This is a statement I hear often from clients, prospects, and workshop attendees. And yet, I was still surprised by the findings of a survey, released earlier this year, by CapitalOne CreditWise. According to it, 73% of Americans cite money as their number one stressor.
Though that percentage seems high even to me, I was encouraged by another number noted in the same survey: 42% of the respondents are optimistic about their financial future.
I see 73% and 42% as proof that worry (aka: stress) and optimism can (and frequently does) co-exist. It’s one of the reasons why when people share they don’t want to be stressed about money, I encourage them to shift their goal. Meaning: instead of wanting to not worry about money, I suggest they change the goal to not having the same worry about money in the future.
Money is a stressor for a wide-variety of reasons – particularly when you factor in the ebbs and flows of life, and how this flows affects both what you want to do with your money, and what it is you want money to do for you.
For one person, earning money stresses them out? For another, it may be not knowing if they have saved “enough.” For another, it could be not knowing if they are really investing in the “right” ways. For yet another, it may be feeling overwhelmed by their debt.
What stresses you out when it comes to money? Is it an example from above, or something entirely different?
Of course, I could continue with a few more examples of the various ways money stresses you, me, and others out.
But today’s piece is about the one stressor that almost everyone shares and that this time of year tends to amplify: talking about money!
Plus, this gives me a chance to continue our conversation and follow-up on last week’s piece – with some tips on topics to discuss and ideas of how when it comes to initiating conversations about money with the important people in your life.
Because, let’s face it, talking about money will certainly tap into your spoken and unspoken feelings, the choices you’ve made as well as the ones you wished you did, the boundaries you have along with the ones you want to create, the trade-offs you’ve made (or perhaps haven’t made) peace with, your values, your beliefs, etc.
Family & Money
I was fortunate. My mother and I always talked about money. I was a single child, who grew up with a mother who separated from my father when I was quite young. Since I was two years of age, it was her and me. At 13, she taught me how to balance a checkbook. For us, frank conversations about money didn’t start and end then; they continued until her death in 2014.
Yes, my mother and I had open and honest conversations about money. But that doesn’t mean it was less difficult, uncomfortable or emotional for either of us.
I know my familial experience isn’t unique; single child/single parent. But based on what I know about some of my friends and some of my clients, our family conversations about money were atypical.
Perhaps this is why I am such an advocate for families pushing through the awkwardness and carving out the time to do it. Especially during the holidays! Especially if, as a first-generation professional, you’re feeling some financial pressure right about now.
And if you just rolled your eyes or silently said, “no way, that is not going to work for my family,” I am not surprised. I’m accustomed to these types of reactions. Mixing family, money and the holidays can be an emotional landmine. One that requires graceful navigation and maybe even greater negotiation.
But avoiding the “talk” doesn’t make the need for it disappear.
So why not endeavor to get better at it! Here’s my suggestion of how:
Make a proposal
The quickest way for the family conversation about money to fail is to spring it on people. So, propose the idea, in advance. It can look something like this:
“Hey, Everyone, I’m looking forward to seeing you for (the holiday you celebrate). I would love for the family to carve out 30-60 minutes for a family financial meeting. I know, crazy idea! But I think it’s important for us to do this because we’ve never done it and it’ll be a good tradition for us to start.” (Or if more appropriate, you can say,”…because we haven’t done it in a while.)”
Then tell them why this meeting is important to you. (If you can’t come up with a reason, tell them I suggested it and you wanted to give it a try.)
Choose a single topic for discussion
So as not to overwhelm everyone, including yourself, choose just one topic for discussion. Your can select from this list: debt management, developing a savings or investing strategy, cashflow management (or creating a budget/spending plan), salary negotiation, starting or growing a business, estate planning, or the location of important documents (including your digital life).
Choose the topic with the most votes for your discussion.
(For first time family meetings, I’d highly recommend selecting the topic of important documents/digital life. Think: insurance, beneficiary designations and a Will; does anyone know the passwords to their online life – especially the financial elements; have they made a photo copy of their credit cards/drivers license/passport that someone can easily access, etc.) If you’ve ever experienced a family emergency and needed these details, but didn’t have them, then you know how critically important they are.
Create a meeting agenda
Once the topic has been chosen, it’s now time to create an agenda that you provide in advance. Use this as an opportunity to assign times to whomever is attending. Spit the time slots as evenly as possible so that everyone gets a chance to speak during the 30-60 minute meeting.
Make sure to give a few minutes of cushion on the front end to set the tone, and on the back-end to discuss next steps. Yes, creating an agenda for a family meeting is a bit formal. But, you’ll appreciate it if things start to go sideways and you want to get back on track with more ease and objectivity.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: If the meeting is being held at the family house, make sure you create as much of an interruption-free zone as possible. If it’s not at the family house, choose a location that is as “neutral” as possible and conducive for the discussion at hand.
Have the meeting!
Yay…the day is here!! Start your family financial meeting with some ground rules – like not interrupting people; or making judgmental comments; or bringing up unresolved conflicts that have nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting. And if necessary, remind people that the purpose of this gathering isn’t to be intrusive. Rather, it is to be supportive, proactive and strategic.
And if you need to reset some boundaries and expectations, this is the perfect time to address those matters.
Determine next steps
Based on the discussion, each person should have at least one (1) takeaway or one thing for them to do. Whatever that is, create a follow-up plan that provides support and self-accountability for each person’s takeaway.
”Don’t Worry; Be Happy”
“Don’t worry; be happy” are great lyrics for a song. However, they can come across as tone-deaf if you and your family are in the midst of a financial crisis and are stressed the.heck.out!
But since financial stress is inevitable, the question isn’t when will you and your family experience stress around money? Rather, it is how will you handle it when it occurs.
I wholeheartedly believe families that talk about money put themselves in a position to address their individual and collective stressors with more calm, ease, and creativity.
So, if you haven’t already planned to spark money conversations with your family, now is the perfect time to get started or to pick up where you left off. 🙂