The MapleMoney Show » How to Save Money » Debt

How to Make Talking About Money Easy, with Michelle Arpin Begina

Presented by Willful

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Why are so many people afraid to ask for help when they’re having money trouble? What about opening up to a spouse or partner about their shared finances? My guest this week shares the 3 steps you can take to make talking about money easy. Want to know more? Don’t miss this episode!

If you still think of wealth as a numbers game, you haven’t met Michelle Arpin Begina. An Advisor, Author, and Speaker, Michelle has taken her own money story and transformed it into a passion for financial literacy that marries wealth management and financial therapy. Michelle and I sat down to discuss a common problem; not being able to solve financial problems with those closest to you because you’re afraid to bring up the subject.

According to Michelle, if you’re feeling paralyzed and unable to address money issues with those closest to you, there is a 3-stage process you can go through. Stage 2 involves reaching out for help. But why is asking for help so hard?

Michelle explains that humans experience a universal condition when asking for help – they get the same feeling as when they encounter physical pain. No wonder it’s so easy to ignore money problems while they continue to grow in the background.

As for dealing with money problems with a spouse or partner, Michelle explains why it’s important to have the mindset that we co-create our financial problems with other people. Even if the other person’s behaviour has caused a financial problem, the responsibility to fix it is shared. If you find talking about money hard for whatever reason, don’t miss this episode.

This episode of The MapleMoney Show is brought to you by Willful: Online Wills Made Easy. Did you know that 57% of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create legal Will and Power of Attorney documents online from the comfort of home.

In less than 20 minutes and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you’ve put a plan in place to protect your children, pets, and loved ones in the event of an emergency.

Get started for free at Willful and use promo code MAPLEMONEY to save 15%.

Episode Summary

  • Why it’s important for families to be able to talk about money
  • Many people need an emotional prompting to save money
  • What’s missing from financial literacy conversations
  • The benefit of telling someone about your financial goals
  • What the research shows about asking for help
  • We co-create our financial problems with other people

Read transcript

Why are so many people are afraid to ask for help when they’re having money trouble? What about opening up to a spouse or partner about their shared finances? My guest this week shares the three steps you can take to make talking about money, easy. What to know more? Don’t miss this episode. If you still think of wealth as a numbers game, you haven’t met Michelle Arpin Begina. Advisor, author and speaker, Michelle has taken her own money story and transformed it into a passion for financial literacy that marries  wealth management and financial therapy. Michelle and I sat down to discuss a common problem—not being able to solve financial problems with those closest to you because you’re afraid to bring up the subject. 


Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. This episode of the Maple Money Show is brought to you by Willful. Did you know that 57 percent of Canadian adults don’t have a will? Willful has made it more affordable, convenient and easy for Canadians to create a legal will and power of attorney documents online from the comfort of home. In less than 20 minutes, and for a fraction of the price of visiting a lawyer, you can gain peace of mind knowing you put a plan in place to protect your children, pets and loved ones in the event of an emergency. Get started for free at and use promo code Maple Money to save 15 percent. Now, let’s chat with Michelle… 


Tom: Hi, Michelle, welcome to the Maple Money Show. 


Michelle: Hi, Tom. It’s great to be with you. 


Tom: One of the topics we’ve covered in the past that I feel pretty passionate about is the ability to talk about money. In my family, as a kid, we never really talked about money. I don’t know if it was necessarily a taboo thing, we just didn’t do it. Whether it’s for any kind of uncomfortableness or not, I’m not sure, but I think it would have benefited me early on to actually have money conversations. Then being married, it was difficult to have those conversations, too. I think it kind of followed through my whole life, being tough to have money conversations. What’s are your thoughts just in a broad sense about the importance of talking about money? 


