Financial Fitness

I Can’t Talk to My Family About Money. Help!

Conversation starters and tips to help your family work toward financial harmony.

by Heather Johnson - August 13, 2018

Do your family members change the subject when you ask them about money? It’s no surprise—personal finances often ranks right alongside death, politics, and religion as a challenging topic.

“Money is a difficult discussion topic, although it shouldn’t be,” says James McKown, CFP, Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Planning Manager.  “For example, family members with money may wonder what other family members want from them. A different dynamic plays out when families openly talk about money.”

By keeping the money communication lines open and transparent, you can lessen the avoidance factor and create family financial harmony. Here are a few tips for mastering an important conversation topic.

Parents: Talk to your kids early and often

McKown says it’s never too early to talk to your child about money. One way to get them engaged is to look for moments when the money talk applies to the child’s immediate experience.

For younger children: Grocery store trips and other everyday experiences provide opportunities to show young children how money works. You can also create moments. For example, if your child gets a gift card for their birthday, explain the difference between spending it right away and doing some price shopping.

For teens with jobs: Parents can teach teenagers that saving is a priority. If the child works a part-time job, offer to match the amount they save, advises McKown.

For kids planning for college: Discuss how much support you’ll provide for college tuition and living expenses. “It’s important to discuss whether children will have to pay for student loans and whether they’ll have to work to earn spending money,” says McKown.

Spouses: Find common ground

According to a 2017 survey of Certified Divorce Financial Analyst professionals, money issues were the third-leading cause of divorce, just after incompatibility and infidelity. So for the good of your relationship and your finances, strengthen communication around money.

Keep talking: The more different your spending, saving, and investment habits, the more often you and your partner should talk about them, according to McKown.

Call for backup: If you encounter conflict, a third party may help. Attend meetings with your financial advisor together. Couples can also use the Envision® planning process from Wells Fargo. The process helps you and your financial advisor explore your life goals and build a road map for success.

The Envision process can help a spender-saver couple see how much money they need to invest each month to increase the likelihood they’ll be able to retire comfortably. “If you want to buy a second home, the Envision process can model the opportunity costs,” says McKown. Suddenly, the big spender may decide to tone down the designer wardrobe.

The Envision process can also help a highly conservative or aggressive investor realize the potential financial benefits of rethinking risk tolerance. This information helps a couple find middle ground for managing their investments.

Adult children: Keep your older parents involved

Talking to aging parents about their finances can easily devolve from uncomfortable to downright hostile. “Many Depression-era adults never discussed their finances,” says McKown. “It wasn’t anyone’s business.”

That said, you owe it to your parents to keep trying. Older adults are at risk of financial abuse. The 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey found that one in five Americans over age 65 experiences financial abuse. So approach the money subject delicately but persistently.

Use “I” statements: Emphasize your own concerns. Instead of, “You forgot to pay your credit card bill. You can’t manage your money anymore,” try, “I’m concerned about these interest charges. Let me handle this for you so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Keep your parents involved: Frame money management as a partnership rather than a takeover. “Older adults get defensive when they feel they’re losing their independence,” says McKown.

Ask open-ended questions: If the conversation is a struggle, try open-ended questions like the following to get them talking:

  • When did you last review your estate plan?
  • What financial accounts do you have, and where?
  • Where do you keep information about your assets?

With consistent, casual conversations, your family can talk about money as easily as you talk about the weather. Almost.

Heather Johnson writes about small business, finance, real estate, and other topics from Oakland, California.

Image by iStock

Additional Resources

It’s never too early to teach your children how to save for retirement.

Wells Fargo Advisors does not provide legal or tax advice. Any estate plan should be reviewed by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is licensed to practice law in your state.