You’ve heard it and I’ve heard it—never discuss religion and politics. It’s easy to understand why. Some people have very strong opinions, and it’s easy to get swept up an emotional argument.
Interestingly enough, though, politics and religion aren’t even considered the most difficult subjects to talk about anymore, according to a 2014 study by Wells Fargo.
Notably, the study found that personal finances (44%) ranked ahead of both politics (35%) and religion (32%).
In case you were curious, death came in at 38%, taxes at 21%, and personal health at 20%.
Not surprisingly, the study shows that 71% of adults learned the importance of saving from their parents. Yet, barely more than one-third of today’s parents report discussing the importance of saving money with their children.
Also, it's sad to say that about a third have a hard time discussing money with their spouse or partner, and 25% often end up in heated discussions.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This month, I’ve put together an outline you may use as a guide for getting through these conversations cooperatively.
Money talk with your spouse
When discussing financial matters with your spouse, it’s important that you find shared ground. Otherwise, you’ll be working toward different goals, and the risk of failure and frustration is high.
In a roundabout way, let me provide you with an example. I know a couple that’s been married almost 10 years. Each year, they come up with a word or an area of focus.
In their first year, they came up with two goals— ‘fun’ and ‘debt reduction.’ Dave said their first year of marriage was a blast. He and his wife created lasting memories. They never turned down invitations with friends.
On the money front, they squashed over $20,000 in debt. Way to go Dave!
As their life together has progressed, goals have changed. Today, they have two young kids, and they continue to keep the lines of communication open.
What might be the best way to talk about money with your spouse? Go on a date—a money date. Get out of the house, get away from distractions, and leave the kids with a babysitter. Here’s where you’ll discuss goals and craft a plan. Nothing is off limits. You may discuss retirement savings, large purchases, debt reduction, a down payment on a new home, or bolstering your savings.
Yet, don’t overindulge. It’s one step at a time. Retirement savings may be the first topic. Or getting out from under credit card debt may be your first challenge.
Come up with realistic goals together and check in on a regular basis. When you’ve accomplished various goals, reward yourself.
Talking with aging parents
Many parents rarely discuss their finances with their children. Their parents didn’t share details, and they don’t feel obliged to break with family tradition.
Surveys bear this out. According to GoBankingRates, 73% of Americans haven’t had this discussion with Mom and Dad. The survey found that respondents ages 45-54 were the most likely to say that they haven’t broached the subject because they are not comfortable with the topic.
That’s understandable. Besides, many don’t know how to begin the conversation.
So, here are some tips to help you get the conversation started with your parents:
1. Express genuine concern. You care about what’s going on with your parents, and it extends beyond their financial situation. While money matters may seem difficult to explore, let them know you are having the discussion because you love them and want to be sure they are being taken care of as they age.
They may be open to talking or they may take time to process your invitation.
2. Tell parents “My financial advisor made me do it.” This one's my favorite. You can always blame me. It's okay, I can take it. You could say, “I was talking to my financial advisor the other day, and he said we should have a talk.” Or, “I was reading my newsletter from my advisor, and she emphasized the importance of having a conversation about finances with you.”
3. Elder fraud may be on their minds. Not comfortable jumping in? Scams that target the elderly (and for that matter, all of us) have exploded. None of us want our parents to become victims because there is little we can do to undo the damage. Money lost will never be money recovered. Expressing genuine concern by sharing articles on elder fraud is a good way to ease into the subject.
4. Give an example. If you believe the situation is appropriate, you may talk about a friend or acquaintance whose lack of planning negatively impacted the family. Piggybacking on the point above, you might bring up how elder fraud affected a friend or neighbor.
Or, you may have read about someone who was an unfortunate victim. Such scams hit home because we see ourselves or close family members as potential victims.
5. Discuss your own experiences. Open up to Mom and Dad about your retirement planning, 401k decisions, debt payoffs, or student loans. Or, casually mention the new life insurance policy you have taken out. You know, just in case something happens.
Your spouse knows about the policy. However, if you are single and the proceeds will help pay for your funeral and assist your kids, it’s important that your folks know you have insurance.
When you share something that is personal to you, your parents may become more willing to open up about themselves.
6. Focus estate planning on their priorities. Stay away from who gets what. Make this about them, not you. The goal is setting up the will or trust. Emphasize they can do what they want with their assets. If it’s something they haven’t done, checking the ‘estate-planning’ box will lift a burden that’s likely been simmering in the back of their minds.
7. Make things easier. Have you thought about helping your parents with a budget, paying the bills, online banking, or helping with credit? Simply getting your parents to tidy up loose ends can pay huge dividends for them.
Remember, I'm here to assist. Meeting in a neutral territory, such as my office, can help keep the lines between personal matters and finances from blurring. We know these conversations can be difficult and awkward. If I can help, please don't hesitate to let me know. I'm simply an email or phone call away.