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2-Minute Therapy

How To Talk About Financial Troubles With Your Family

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.

When you were in college and blew your cash on a ticket to Amsterdam, eating a few ramen noodles and spending a month on your friend’s couch it wasn’t a big deal. But now you have a family. And if you find yourself with dwindling savings —  either because you’re unemployed or fell victim to some Nicholas Cage-ian investment  — everybody gets stressed-out. Well, everyone except the bank.

Dr. Mary Alvord, Director of Alvord, Baker & Associates, adjunct Associate Professor Of Psychiatry And Behavioral Science at The George Washington University School Of Medicine, and nationally recognized stress management expert, has a few tips to keep this lean time from becoming big fat problems. First step: Be transparent as possible with the fam. Second step: Put down the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and hide the remote.

Be Honest With Your Kids

You won’t do a good job of hiding your burden from them, because per Alvord, it’s common for your behavior to range from irritable to withdrawn to throwing shit across the kitchen. And your kids aren’t dumb; in fact, they’re well-tuned emotional machines who’ll spot changes in your personality that even you won’t recognize. Children as young as 3 or 4 can pick up on those cues. Also, watching Sportscenter at 5 AM in your underwear is a pretty big tip-off.

Be frank with them. “Tell them how [this financial crisis] is going to affect them,” she says. Let them know if their routine going to change, if they’ll be eating different things, and if they’ll be living somewhere else. If your kids are a bit older, let them ask questions, and answer them as honestly as you can. After all, you’re in this together.

Don’t Be THAT Honest With Them

Telling it like it is doesn’t mean freaking them out by blubbering like a baby. And you shouldn’t tell them that life is ou pain because those corporate fat cats don’t care if they live or die. As a wise Don once said, you should act like a man.

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When you complain, kids read into it. In their minds “they see this like, ‘We have to move! I’m not going to be able to live here anymore or buy food!,’” says Alvord.

Instead, make the initial conversation sound like something you have under control. Let them know you have a plan to deal with it — or are in the process of formulating one. Practice this speech in the mirror if you have to. “You don’t want to pull them into the adult world, where they feel like they have to take care of you.”

Don’t Cut Your Spouse Out

The alpha male in you might feel like it’s your job to club the problem over the head and drag it away. But Alvord warns excluding your spouse is going to make things worse for both of you. This means you’ll be brainstorming solutions, reworking family finances, and handling any other decisions together. This way you both get that sense of control over the issue. And while tensions will certainly be high, whatever you do, don’t turn on each other.

If you need to vent, letting off some steam is okay, but your partner doesn’t want to hear about how horrible and hopeless everything is. “Spouses may be coping with their own anxieties,” says Alvord. “And that stress can create a wedge.” And she’s not talking about the delicious cheese kind.

Don’t Forget To Tend To Yourself

Your instinct might be to just take care of your family, but don’t forget about yourself. “It’s like the oxygen mask in the airplane,” says Alvord. “You first put it on yourself so that you have enough left to get to your child.”

Find a support system that will let you talk about what’s going on and what you’re feeling. That could be your spouse (but, as she mentioned above, don’t lean too hard), your friends, or a professional (where you pay them to take your crap). Under no circumstances should be your kids. Or that guy who lives in the park and rants about how Wheat Thins are mind-control crackers made by aliens.

It’s also ok to find time to do things you enjoy. “If now you’re suddenly out of a job, how are you going to manage that time?” says Alvord. The answer of course, is wisely. If you manage it by lying and bed and thinking about how terrible everything is, then you’re going to feel a lot worse. But if you spend it by, say, perfecting your resume and applying for jobs in the morning, feel free to do things you enjoy in the afternoon. Like watching Sportscenter while wearing pants.

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Play This Right And Your Kids Will Come Out On Top

Tightening the drawstrings and clawing your way out of the red won’t be easy. But on the upside, financial worries can lead to numerous lessons that make your kids better individuals. And that thinking can help you cope.

Dr. Alvord suggests encouraging your kids to keep a gratitude journal, where they can write about what they have instead of what they don’t. And when you go to the store, give them a small budget and let them choose. “Now suddenly they have to make decisions,” she says. “Soon you’ll hear them saying things like, ‘I don’t want to buy that! That’s too much!’. They’re going to learn about budgeting.”

Mick was right, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just mind find, you get what you need.” And also, “wipe that shit right off your shoe.”