Michelle: Well, first, I think it makes sense that it would be hard to talk about money if you’ve never been taught how to. I don’t think any of us have been taught how to do it. We’re taught a lot of other things. But this is just not something explicitly that our parents sit down with a PowerPoint presentation and say, “Let me demonstrate to how this is done.” Mostly what we learn about money is from experiences. We watch what goes on with our parents, or we hear of things that they say in passing and often interpret what they actually mean instead of stopping and asking them. Or we take experiences and we make them mean something when we’re really young and don’t have the full context of a situation or the intellectual horsepower yet to really understand what’s going on. We feel something, so we do a lot of interpretation and use our big imaginations like we had as kids. And all of that just goes into creating beliefs in us and what we think of ourselves and what we think of other people that have money. Then we just pick up, societally, that generally, it’s taboo. We’re told it’s not polite to ask what something costs, which kind of eliminates or just disrespects the fact that kids are curious. Instead of treating it as just another topic that a child is going to be curious about, we’re told, “Hey, it’s not polite. You can’t talk about that.” If you have to ask, then you’re kind of revealing that you don’t know something and all that kind of head trash that goes on. 


Tom: You mentioned the idea we don’t sit down with kids and do a PowerPoint. On one hand, I could see a benefit of doing that, but also if they’re not ready for that… I was in college and my macroeconomics teacher broke down the benefits of compound interest over time. I still wasn’t ready to listen because I didn’t immediately start saving and investing. You’ve got to be ready to have that conversation. And you said how people don’t discuss how much they’ve paid for something. I have lots of money conversations now (like we’re having) but I still feel a bit shy about talking about how much I’m paying for something. People are going to spend money things and some of these things may seem unnecessary to some people, but if it’s what you value, I think people should be able to spend their money on that. But you may still feel you don’t want to talk about that. You don’t want to say how much you spent on that electronic item or whatever it is. Even now, I still think I have these issues where I don’t want to say numbers. I don’t want to say how much I make in my business. I don’t want to say how much I spend on whatever random thing I know is just something I want. How do you get over that? How do you feel comfortable in those cases and examples where you don’t feel like you’re bragging? Because that’s not the point. It’s more about just having open money conversations. 


Michelle: Well, I think you just hit the nail on the head of why it’s so difficult. I think we have a fear that if we talk about money, we’re afraid of how the other person is going to react—if it’s a shared problem we’re having. Or if we’re just revealing something. A great example is what you just used, how much you paid for something. The other fear is we worry about what people will think of us for spending ‘X’ amount on, you know, A, B or C that we purchased. To me, that’s the balancing act. On the one hand, we may have a problem we would like some help with, but opening up and asking for help, really exposes us to this internal tug-of-war of wanting help on the one hand, but the risk of social pain on the other. That’s really what we have to navigate to be able to step into conversations. Not that you asked me this, but having children, I’m just a big believer that we should tell our children the truth to the point that’s age appropriate for them in a way that we’re not ever unburdening our stress on our children. We’re the adults. They’re the kids, right? They’re supposed to grow up worry free. We’re supposed to take that on. When I say we need to tell them the truth, what I mean by that is, we just need to be clear and satisfy that itch. Answer the questions that they’re curious about to the extent that you’re comfortable with. If your child ever asks you, how much money do you make or how much money do we have, if they’re eight-years-old, you can answer them, and they have absolutely no context for it. You could say you make $10,000 a year and they’re going to think that that’s all the money in the world. So, it’s maybe not necessarily helpful to actually give them a direct answer. But you want to give them an answer where they’ll stop asking you more questions, which I think is always the signal that you’ve satisfied that curiosity for the moment. It is a balancing act of what you are comfortable and are not comfortable with and willing to share in an age appropriate way with your kids. In my house, it’s an open book. If my kids ask me, I actually answer all those questions. Even the accounts we have for them, I show them their statements instead of just talking about it. Going back to what you said, Tom, we can receive financial education growing up, but it’s really like everything else. Haven’t we all taken classes that we thought, “When am I ever going to need physics or geometry when I grow up?” Some of us grow up and will need it because we’ll enter a field where that’s what’s really required. And others will sort of remember learning it but it was 10 or 12 years ago and we haven’t had a situation where it applies. I think financial literacy, learning to talk about money and having knowledge about money, really doesn’t count. Like it almost needs to be delivered in the moment that it’s needed. But that’s not really how the world operates. 


