Money – along with sex, politics and religion – is one of those topics we’re told we should never discuss in polite company. “We’ve been taught from an early age that we don’t talk about it,” says Kate Campbell from finance education platform, How To Money.

It’s a taboo that Campbell believes does much more harm than good. She says that talking openly about our finances helps remove “the culture of fear and shame” that can surround money.

“So many Australians are struggling to get by, living pay cheque to pay cheque – maybe they’ve got buy-now-pay-later or credit card debt – and when we don’t talk about it, we don’t feel like we’ve got anyone in our lives to discuss it with or ask for help.”

Having frank discussions about money also contributes to financial literacy. “It’s become a lot more acceptable to get help for other issues we’re going through, but it still seems quite shameful if we’re in debt – we’re supposed to get through that alone,” says Campbell.

Talking to a financial counsellor or a confidant can help us realise we’re not alone in dealing with our financial issues and offer up tips and strategies for going forward.

How to start a conversation about money

“If you’ve never had a conversation about money with your friends or family, don’t jump straight into talking about how much money you have in your super and what you get paid.”

Instead, Campbell’s advice is to start small. “Everyone loves to talk about their savings goals, whether it’s saving for a phone or a trip to Queensland,” she says. “It’s a fun and less scary way to talk about money and shows you’re happy to have those conversations.”

Showing that you’re comfortable talking about financial issues can help build trust. “We feel very judged when it comes to our finances,” says Campbell. “If no-one in your friends and family is talking about money, you can be the one to initiate it, which says, ‘hey, it’s safe to have those conversations with me’.”

Talking to a partner vs talking to friends

To successfully have a constructive conversation about finances with a partner, it’s critical to find some common ground between the two of you. “Not everyone wants to have the same kind of conversations around money – people relate to it in different ways,” says Campbell.

A shared goal – “such as buying a property together or starting a family” – can provide the context to create a budget that suits both parties. “Spend some time on a weekend working out what you value as a couple, what you value individually, and how you want to shape a budget that works for your lifestyles and collective goals,” says Campbell.

In a share house, it’s essential to “be super clear about expectations from the start,” says Campbell, who advises making conversations about household finances a regular occurrence.

Schedule one night a week to put outstanding bills on the table and work out how much each housemate owes, or put in a regular 30-minute catch-up in everyone’s calendar “where you spend some time working out how much you spent each month” and check that everyone is able to pay on time.

No matter who you’re talking to – friend, family member, flatmate or partner – it’s important to be respectful, says Campbell. “None of us start our money journey at the same point. Everyone’s coming from different backgrounds, and you don’t know if someone has had to work their way out of debt or if they’ve had a head start.”

If it goes wrong

Don’t be discouraged if your attempt to start a conversation about finance misfires. “It might not be the right day or the right way to approach it with that person,” says Campbell. “Jumping in and talking about investing might be overwhelming for someone who is trying to get themselves out of debt. Meet your friends and family where they’re at.”

While money can be a sensitive subject, the biggest mistake we can make is to avoid the topic altogether. “Just one person talking about money can have a ripple effect across friends and family,” says Campbell. “You don’t want your friends and family working through very complex financial problems and issues alone. Breaking that cycle is really important.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Bankwest. See Bankwest’s online money management guides for more ideas to get the most out of your money. The information in this article is of a general and educational nature only. You should consider your own financial position and requirements before making a financial decision.