3 Tips to Stop Fighting Over Money with Family

Money isn’t the problem in family wealth dynamics, even though we almost always think it is. The problem is the lack of conversations, and there are certain steps you can take in order to achieve family harmony around money. 

Published October 13, 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

| Tad Gray Family Wealth Dynamics |

Written By:
Tad Gray, CFP®
Zoe Advisor Network

Money Isn’t the Problem in Family Wealth Dynamics

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The beginning of Leo Tolstoy’s great novel, Anna Karenina, no doubt resembles how many family wealth dynamics function today.

Situations, conflicts, and worries are unique in every family. A newlywed couple needs to decide how to save and spend their money; a business-owning family must decide how to pass down wealth to the next generation; other families may struggle with college education expenses.

Money isn’t the problem, even though we almost always think it is. The problem is the missing conversations about money. And a lack of understanding that these conversations can create harmony and well-being. “Almost half of Americans say that the most difficult topic to discuss with others is personal finance and they would rather discuss death, politics, or religion,” writes Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, the author of Breaking Money Silence.

The fear of money conversations can cause partners to hide some purchases from each other to avoid conflict. In fact, 80% of all married people hide some purchases from their partners, according to a survey from CESI Debt Solutions.

The thing is, society has created an association between money problems and divorce, completely missing the fact that money problems are just a symptom, and poor communication is the real relationship-killer.

Successful couples make the time to discuss money dynamics like mine-yours-ours. They explore money, personality, debt, and relative power (income and pre-marital assets). What they learn can also help them get on the same page about children and extended family.

3 Tips for Money Talks With Your Partner

There’s a reason we avoid certain conversations: They make us feel uncomfortable. When it comes to money, we’re embarrassed by our mistakes, our past, or we lack knowledge about personal finance. For some families, it’s “We don’t talk about money.” Here are some tips that may help improve your family wealth dynamics:

1. More Money Talk!

“Every time we spend money, we make a statement about what we value; there’s no clearer or more direct indication.” – George Leonard, Mastery

Values are what we care about; they’re the way we shape our lives. We experience fear when our values are threatened and anger when they are harmed. We feel good when our values are honored and cared for. And we seek a partner and a family where we can share and collect our personal values in a healthy way.

However, money conversations suggest change, and change is scary. But more money talk creates the opportunity for greater alignment and transparency. Not all conversations will be perfect. They don’t need to be. But practice is more important than perfection.

2. Ensure Your Family Speaks the Same Language

If all happy families are alike, what do they talk about? They talk about family resources beyond the financial capital. Meaning human, intellectual, and social capital. They consider family members’ happiness and they strive to enhance intra-family communication.

To ensure your family speaks the same language, answer the following questions: How does your family define wealth? How do family members invest in one another? Does your family cultivate the knowledge and talents of everyone? What about your family’s spirituality, values, passions, dreams and aspirations?

Practical conversation topics include spending-giving-saving, raising children (money for education and experiences), lifestyle, career, retirement, and vacation and leisure time.

Then ask yourself and your family members: Who is family? In other words, who participates in family conversations? Anyone affected by the outcome of these conversations should have a seat at the table.

“The biggest problem in communication,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Reflect for a moment on conversations that didn’t go well for your family. Can you envision them going better? Can you envision yourself with a different tone? Or being better organized?

Crucial conversations are not everyday conversations. Deliberate practices create effective and satisfactory conversations. These are the types of conversations you want to have around family wealth.

3. Apply Best Practices for Effective Conversations

Purpose – Clarify your purpose. Why is this conversation important and why now? Is it to share information or make a joint decision? Is it to plan or for learning and discovery?

Ideal Outcome – Define the ideal outcome. Declare your ultimate dream. Think through obstacles and roadblocks and how to overcome them.

Guidelines – Manage expectations and anticipate others’ concerns. While you’ve already determined the conversation is necessary, get buy-in to its “when” and “how.” Are there conditions that will make the conversation better for everyone? Guidelines, including around what you will and won’t talk about, offer everyone a safe way to participate.

Presence – Being fully present is a precondition for powerful conversations. Remove distractions (like phones).

Next Steps – Establish clear next steps to ensure people feel the conversation was productive. Assess what worked in the conversation and how future conversations could be better.

Is The Other Party Hesitant of Having This Conversation?

Money conversations are difficult, after all. Focus on making the right time and place. Your first step may be having a conversation ABOUT the conversation. My suggestion? Be flexible with timing, but be firm with commitments on both sides.

I’ll close with this advice from one of my favorite philosophers, Winnie the Pooh. “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” Don’t we all!

Important Disclosure: The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of Buckingham Strategic Wealth®. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting, legal, or tax advice. Individuals should speak with qualified professionals based upon their individual circumstances. The analysis contained in this article may be based upon third-party information and may become outdated or otherwise superseded without notice. Third-party information is deemed to be reliable, but its accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. IRN-21-2778

Disclosure: This blog is not investment advice and should not be relied on for such advice or as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting, tax, legal or financial advisors. The observations of industry trends should not be read as recommendations for stocks or sectors.

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