Tom: I like the idea of maybe having financial literacy classes in school. Using my example of the compound interest and seeing how it builds up, it wasn’t impactful enough to make me go make a change immediately, but it stuck with me. I know the numbers, I understand it. So there’s something there where you’re picking up that knowledge, maybe just not with enough inspiration to act on it right away. And maybe that’s the difference—if you get it when you need it, it might be more helpful. But in a school setting, you can’t help all 25 children as they need something. You’re really just setting them up for the future. 


Michelle: But I think you just said something so nuanced there, Tom. You said, maybe if I was inspired, I would have done something with it. What I think is missing from financial literacy conversations is, they tend to be all about the facts and figures, right? It’s not uncommon in a financial literacy class to say, “Here’s a fake $100,000 account and you’re going to compete. At the end of the quarter, whoever (on the teams) has the most money in their account for their stock picking ability, is the winner.” A lot of times, that’s what kids get taught about financial literacy. And that’s supposed to provide a hands-on learning experience but it really focuses in on one particular aspect. It always seems to come back to this investing piece, which there’s nothing wrong with that. We need that knowledge. But the piece that’s missing is the social and emotional connections that we make to the information we’re receiving. That’s when it gets powerful. That’s when you tap into the inspiration and the motivation to do something. There was a research study out about a year and a half ago where people went into a company. They had a control group and an experimental group. In the control group, they were employees of this company who were given all the knowledge to make higher retirement plan contributions and really start contributing. They basically were given a prescription of what to do. The other control group got that information. However, they were asked to bring in a sentimental item from home for that discussion. They started off the meeting by talking about this sentimental item and all of the qualities that you attributed to this item such as what did it really mean to you? What they then did was tapped into all of those emotions on this item. Maybe it was a stuffed teddy bear. They tapped into all of those positive emotions around the sentimental item, and they were able to then map those emotions into thinking about their retirement and planning and saving for their retirement. Within a three week period, the people that had been socially and emotionally prompted, saved 70 percent more than the group that had not talked about their emotions. That’s how powerful the connection is between both ends of financial literacy. 


Tom: I like that because emotions can literally motivate you. I’ve seen it before. Just to get back to that college example. It wasn’t motivating. It was a very dry class. But if I see things like examples of people doing something and a bit of a breakdown of how… Sometimes you get these success stories of investing or income streams that don’t have enough details, it does seem just like bragging. But if there’s a bit of a blueprint and you can see there is some reality to this—that it’s something someone did including the steps they took… Whether it’s a book or an article about them or whatever the case is, I find that a lot more motivating—to follow something that feels more tangible, more real to me. 


Michelle: I agree with you. What you’re describing is something that you can actually grab onto, take in and do something with versus being very pie-in-the-sky. I completely agree with you. 


Tom: I mentioned the idea of not wanting to brag about money, but I’ve also seen it in office situation where people are talking and I can pick up hints of financial trouble people don’t want to really get into. Maybe they can’t afford to go out. It’s fine to say, “I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to spend money on happy hour and stuff,” but some people might word things a little differently where you can see there’s a hint of, “I don’t have the money to go out,” which can be different (unless you mean that it’s just not in my budget). And little hints of, “Oh my, my credit cards full…” Sometimes people will just give you a little bit and you can see there’s problems there. Is that a sense of maybe being ashamed and not wanting to talk about things? Where is the line? We want to have open money conversations, but you don’t necessarily have to tell everybody at your workplace about your debt. Where is the line between politically correct and reaching out to someone for help? 


