing on a homeowner's mind in the winter. Everything was cut back in the fall and may now be covered in snow. Still, take a walk around the house and yard to check everything out. Branches may have fallen from heavy snow, leaving a mess in the yard. Keep everything neat and tidy.
The last thing you need is a potential buyer slipping on the ice-covered walk in front of your house. Buyers often consider those moments bad omens, and this can affect their decisions. Shovel, snow blow, spread salt—do whatever you have to do to keep the driveway and walking paths clear, and don't forget the porch and deck.
Make the Inside Warm and Cozy
In cold weather, buyers won't spend a lot of time examining a home's exterior. Instead, impress them with the inside by creating an atmosphere which causes them to want to move in.
When there's time, leave wintery types of snacks and drinks, such as hot cocoa and cookies, available on a table during showings. This gives your home a welcoming feel to buyers.
Light the fireplace (if you have one) for a lovely ambience and set your thermostat to a comfortable setting. A warm home in the winter is much more appealing than a chilly one.
Make Your Home Less Personal
Understandably, this can be a tough thought for homeowners. After all, you've spent years creating memories in your home. To buyers, though, they need to picture it as their own. Too much personality makes that difficult.
It's always important to stage your home in a way that makes it look clean, comfortable, and move-in ready. Don't feel offended by the idea of taking family pictures down and replacing them with generic décor. This will help your home sell faster by helping buyers envision their own things there.
Cleanliness and Maintenance
Clean, clean, and clean some more. Make appliances, counters, and floors shine. No matter how old your home is, it needs to feel like new to potential buyers. If you aren't into dusting, now is the time to try. Don't forget window coverings that might need washing.
Be prepared ahead of time for home inspections by taking care of maintenance now. HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical should all be up to code and running smoothly.
Use these tips for selling a home in the winter, exercise patience during the slower months, and your home will sell before you know it.