How to have these seven awkward money conversations


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American entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss is known for saying that a person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.

And many of those uncomfortable conversations revolve around money. How to borrow money from family? How to repay a favour? To tip or not to tip?

Columnist Nicola Field has written for Money for 15 years, and has tackled many awkward questions on money and manners.

To tip or not to tip?

While hospitality workers in the US rely heavily on tips to supplement their wages, that's not the case here in Australia, Field says.

"With this in mind, it's only necessary to tip if you're really happy with a restaurant's food or service.

"If you have a lengthy wait for the menu or food, or the service is below your expectations, there's no obligation to tip."


If you do want to show your appreciation, how much is suitable?

"A straw poll of colleagues suggests a tip of about 10% is standard."

And don't let good service go unnoticed, even if you can't afford to tip.

"If your budget is tight, simply thanking floor staff for great service will be a much appreciated gesture."

How to deal with the neighbours from hell

Bad neighbours are a universal problem. Just ask Seth Rogen.

So what can you do when nightmare neighbours move next door?

You do have options, Field says, but safety is your first priority.

"The first step is to simply knock on their door and explain the problem," she says.

"If you're at all concerned take along a friend or partner, and walk away if you feel threatened."


If your polite request is ignored, make notes of your complaints then contact a Community Justice Centre (CJC).

"CJCs are government-funded, independent centres that specialise in settling neighbour disputes through mediation sessions. It's a free service that claims a high success rate."

If your neighbour is unwilling to attend, your next step is to approach your local council.

"Councils may impose fines if noise limits are exceeded at certain times of the day," Field says.

"It may be worth gathering a petition to present to your local council - or your neighbour.

"It may not solve the problem but at least the folks next door will be aware they're raising the hackles of the neighbourhood."

How to navigate the mates' rates minefield

While it is handy to have handy friends, payment - or lack thereof - can result in tension.

"If you're asking a relative to lend their professional services it pays to be mindful that by working for you they're either giving up leisure time or bypassing full-paying work," Field says.

So while they may offer to waive their fee, you should politely ignore them and pay up anyway.


And consider other options for repaying the favour, by offering your own skills in return or helping to promote your mate's business.

"While it's great if you can exchange skills, if you can't, word of mouth is a free but powerful form of advertising, and it could be the best return favour you can offer," says Field.

How to borrow money from family

Borrowing money from friends or family is never easy, so it's important to take measures to protect the relationship.

"The golden rule is to limit requests for help to financial emergencies," Field says.

"People are more likely to shell out cash if you're struggling to pay a medical bill, than if you're just keen to buy a new festive season party outfit."

Don't expect charity, she advises, but suggest a loan with manageable payments.

borrow money

"Specify how much you can repay, each week or month, until the debt is cleared. This gives the lender a sense of reassurance that they will get their cash back."

And, if you can afford it, offer to pay interest.

"It's a gesture that may be waved aside but at least it shows you're taking the loan seriously."

Put the terms of the loan in writing, and honour them, while cutting back your spending.

"Auntie Edna isn't going to be impressed by the news that you're holidaying at Club Med if she's just handed you an emergency loan to pay the rent," Field says.

And remember that money and debt can quickly sour relationships, so don't take it lightly.

How to ask for donations

Once your child starts school, so to starts the endless requests for fundraising.

"Not everyone feels comfortable hitting up friends or family for money, but there are ways to tackle fund-raising requests that aren't too painful," Field says.

Go door-knocking with your child, but get them to ask.

school fundraising charity

"It's hard to resist a child asking for sponsorship but they should always be accompanied by an adult if fundraising involves door-knocking around the neighbourhood," she says.

Be specific about the fundraising goal and what the money will be used for, and remember your manners.

"Give people the option to make a lump-sum donation. Be sure to thank anyone who donates, and graciously accept any knockbacks."

How much to spend on a gift

While there is no hard and fast rule about how much to spend on a gift, it should be in line with your relationship.

"Ideally a gift should reflect the level of intimacy you share with a person," Field says.

"If you know someone well, a generous gift is fine. For a casual acquaintance, trim the budget."


If you're on a tight budget, go for maximum impact with wrapping. And don't skimp on your message in the card. Your words should say more than the price tag of the gift.

And remember, a gift is a gesture, not a trade.

"Don't feel obliged to compete in terms of money spent," she says.

How to fend off nosey money questions

How much do you make? Are you guys in debt? What did that cost?

Some people cross the line when it comes to asking personal questions about money, but that doesn't mean you need to answer.

"A tell-all approach isn't essential when friends or colleagues ask personal money questions," Field says.

She suggests a few direct but polite tactics to avoid the conversation while preserving the friendship.

"For starters you could just pretend you didn't hear the question. If that doesn't work, change the subject in such an obvious way it becomes clear you have no intention of providing an answer.


Or turn to humour to deflect the question.

"If you're asked 'What's your salary package worth?' try 'The boss thinks it's far too much and I reckon it's far too little'.

And remember that the more information you give, the more questions will follow.

"Give away nothing and it's almost impossible to offend and the issue's put to rest."

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