The one thing British people can't talk about - and why it's causing us problems

·5 min read
Smiling red-haired woman playing with yellow piggy bank in her hands, viewed from the side in bright room interior. Money savings concept
"I love you, savings, and I will never, ever share you." (Getty Images)

In the last few decades, British people have finally learned to open up. Now, we talk readily about parenting, sex, mental health, our work worries and our relationship issues.

There's just one subject that still has us clamming up faster than you can say "share with the group": Money.

Even though we all need it, use it, and mostly don't have as much as we'd like of it, when it comes to cash we're still secretive, afraid of being judged on our earnings or our debts, and would sooner jump off a high-diving board fully clothed than ask a friend to pay a loan back.

According to a new survey by alternative banking solution Suits Me, a huge three quarters of Brits find it awkward to bring up money in conversations with friends and family.

The company surveyed 2,000 UK adults on what they find the most awkward money issues, and looked into how people felt about asking to be paid back, splitting a bill, and calling out those who are not paying their way.

Alarmingly, a horrified 16% would never ask to be paid back by a friend, no matter how much money had been lent. Whether it's fear of confrontation and losing the friendship, or dread of seeming 'mean', it appears there's a whole secret economy out there based entirely on unpaid loans from mates. 

three young woman discussing about stats on digital tablet at kitchen table
"Look Sasha, Anna bought three apples and I made the instant coffee. What have you contributed?" (Getty Images)

Read more: How to Lend Money to Family & Friends

Even the ones who do ask for it back say it's the most awkward money conversation they can imagine having, according to 45%, while the average Brit is willing to write off a £65 debt rather than ever ask for it back. 

Men are slightly more willing to lend a larger amount of cash before expecting to be paid back (£69) compared to women (£61).

All those unpaid loans would be more than enough to hire sky-writing planes to circle Britain, trailing 'pay me back, you grasping tightwad' banners. 

Awkwardness around money is endemic in the UK, with millions going without a pay rise due to fear of humiliation and refusal, while the horror of bill-splitting in a restaurant means the brazen "I only had a salad and one glass" people often get away with it, as a quarter of Brits feel awkward calling out family or friends who don’t pay their share on nights out.

That's £76.43 from you, and I'll throw in a fiver. Deal?" (Getty Images)
That's £76.43 from you, and I'll throw in a fiver. Deal?" (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, only 13% of 18-34-year-olds feel comfortable talking about their finances, as do 25% of those aged 35 and older and 43% of those over 65.

It seems the older you get, the less worried you are about discussing what you have - perhaps because at some point, you're going to have to decide who get named in the Will.

Those who earn the most, however, find it the most difficult to dicuss money with family and friends, as just 1 in 10 (11%) of those earning over £60k a year will happily bring up conversations around money with friends and family. 

Watch: Over half of Americans agree you should always split the bill on a first date

By contrast, almost a third of those earning under £30k will happily discuss awkward money issues with family.

On the upside, when it comes to that national pastime, the pub, most Brits are happy to share the cost of a round of drinks with friends and family.

 However, there are cities that are less likely to pay their full share: Edinburgh (95%), Sheffield (93%) and Newcastle (93%) are most likely to join in a drinks round, whereas Belfast (59%), Birmingham (85%) and Bristol (85%) are the most stingy when it comes to getting involved.

"Take my money, I'm not from Bristol you know." (Getty Images)
"Take my money, I'm not from Bristol you know." (Getty Images)

Read more: No more drama — how to talk to your family about money

Yet Bristolians are the most embarrassed about telling people to cough up- whereas people from Southampton are happy to give borrowers a nudge.

Richard Lynch, Managing Director of Suits Me, said: 

“British people often face the stereotype of being polite to the point of awkwardness and our research has shown that this is no different when it comes to financial matters, with most of the country finding money an uncomfortable topic to bring up. 

"What is particularly concerning is our discomfort at approaching friends and family for money we are owed – something that could leave us massively short changed."

“Thankfully though, regardless of our divide on how best to split a bill at a restaurant, we’re fairly united when it comes to getting involved in a drinks round which just goes to show that although we may be awkward when it comes to talking about finances, we’re a generous nation at heart."

Even if we'd rather lose the house and the business than ask a mate for that temporary loan back.

Watch: What to do if your loved one just made a huge money mistake

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