Michelle: When I think about talking about money, what I’m talking about is having conversations with the people that matter. We don’t have to go from being private about money to taking to social media and announcing all of our money stuff or getting on the rooftops and shouting. What I think is important is really in three stages. Stage one is to really understand, what are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you believe? And most importantly, what are you saying to yourself and how are you to offer yourself? Because most of us talk to ourselves like jerks and it’s not helpful. But Dr. Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, talks about something called distanced, self-talk, which basically is learning how to talk to yourself in the third person. Just like a best friend would talk to you. If you went to a best friend with an issue, how would they be talking to you? I might say, “I’m so bad with money.” That then becomes, “Michelle is so badass with money,” or, “Michelle, you’ve got this!” I can learn to talk to myself in the third person. That broadens our perspective. It helps us to rethink our experiences and reduces stress so we can align our actions with our goals. This is stage one. It’s the internal, “know me and work with myself” stage. To me, stage two is really an important step. First, there’s knowing yourself and the problem you’re having. Then it’s stage which is to get some help for the problem you’re having. And stage three is to step into a conversation with problems that you might be having that are “our” problems, shared problems. Once you know what you’re thinking, feeling, and starting to talk to yourself, stage two is that important step where you identify what kind of help you might need to solve the issue. That might be getting a key piece of information. It might be getting advice like, “If you were me, how would you handle this?” Or it might just be a shoulder to cry on—just letting something out. Sometimes one of those three things we might receive from a friend, expert or guide is actually enough to actually solve our problem if it’s a problem that is completely in our control. One of those three things might actually do the trick. For example, we might share with someone, “I don’t have a will because if I get a will, I fear I’m going to die.” We all know we’re going to die, but they feel like the act of getting a will is going to cause them to die. I’ve heard this before. It’s like admitting that we’re being a little irrational. And we might not even realize that that’s our irrationality. We might just be focused on, “I don’t have a will and I know I really should have one.” The rational part is, in talking with that other person, they may be able to help you identify the problem and move through that. Does that make sense? 


Tom: Yeah, for sure. I can see how just having someone to talk to—that shoulder to cry on can be helpful a lot of times. It’s not even about getting specific advice because you realize when something’s kind of irrational, you’re not going to die because you’re writing a will. But just to talk that out with someone and not just to yourself is helpful. I see it too, with goals. If you want to save a certain amount, make a certain amount, whatever the goals are, when you talk to someone, it makes it more “real” just because you feel accountable. You said it out loud. Now you feel like you actually have someone dependent on it, even though it’s not the case. Technically, a friend doesn’t—I don’t want to say doesn’t care but he or she doesn’t depend on whether or not you save for your next vacation. But at least by the fact you’ve told them, there’s a sense of accountability where they say, “I’m going to do what I said.” It makes it a lot more set-in-stone than just having this idea in your head that you want to do something. 


Michelle: To me, there’s are three levels of talking about money. There is the talking to yourself about it. Then there’s stepping into getting some sort of assistance, whether it’s advice or a key piece of information that’s going to help us solve our problem, or there’s something we just need to get off our chest. And then the third leg is we co-create our financial futures with other people. Other people’s decisions have an impact on us and vice versa. Our decisions are impacting people we know, care about and love as well. That’s the third leg. When I think about the second step, it’s not necessarily that I’m having a conversation with the person yet. This is a preparation step, right? This is a step where just hearing your voice out loud may give you instant clarity because you’re using another sense. You’re going from the voice you hear in your head to literally hearing the voice. I don’t think we actually talk people off of ledges. I think we listen people off of ledges. I’ve experienced this. Have you ever been in a conversation where someone listens to you so deeply, they don’t interrupt you, just nodding their head and acknowledging what you’re saying, and they’re holding all of their opinions or any advice they want to give until you’ve given them permission at the end to dispense that? But in the meantime, just being a being able to speak openly with someone that you trust, what it actually allows is for you, the person to tap into your own inspirational motivation in that process. By the end of the conversation you think, “You know, this really isn’t a problem. I actually know what I can do here,” and the person hasn’t said anything. The person said, hello and goodbye and never said anything in between. We need a little bit of that. But I think that second step can be difficult because asking for help in this form, a piece of advice, a key piece of information, talking to an expert or just getting something off our chest—asking for help actually hurts the brain. It’s hard to ask for help because doing so feels exactly like physical pain does. Research shows that, so that’s what can really make it difficult. And this is a universal condition for all humans. Asking for any sort of help is a difficult thing to step into, but it’s necessary preparation to get us to that third stage. Let’s say we’re married and there’s a problem between our money. What you now have done is gotten clear on your thinking, what you believe, what you’ve talked to yourself about. You’ve probably brainstormed solutions. You’re clear on what you want to have happen versus what is happening. You’ve done a lot of preparation to then be prepared to step into a difficult conversation. It becomes easier to do it if you’ve done those first two stages. Now you’re really grounded to step in where you’re not being willy nilly. It’s not super emotional. There’s nothing wrong with being emotional. In fact, the old adage in the wealth management space is, take the emotion out of your financial decisions. If we actually damaged that part of the brain that control our emotions, we would have zero ability to make any decisions. We actually need our emotions to make decisions. It helps us to define our preferences. Whereas if we had frontal lobe damage, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between one preference or another. Everything would just be equal in beige. It’s really not allowing us to live so it’s really fuel. The emotions are fuel for us to know what it is that we want if we just think about it in that context. I’m not talking about the heightened emotions of a kneejerk reaction when you get your credit card statement, open it and it makes you really angry because it’s a lot higher than you were expecting it would be. You’ve got to come down from that and get into that space where you’re “matter of fact,” thinking, when I opened the statement, it made me angry. When I opened the statement it made me nervous. When I opened the statement, it made me fear we’re never going to be able to retire. It’s what happens and how it make you feel without a lot of extraneous fault, blaming, pinpointing… Just be really neutral about it because what you’re really trying to do when you step into a conversation about a shared problem is trying to problem solve. You have to separate the issue and the problem from the person when you’re doing that. 


