Have you sat down to chat about finances with your partner, parents, or adult children lately? If you haven’t, it’s hardly surprising: Half of Americans say money is the hardest thing to discuss. Here, experts share easy ways to break the ice, and even bring your family closer when talking about the touchy topic.
When talking to a partner:
Start with yourself.
Couples who describe their marriages as “great” are twice as likely to say they talk about money daily or weekly, reveals personal finance expert and Rachel Cruze, bestselling author of Know Yourself, Know Your Money (Buy on Amazon, $17.50). To get started, pinpoint your “money personality.” If, for example, you’re a saver and your partner is a spender, you might say, “Saving makes me feel secure, but I get that this makes you feel like we’re not enjoying the moment. How can we compromise?” Says Cruze, “Recognizing where each of you is coming from helps open up the conversation.”
Hear each other.
Show you’re really listening by repeating what the other person just said, encourages financial therapy specialist Maggie Baker, Ph.D., author of Crazy About Money: How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices and What to Do About It (Buy on Amazon, $15). For example, you might say, “I hear you saying you worry about saving for retirement.” “Echoing your partner’s words shows you’re absorbing them,” Baker explains. “And when they repeat yours to you, your sense of validation leads to greater understanding, so you can problem-solve together.”
When talking with parents:
Affirm your love.
To help make your parents more comfortable discussing money, lead with love, urges Baker. “Consider sharing something like, ‘I’m so proud of everything you’ve done for our family, and I want to make sure you continue to live a good life.’” Let them know your conversation will help ensure their wishes are honored. A simple thank-you can also start a meaningful chat: “Thank you for being there for me all my life, and now I want to be there for you.”
Connect to the present.
Instead of having one long conversation about legal or financial documents, aim for a series of shorter chats while doing something you both enjoy, like taking a walk together, says certified financial planner Liz Weston, personal finance expert on NerdWallet and author of Your Credit Score (Buy on Amazon, $24). “This makes it so much easier to tackle topics like health directives or power of attorney — and these chats bring you closer.”
When talking with adult kids:
Tell money stories.
Only about 25 percent of young adults are financially literate, so consider sharing a story about a time when you overspent or struggled to save. “I hated budgeting with a passion growing up,” recalls Cruze. “But as I learned about it from my parents and what it can do to help me achieve my goals, I found how rewarding saving and planning ahead can be.” Turning your experience into a relatable life lesson shows your honesty and vulnerability, which builds trust around talking about finances.
Honor your boundaries.
It’s natural to want to help with your child’s major life expenses, such as the down payment on a house, but it may cut into your savings. “You might point out that there’s financial aid for college and bank loans for buying a home, but no such thing for retirement,” shares Weston. As a compromise, you could consider a partial loan, with a repayment plan. “It can be tricky to balance wanting to support your kids with needing to support yourself,” she says. Openly sharing your goals — as well as your boundaries — can help you strengthen your relationship.
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine.