Taboo Tuesday: How to handle four potentially awkward money conversations over the holidays

You've just sat down for your family dinner and, before you're even finished passing around the mashed potatoes, the conversation turns to that topic you always dread at this time of year: money.

Personal finance is one of those uncomfortable subjects we just can't seem to avoid around the holidays. Discussing finances with family can be particularly unpleasant: one-third of young adults say talking about money was taboo in their house when they were growing up, according to a recent survey by T. Rowe Price.

But awkward money moments don't have to dampen the family festivities. Here are four common finance conversations you may encounter over the holiday season and tips on how to navigate them gracefully.

"Let's not do gifts this year"

Maybe you've had a difficult year or have new financial priorities. Or maybe you're just tired of shopping for gifts people don't really need. Whatever the reason, telling relatives or friends you'd like to ditch the holiday gift-giving tradition can be uncomfortable.

READ: Three upgrades to traditional holiday budgeting advice

If gifts aren't in your budget, make sure to tell your family before anticipation builds that everyone will be sitting down to unwrap presents. Call or meet up one-on-one with relatives in advance to explain your reasons for scaling back your gift giving and suggest other ways to enjoy the holiday season, such as organizing a family movie night, making homemade gifts together, or pooling your cash to make a charitable donation.

"Stop spoiling my kid"

What if you're happy to give and receive gifts—but you'd prefer if your child didn't get quite so many? Whether your kids have more toys than they can possibly use, or you're trying to teach them the holidays aren't just about presents, relatives spoiling kids can be a real concern for some people. 

Before broaching the topic, remember to acknowledge that your loved ones have good intentions—even if they splurge a bit too much. Thank them for their generosity and be open and honest about why you want to reduce the number of gifts your child receives. Suggest other ways relatives can demonstrate their love for your kids by spending meaningful time with them, such as a weekend away or a trip to a local attraction.      

"I need to borrow some cash"

Perhaps the most awkward of all potential holiday conversations is getting hit up for cash by a family member. Loaning money to anyone comes with risks, but it can be especially complicated when family relationships are thrown into the mix. If all goes well, you could be helping out a family member. But are you willing to risk straining your relationship if things turn sour?

READ: What do you give the dog walker or the piano teacher for the holidays?

Refrain from giving a definitive answer if you're in the middle of a family gathering. Saying yes right away could put you into trouble down the road and saying no could cause your relative to get upset. Instead, tell them you want to be there to support however you can, but that you'll need to put some thought into whether you're in a position to lend money. Schedule a time to talk one-on-one after you've made a plan for the loan. If you decide to decline their request, show compassion and offer to help them get through their difficult time in other ways.

"When are you going to…?"

Buy a house? Get married? Finish school? For many of us, the holidays are a time when we're awkwardly put on the spot about our lives by often well-meaning family members. It's uncomfortable to have to answer questions you'd rather not, and it can be frustrating if you feel like your relatives are making judgements about you.

If you're put under the spotlight, make sure to stay calm and collected by reminding yourself that your relatives don't necessarily understand your financial situation, your lifestyle, or the economic realities you're facing. When your uncle asks you about buying a house, for example, he's probably not thinking about the changes in homeownership trends since he bought his. So keep calm, laugh it off, and practice your conversation deflection skills!