Tom: I like the idea of being able to speak about how you feel if you’re talking to a spouse or something like that. You can just speak on how you feel instead of blaming that person by saying, “What are all these lines on the credit card statement?” It will make it more of a team feeling if you can get across the idea that you’re not so happy about this, but you’re not calling things out in a factual manner. It seems like it’s a better place to start from, to figure out the next steps. 


Michelle: And even before you bring it up, what you want to couch it by saying, “I’d like to talk about something.” You want to ask permission. Have you ever received a cold call from someone where you pick up the phone and they ask for so-and-so and they just go right into their spiel? What if that person would have stopped, acknowledged you and said, “Hey, good morning, I hope you’re having a great morning. Is this a good time to talk?” You’d be much more likely to be willing to listen to that person. When you want to step into a conversation, you actually have to ask permission, “Here’s what I’d like to talk about. Is now a good time? Are you open to talking about this?” It’s just respectful. You also have to keep in mind that you’ve probably been doing some preparation to get ready to step in and bring that conversation on. They have no idea the that you’ve been doing that. They don’t you’ve been thinking about it. They don’t know you journaled what you thought and felt. You started talking to yourself in the third person and maybe you reached out to your bestie to say, “Hey, I need to get something off my chest. Can you be a sounding board?” You have that advantage. You just have to remember, to them, they’re cold. You’re coming in hot. You have to be mindful of that. Ask them permission. Then, what you want to do, because we co-create our financial futures with other people—you want to brainstorm ideas because it is a shared problem. Even though maybe the person is the one whose behavior is really causing the problem, you want to take it on as a shared responsibility to fix. You get into brainstorming mode, but you don’t do it blindly. If you come to the table having already brainstormed… Going back to the credit card example where you might cut back, how you might automate some purchases, how you might change the budget to accommodate someone else’s preferences a little more than what you originally agreed on—you want to come to the table with a lot of brainstorming ideas. You don’t necessarily bring them out like a gunslinger at the beginning of the conversation but you have them available as tools for the conversation where you’re not putting it on that person to solve the problem, solely. But you’re open and want to hear their ideas. You might have brainstormed a bunch of ideas but they may have better ones. Or they may have ones that you haven’t thought of. That’s really the power—when you can get to that place of that “shared” collaboration around, “Okay, I see how this credit card bill being out of alignment could affect our financial future, short-term or long-term.” You want to get to a place where you’ve just simply described, “Here’s the pain, and here’s why I’m worried about that pain.” Convey and connect with that worry as well. They may not share it, but they least can understand why you’re worried about it. To me, that’s really the goal. And you have to do all of that while holding your ego power, which is really acknowledging your values in the conversation, being clear on what you will and won’t accept, and treating the conversation and the person you’re talking with, (most importantly) with respect. When you do that, you’re going to have a really collaborative conversation. You’re actually going to be having a conversation about money becomes easy because you set it up all that way. 


