Money and household finances are among the most important topics that families and couples should be discussing, especially during periods of economic stress. Yet many of us would prefer to talk about just about anything other than money. Indeed, in a survey of 1,200 Americans, the Capital Group, an investment manager, found that people are more comfortable talking about marital problems, mental illness, drug addiction, race, sex, politics and religion than they are about money.
“In fact,” the Capital Group said, “out of a dozen topics, men and women across all generations ranked household earnings, retirement savings and debt as the most taboo.”
“Money is a highly emotional subject for a lot of people, especially families,” says Financial Planning Association member and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional Linda P. Erickson, who heads Erickson Advisors in Greensboro, NC. “It can make life a lot easier when families and couples stop treating it as a taboo subject and learn how talk about this stuff.”
Open, honest conversations about money can produce a range of benefits for the people involved, among them reducing stress and anxiety (because issues are out in the open), and aligning couples and families around common goals, which in turn better positions them to actually fulfill those goals.
Here are some suggestions for starting and sustaining a healthy dialogue about financial issues:
- Air your aspirations. What do you and your spouse or partner aspire to do with your lives and your money? What goals do you have for the near-, mid- and long terms? How do you envision your lifestyle now and later in life? These kinds of questions can help to frame the discussion. Once you’ve made a list of your goals, prioritize them. Be sure each person has an opportunity to explain their goals and priorities; ask questions of one another in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way. This helps to establish common ground.
- Take it seriously but make it non-threatening. “I suggest setting aside time specifically to have these conversations,” says Erickson. “Find a time when you can focus. And try to make it fun. Having a glass of wine while you talk about this stuff might not hurt at all!”
- Wade in gradually. “You don’t need to figure everything out at once,” explains Erickson. “A gradual approach works just fine. Just be sure when you’re done with one conversation, that you schedule a time for the next one.”
- Practice. The more frequently a couple discusses money, the more comfortable they are likely to become with those conversations. “Anything we do over and over again, we get better at it,” Erickson says.
- If the conversation takes a turn for the worse, mutually agree to table it. “Don’t be afraid to back off an issue if it’s causing strife. You can revisit it another time,” she says.
- Share resources. To develop common ground and a common language around money, start using the same household finance apps (like Mint, for example). Share books, podcasts and other sources of knowledge about household finance, investing, etc. Then discuss some of the key things you have learned in using these resources.
- If you have kids, get them thinking about money, too. Talking about simple money issues with kids at a young age lays the groundwork for healthy, transparent discussions throughout life, as parents and kids age, says Erickson. Eventually, those discussions should include issues such as wealth transfer, end-of-life considerations, and other weighty intergenerational issues. Those issues likely will be less taboo to discuss when parents and children already feel comfortable talking about money. Here again, it’s important to carve out time in advance to have these discussions. Invite everyone to bring questions, and refer to items 1-6 above to frame the discussions.
- Enlist the help of a knowledgeable, objective financial professional for expertise and guidance, as a sounding board and as a neutral third party. “This isn’t something you have to do alone,” Erickson says. For their ability to help sort through issues you can’t resolve, answer questions you can’t answer and for a level of financial know-how, perspective and experience beyond what you and your family members likely have, a financial professional is an invaluable resource. To find a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional in your area, check out the FPA’s national searchable database at www.PlannerSearch.org.
July 2020 — This column is provided by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) and FPA of Nebraska, the principal membership organization for Certified Financial PlannerTM professionals.
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