By Former MoneyWise Staffer, Kelly Griese
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Having “The Talk”
If you’re a parent, seeing the words “the talk” in quotation marks may make you nervous. You probably assume it pertains to a discussion of the birds and the bees. But in this case, “the talk” pertains to an even more taboo topic: money. A quick Google search reveals article after article on how we would rather have an awkward conversation about sex, politics, or religion than delve into the ultra-uncomfortable subject of money. Gary Dayton, a licensed psychologist and head of Peak Psychology in Glastonbury, Connecticut, was quoted in a recent US News report. “To many, money symbolizes comfort and living with ease, but it can also bring up scary issues of dependence, insecurity and even survival,” Dayton said. When you put it that way, it’s no wonder we’re all so afraid to discuss our finances! Money means a lot to us. It can represent status, power, security, stress, weakness, mistakes and more. We judge ourselves and others based on how much money (and debt) everyone has. Right or wrong, it’s common. So how do we broach such a difficult conversation with our loved ones, and why should we?
Why You Should Talk about Money
Let’s start with the why. Keeping our finances a secret allows for a lot of problems to fester. Think of the room in your house where guests aren’t allowed. It’s where you hide all the junk you don’t want them to see. The rest of the house may look picture perfect for a party, but that’s because you stashed all the clutter in that one room that’s off-limits. You might impress everyone for the time being, but what happens if someone stumbles into the messy room? Rather than hiding your secrets, wouldn’t it be better to fix the problems you’ve shoved out of sight? Purge the room of all that stuff you no longer need or want and give it a good scrubbing. Most importantly, don’t refill the room once you’ve cleaned it! By opening up our whole home for exploration and presenting an honest version of ourselves to the world, we’re motivated to tackle problem areas and maintain them moving forward. Think of your finances in the same way. Hiding money problems from your spouse, children, and parents won’t make those problems go away. They’ll grow to the point of crisis. So make a plan to discuss what’s wrong and work together to improve your financial lives.
When You Should Talk about Money
The holidays can actually be a great time to discuss finances. On Thanksgiving, it’s common for multiple generations of a family to gather together to celebrate. It’s a time to reflect on all the good things in your life for which you are thankful. And this date sadly can precede a time of excess spending in preparation for Christmas. So before rushing out to shop on Black Friday, take some time to discuss what you can truly afford to spend. Or, perhaps decide as a family to change up the way you have traditionally celebrated Christmas. You could forgo presents all together, arrange a Secret Santa system, or even decide to pool all your money together for a shared adventure that will create wonderful memories.
How to Start a Conversation about Money
Starting a conversation about money is easier than you think. You don’t have to air all your dirty laundry right away. It’s fine to ease into these talks and gradually discuss more and more difficult things. Here are some conversation starters from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) that you can use to begin the process.
Conversations for Couples - Communication is an essential part of a healthy relationship. Your money talk should be an open and honest dialogue with your spouse or significant other about your current financial situation and goals.
- How much of our income should go toward fixed expenses (i.e. rent, insurance) versus flexible expenses (i.e. entertainment, savings, investments)?
- Have we determined our priorities for flexible income and expenses?
- Do we have similar habits or views on how to manage money?
- What are our short and long term financial goals?
- Are we prepared for unexpected financial hardships?
- Are there ways we could spend less and save more?
- How much risk are we willing to take with our money?
- What investments are appropriate at this time in our life?
- Where can we get help with our financial/investment decisions?
- How can we select a financial professional (i.e. broker, investment advisor, financial planner) that’s right for us?
For more help discussing financial matters with your significant other, we encourage you to check out our Money Skills for Newlyweds guide.
Conversations for Parents and Kids - Help your children build good money habits by talking with them early and often about finances and by setting a good financial example. Educational games and resources for youth can help get your children thinking and talking about personal finance. Use the questions below to jump start a conversation with your child about responsible money management.
- What is the difference between a need and a want? Which is more important?
- How does our family make decisions about spending and saving?
- Why is it important to balance income (money coming in) with expenses (money going out)?
- What are ways to earn more money (i.e. babysitting, lawn mowing)?
- What are some ways to save money?
- How can interest help make your savings grow?
- Is there something special you want to save for?
- What are some ways to save for a long-term goal like buying a car or going to college?
- What is an investment and how does it work?
- How can investing make your money grow?
- What are some of the risks of investing?
- What are some ways to make investing less risky?
- Where can you get advice and information about investing?
There’s an argument to be made for parents telling children how much money they make. The New York Times reported on one man’s hands-on budgeting lesson. He withdrew his entire month’s salary in $1 bills, dumped the cash on a table in front of his children, and spent the next few hours explaining where all of that money goes.
Conversations for Retirees and Senior Citizens - Once you leave the workforce, it’s important to talk with your loved ones about how to ensure that you retain your financial security and independence throughout your retirement. Ask yourself, your partner or your adult children these questions to help you re-evaluate your financial plan in retirement.
- Are projections for our retirement needs accurate?
- Will we be able to enjoy the lifestyle we want (i.e. travel or recreational activities)?
- Have we planned for unforeseen expenses due to inflation and medical expenses?
- Could we downsize to reduce living expenses?
- Have we made arrangements for someone to manage our finances if our health should decline?
- Have we planned for rising health care costs?
- Does someone we trust have copies of our estate planning documents and accounts information?
- Do we have an emergency fund for unexpected financial hardships?
- Who can we seek advice from to leave an inheritance?
- Do we know all commissions, penalties, taxes and fees for withdrawing or rolling over retirement funds?
- Who manages our investments and gives us investment advice?
- Does our mix of investments match the level of risk we want at this stage of life?
- Do we understand the risk and benefits of financial products promoted to senior investors, such as reverse mortgages, variable annuities or life settlements?
- Do we know all commissions, penalties, taxes and fees for withdrawing or rolling over our retirement funds?
- Who will handle our investments if our health starts to decline?
There’s another important conversation to have with aging loved ones. It’s crucial that you discuss fraud. It’s everywhere, and senior citizens are a favorite target. Many people fear this topic, because they think it will upset the seniors in their life. To ease your mind, here are some conversational queues flowing right along with “can you pass the turkey,” to ease into talking about protecting their pockets.
- Now Versus Then - “Back in my day” and “when I was your age” are two common sayings spoken by aging generations. Most parents and grandparents love to tell stories about how they had to “walk 20 miles, uphill, both ways, in the snow.” Use this to your advantage. Ask them why and how they interpret things have changed. This is a great way to lead into discussing technology and the evolution of scams.
- Vet yourself - Remember the first time you typed your own name into Google? You were probably amazed at the amount of information returned through your search. Be sure to ask your loved ones if they have tried this. If not, grab a device and do this together. This will help them observe “straight from the horse’s mouth” how much personal information is online and available at one click. Feel free to throw in a “wow, look how easy it is for fraudsters to access this information” or similar comment.
- Add Credibility - By visiting valid alert websites with your aging loved ones, such as Federal Trade Commission and the IRS, you are able to share valuable information with your loved one without seeming pushy or overly dramatic. These sources also have Facebook and Twitter accounts for followers to receive fraud alerts automatically. Additionally, it can help to watch the news together when reports about fraud are discussed. Our Indiana MoneyWise website also provides ways to spot fraud and avoid becoming a victim.
- Talk with them, not at them - Most of us pride ourselves on our independence. Engaging in conversation and open discussion rather than telling your loved ones what to do, goes along way. Remember your parents and grandparents probably have a contrasting viewpoint on scams and fraud. Back in the day, they didn’t have to lock their doors, and a handshake sealed the deal. Although times have changed, the mindset still exists. Their trusting nature, accessibility, and polite manners make them tempting targets for con artists. When talking with them, encourage an attitude of empowerment. Discuss ways they can protect themselves. By arming them with information, you’ll help your aging loved ones avoid fraud and establish yourself as someone they can come to when problems arise. For more information about aging family members and caregiving visit AgingCare.com.
The MoneyWise Matters blog has a wealth of information about managing money and avoiding fraud. You can look through the complete archive here.