Watching a family member of friend struggling with debt can be tough. The human inclination is to, of course, help out where possible. However, when money is involved, this can be an uncomfortable topic to broach. What’s key to remember is that there are many sensible ways to support a loved one living with debt without the need for charity or a handout.
In this guide, we explore the most effective ways to approach the subject with a loved one. We also provide our top tips to giving the support and meaningful assistance a friend or family member in debt might need.
How to talk to someone about debt
Debt is a very personal, and often sensitive, topic. This means that even if you’re really struggling with debt, finding the right people to reach out to, at the right time, can be very challenging. For this reason, many people in this position keep their struggles a secret, trying to handle it alone rather than seeking help. This can take a toll on an individual’s mental and physical health and put immense strain on personal relationships. With this in mind, it’s often better for a friend or family member to make the first move when possible. The question is, if you’re concerned about a loved one living with debt, how do you go about talking to them?
Well, the key thing to remember is that discussing this topic requires a delicate touch. You should start by choosing the right time and place to bring up the topic. Try to opt for a quiet and private setting in which your friend/family member will feel comfortable and safe. Next, really think about the tone of the conversation you want to have. In order to best help your friend, you need to approach the talk with empathy and understanding. After all, you want to let your loved one know you’re there to offer your full support and not to judge them for their actions.
On a practical level, for example, this could involve using ‘I’ statements rather than the more accusatory ‘you’ statements. For instance, you might say, ‘I’ve noticed you seem very stressed recently. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?’, as opposed to ‘You’re very stressed at the minute. Is it to do with money?’. The former allows you to express concerns without sounding accusatory. It can also be a good idea to ask open-ended questions that allow your friend/family member to express themselves without feeling pressured.
How to help someone in debt
Even after a friend or family member has opened up about their financial difficulties, it can be hard to know how to actually help them. Of course, the level at which you can offer practical assistance depends on a range of variables, including your own personal circumstances. That being said, there are a number of basic ways to provide support that can apply to almost all scenarios.
Spot the warning signs
The first way to help is to simply recognise the signs of financial distress. After all, if you don’t notice that a friend or family member is struggling, how are you going to offer practical assistance? Signs may include things such as regular mentions of money problems cropping up in conversation, for example, or clear changes to spending habits. However, the signs could also present themselves more subtly. For instance, an individual may withdraw from social activities or simply appear more stressed and anxious when you’re with them. By paying attention to your friend/family member’s behaviour and mood you may be able to identify signs of financial strain and initiate a supportive conversation before the situation worsens.
Sometimes simply being there for a loved one can make all the difference. Whether a friend is reaching out for the first time or you’re aware of an ongoing difficult financial situation they are going through, try to be as available as possible. Life can be busy and finding time for friends is not always easy, but the truth is, you never really know what might be going on in someone else’s life and what struggles they are facing until they open up. Being available can help a loved one feel as though they have support if/when they need it, even if that support is provided just in the form of a listening ear.
Help them budget
Once a friend has opened up about their debt, one practical way of helping them could involve assisting them in creating a realistic budget. When you’re in a debt spiral, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees. As a friend, you’re in a third-party position. This means you can perhaps think about the situation more rationally, allowing you to create a budget which your friend can use to get out of debt. Simply break down their income, expenses, and debts to identify areas where they can cut back. Then encourage them to prioritise essential expenses and allocate any remaining funds to debt repayment.
Help them find additional work
Another practical way to assist a friend living with a large amount of debt is to help them find new ways to boost their income. This could be doing something as simple as helping them look for a part-time job or freelancing opportunities, or checking to see if they are eligible for any government benefits or forms of tax relief.
Plan inexpensive social events
If you’re living with debt, the cost of social events can be very daunting. If you’re aware a friend or family member is struggling financially, you can help by only suggesting cost-effective social events. This helps in two ways. Firstly, it means they can still be involved in social occasions without making their debt situation worse. Secondly, it encourages people to stay connected and not withdraw from social situations, which can be detrimental to their mental health.
Inform them about debt management options
If a friend’s debts are becoming unmanageable, the best way to help them is to inform them of the different professional debt management options available to them. Options discussed can include Debt Management Plans (DMPs) – best for individuals facing financial challenges who need a structured approach to repaying their unsecured debts – and Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs), which offer the prospect of debt write-off after a certain period of time.
Here at MoneyPlus, we also offer a refer a friend scheme. This means, if you’ve used our services in the past and recommend us to a friend, we’ll give you both £125 as a thank you. See full t&c’s here.