One of the most common questions I get is, “How do I talk to my parents/children/grandchild/etc. about money?” Most of us have someone in our lives we are worried about and want to help. Sadly, money is a huge shame trigger for most Americans. As a result, we shrug our shoulders, say it isn’t polite and avoid the topic.
COVID-19 is our opportunity to break the silence. Everyone has been impacted by the hard-economic realities of this crisis. Those who use it to teach their children, talk with their parents or finally set a budget with their spouse will come out of it stronger. These can be tough conversations so here are a few suggestions to help make them meaningful.
- Open a dialog—One conversation will rarely yield a big result. Since money touches every aspect of our lives let’s be open to talking about it on a regular basis. You can have a meaningful conversation without sharing salaries. You can talk about your daily priorities without arguing over price. You can even see some humor in it all on a good day.
- Establish Trust—Just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean they trust you. By nature, we humans are programmed to be protective of our possessions, so it helps to understand the mental and emotional guard tower is high for this topic. Nothing you say will have an impact if the listener doesn’t trust you.
- Check your motives—I don’t suggest having any conversation about money until you are clear on your own motivations. You wouldn’t bother if you didn’t care, but how much, if any, of that caring is associated with wanting to know how the other person’s financial well-being may impact your well-being? You wouldn’t be human if in the back of your mind you weren’t worrying about having to help aging parents in their later years. The other side of that same coin is questions about inheritance. Will there be anything left after all the bills? Everyone wrestles with these questions, so it is best to acknowledge them and how they may impact the conversation and emotions around it.
- Focus on personal worth—In a society that too often confuses personal worth with net worth any conversation about money is going to be tricky because we associate our value as a person with the value of our bank account. This is particularly true for men. Make sure the person you are talking with knows you value them as a person regardless of their financial standing.
- Listen for emotions—I helped my mother establish her IRA when she received a lump-sum from her pension due to her disability. To mom, this was a significant amount and the simple paperwork that would otherwise be a no brainer was a huge stress for her. She’d worked years to earn this money. Making the investment decisions for it made her very nervous. This is to be expected from anyone, but in particular for a woman who had no means of earning more money. Since I was helping, I was nervous too. If the investments failed, would she or others in the family blame me?
- Care Deeply—Research has proven the actual words are only seven percent of what impacts how a person perceives what you are saying. Your tone of voice and body language have a far bigger impact on the conversation. When you put the other person’s needs and feelings first, they are more likely to respond. If your daughter feels you only have her best interests in mind, she is far more likely to listen to your suggestions and be willing to reach out when she needs help.
This crisis is our opportunity to improve financial literacy in our families and our communities. Those willing to brave the discomfort and open the conversations can turn tragedy into a lasting and positive legacy.