Tom: When you’re talking about money, whether it’s about that third stage with the person you need to talk directly or the first, where you’re just talking to a friend, getting some feedback, in either of those cases, I find you can still get useful advice. With the brainstorming part it could be more than one person coming up with the answer. Whether it’s something money related or not, sometimes when you’re talking to people, someone’s going to key into something and say, “Why don’t you do this?” And maybe not be too preachy about it. Especially with money. I don’t want to constantly be telling people what they need to do. Sometimes it’s even smaller things, not even money related. If someone’s just talking, having conversations and getting some kind of feedback, you just get a different perspective where you say, “Oh, I didn’t even think of that.” You may not even be asking for help on this certain thing, but people are going to know something you don’t know, whatever the topic’s about. Just to have these conversations, no matter what stage it’s at, gives you something back. And if it’s at that third stage, you’re getting it from the person that truly matters in this the other half of the conversation. It’s still just this idea that if you’re if you’re talking with someone, you’re going to get a bigger picture than if you’re just thinking about it yourself and keeping it to yourself. That’s why I like this idea of money conversations, in total, no matter what stage it’s at. You’re always getting some kind of feedback, information and just kind of becoming more complete on whatever it is you’re discussing. 


Michelle: Yeah, I love what you just said, Tom. I think you’re right. Haven’t we all had that awesome experience of talking to someone, then saying, “Oh, I never thought about it that way,” because human beings really are amazing. We can all live our lives and grow up in the same area and be around the same age and have similar experiences, yet our individual points of view will be completely different from one another. I’m an average photographer, and when I’m lucky enough to travel, I’ll sometimes do a photo tour of a place I’m traveling. I remember being on a photo tour a while back where there were four of us in this group. We were all at the same location, same lighting, same exact time, all of us with our cameras up to our eyes, pressing the shutter. And when we looked on the back of each other’s cameras, no one’s picture was the same. It just continues to blow me away. And it’s all because we all are that unique. We come to the table with completely different points of view, even when we’re in the same circumstance (keeping with that photography analogy). Even standing in the same location with the same light at the same time, the pictures all will look completely different because we are that different. So it does pay to get perspective. I think an important distinction to think about, too, between stage two and stage three—whether you’ve sought out a guru that has unique information that nobody else has, the advice of a coach or a sounding board or friend, that’s the place, actually, you could talk about your emotions. That’s the place that it’s going to be the most productive. That way, when you step into stage three and talking with your boss, your colleague, your child, your husband, whoever it is that you’re co-creating, financial life with you, you process your emotions. And now you can be say, “This isn’t about you. This is about the problem. What’s problem? Let’s solve this. Let’s come to a consensus. Let’s get this fixed. Let’s support each other.” You’re hyper-productive then. 


Tom: Well, this is great. First of all, I love that analogy. Thanks for giving us some strategies that we can talk to someone else and have a good money conversation. Can you let people know where they can find you online? 


Michelle: Yeah, thanks for asking. The best place to find me is  


Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show. 


Michelle: Thank you, Tom.  


Thank you, Michelle, for explaining some of the reasons we find talking about money so hard. It’s a good reminder that there’s a lot more to personal finance than numbers and spreadsheets. You can find the show notes for this episode at If you have a moment, head over to our YouTube channel and subscribe there because we’ll be getting back to releasing never-before-seen content, soon. Either search for Maple Money or go to and subscribe today. Thanks, as always, for listening. I look forward to seeing back here next week when Joe Saul-Sehy joins us to discuss some of the topics in his new book, Stacked – The Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management. See you next week! 

I don’t think we actually talk people off of ledges, I think we listen people off of ledges. - Michelle Arpin Begina Click to Tweet