“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to buy a new lawnmower?”
“Well, we needed one, so I bought it.”
“But it was expensive! Do we have the money for that?”
Not only is the above scenario stressful for the couple, but it also models poor behavior for their children. Unfortunately, it’s a common argument between couples: one makes a big purchase without consulting with the other and the fight begins.
Money is a high-stress topic that’s often difficult for families to tackle. Emotions, blame, and anxiety about finances all often show up in conversations about money.
Studies show that even the youngest children are aware of family finances, even if parents don’t talk about them openly. Family finances are also a problem for older children and their aging parents. Another study showed that 4 in 10 kids age 30 or older haven’t discussed their parent’s retirement plans.
To plan for the future, families need to discuss finances. It’s a practical aspect of life that is only made worse if ignored. Young children need to learn about finances so that they can make smart decisions as adults. Grown children also need to be prepared to help aging parents manage their accounts.
It’s a touchy subject, but with the right tools, you can approach the subject of finances within the family in a way that’s informative and practical. Here are 3 tips for discussing family finances:
1. Acknowledge Feelings
It’s common to let our feelings get the best of us when talking about money. Instead of acknowledging them, we let them rear their ugly heads when we yell, accuse, and argue.
When you notice yourself getting heated or worried, you can say, “This is hard for me to talk about,” or, “I feel worried about this.” The acknowledgment of feelings often diffuses tense talks and makes it easier to continue these conversations with a clearer mind.
2. Talk About the Conversation
Before you have a conversation, give your family members time to think about it. For example, if you need to talk with your aging parents, you might say, “I know it’s hard, but we should talk about your plans for retirement.” Or, if you need to talk with your young adult child about their financial independence, you might say, “I want you to succeed, so we should talk about your financial plans for the next few years.”
At this point, it’s also helpful to establish an objective for the conversation. For example, “I want us to plan for you to have the most comfortable retirement possible with the funds available.” Or, you might make a goal to save up a 6 month emergency fund as a couple. Others might make a goal for their young adult children to be financially independent within two years. These goals help keep the conversation on track instead of going in circles.
3. Be Honest
With money, there’s no use lying. The truth will always come out. So, if you have debt, say the number. If you’re looking at your retirement fund, acknowledge the reality. This will help you create the best plan for the future.
These tips can help you have productive conversations about family finances.
If it still feels too fraught, consider bringing in an expert in family finances to help you navigate the conversation such as a family coach. An expert that has both family mediation skills and the financial knowledge to offer sound advice and help you work your way through the topic.
Avoiding conversations about money isn’t the solution. It will only make it harder and harder to address the issue. In the meantime, you’ll lose valuable opportunities for planning and education. Find a way to make it happen, either on your own, or with the help of a professional. Your family’s financial well-being depends on it!