No matter how much one loves and enjoys spending time with family, some topics remain mutually unexplored. Unfortunately, not talking about money makes it extremely easy to fall prey to wasteful spending and poor saving practices – out of sight, out of mind. Also, numerous studies and surveys over the years show that stress about money is a leading cause of stress in relationships. If you’re at a loss for how to initiate conversations about money with your spouse, parents, children, siblings, or other loved ones, or if previous conversations have been frustratingly dead-ended, keep reading below.
Question your assumptions
We may not realize it on a day-to-day basis, but money is often interwoven with deeply held perceptions about control, independence, accomplishment, identity, self-esteem, and love. That’s why talking about money can bring up strong, complicated emotions like embarrassment, helplessness, guilt, jealousy, and more. Fun, right? Before you take out all these emotions on an unsuspecting family member, it’s important to examine your feelings about money. What are your ‘money-triggers’? If there are events or things that lead you to overspending or extreme frugality, take the time to decipher them. Without addressing these core issues, you may be bringing stress and anxiety into your relationships, especially when finances are involved.
Treat it like a professional meeting
Once you have decided to talk about money with your loved ones, be sure to set it up for success. Give a set time and place to all family members involved – a money intervention is nobody’s idea of a good surprise. Also give them a quick objective of the meeting, for example:
- “Hey, let’s spend an hour after lunch on Saturday to talk about college financial planning for Amanda”
- “I was planning on setting up money ‘date nights’ on the first Thursday of every month to go over our household expenses and savings. I’ll add it to our calendars – does that time work for you?”
This gives family members time to think and to take the situation seriously. Prep for the meeting – print out an agenda if you have to. Having a more formal, structured meeting can help you keep the conversation to the point.
If you usually visit family over holidays or events like Thanksgiving and Christmas, avoid scheduling a money meeting over this time. Instead, use Facetime or Zoom to set up a virtual meeting to set up a separate, dedicated time to meet.
Remember that it may take a few tries to actually get through a productive financial meeting with family. Don’t get disheartened if your first meeting doesn’t go according to plan, especially if your family doesn’t usually talk about money.
Stay on topic
Like we mentioned, your meeting may not go exactly like you imagined. Because of our conscious and unconscious biases about money, meetings may quickly devolve as family members take offense or misinterpret your motives. It can be especially difficult to talk about finances with aging parents, since some of your money triggers and emotions may be similar.
As the host of the meeting, make a dedicated effort to stay on topic. If you find the conversation veering away from what you intended, be firm and polite as you bring the meeting back to your agenda. Some of the issues may warrant a follow-up meeting (or multiple follow up meetings), so reassure your family members that their concerns will be addressed.
Be sensitive but thorough
A survey by Fidelity shows that parents and adult children generally report feeling comfortable starting conversations with each other about spending, budgeting and long-term saving and investing. The details, though, are the challenging part. However, it’s important to not shy away from essential topics like retirement, debt, long term medical care, estate plans, and wills.
In order to stave off some awkwardness, talk about your own attempts at setting up a will (here’s how to set one up if you’re not sure where to begin). Do some research into retirement accounts, Social Security timelines and payments, costs of living and report your findings. Keeping the conversation factual may help your family deal with these topics more easily as well. Assume everyone has good intentions and that you’ll all be better off talking about this together.
Financial planning for family members isn’t usually taken care of in one conversation.Situations and life-events (such as marriage, retirement, being laid off, etc) can subject finances to instability and change. That’s why your meeting should end with planning follow up conversations and regular check ins. This keeps the momentum going and makes subsequent meetings run smoothly.
There should also be consistency between your words and actions. For example, if you are teaching your children about budgeting and saving or have set guidelines around spending for your spouse, make sure the same rules apply to you as well. This will help you and your family stay on track for your financial goals.
Starting money conversations with family can be tough, but it’s better to get started by setting a positive, goal-oriented tone. Whether your goal is to help your parents invest part of their retirement savings, working on a student loan repayment plan with your siblings, or planning for your child’s education, the best time to get started is now. Open communication and honesty are the keys to building a healthy money dynamic with your family, across generations.