9 | Family Matters


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Chances are that if you ask your family, “Who wants to talk about money at the dinner table tonight?” you won’t get an enthusiastic “I do.” Not to worry, it’s all in your approach. Change your approach, and you can change the response you get. This section provides tips and tools for starting healthy conversations about money. After reading this section you will have a basic understanding of the following concepts:

  • How to talk about money with your partner.
  • How to talk about money with your family.

How to Talk About Money with Your Partner

Just like exercise, getting financially fit is more fun if you’re not doing it alone.

Did you know that money is one of the top reasons couples argue? It’s no wonder people cringe when they know they have to have ―the talk. But the truth is, sooner or later, if you’re in a relationship, you will need to talk about money with your partner. Couples need money for food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, vacations, savings, transportation … the list could go on and on. The point is that there is simply no avoiding talking about money. The following tips will help you start a healthy conversation about money with your partner.

Timing is everything

If your honey is grabbing their coffee and rushing out the door because they’re late for work, chances are you’re not going to have a productive conversation if you say, “I’ve been thinking. We need to talk about our retirement plan.”

Choose a time when you both have at least a half an hour to talk without interruptions, and make sure it’s not a time when one or both of you are tired. It might help if you schedule time at a future date rather than expecting your partner to drop what they’re doing at the moment you broach the subject.

Keep the conversation respectful.

Set the stage for how you want the conversation to go BEFORE you start. Here’s a suggestion for what you can say to begin your discussion,

I’m glad we both made some time to talk about our finances today. I think we both want our discussion to be productive, so let’s stay focused on working together. There’s no point in blaming anyone for our current situation, let’s focus on how we can fix it and make sure we don’t find ourselves in the same spot again.

Sometimes we may be frustrated and think one person is to blame for the financial situation, but it’s important to focus on moving forward and not staying stuck. You can still acknowledge and address the problem but it won’t be productive to say, “It’s all your fault that we’re broke.” Identify the challenges without blame and your conversation will likely be a lot smoother. Using “I” statements helps remove blame yet still addresses the challenge. Here are a few examples of “I” statements:

  • I feel like I’m a bad parent when we don’t have enough groceries for the kids’ lunch. Can we put the money spent on poker towards groceries? If there is anything left over, we could decide together where it should be spent.
  • I feel frustrated that we are broke a lot. We both have good jobs, so we should be able to be in a better position. I wonder if you feel the same way. What can we do together to change this situation?
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about how we spend our money. I think we can do a better job of being more responsible. If we created a budget together, it could help us reach our goal of buying a new couch sooner. What do you think?

It’s not uncommon to get off track, especially if you have seldom discussed money before. If you find your conversation is turning into the blame game take a quick time out. 

Identify the challenges without blame and your conversation will likely be a lot smoother.

Stop – acknowledge the situation. ―We are off track.

Proceed with Caution – Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • If we continue this discussion will the outcome be helpful or hurtful?
  • What do we need to get back on track?

Here are a few examples of what you might say to get back on track:

  • It feels like we are getting off track. We know that blaming or getting mad is not going to help our discussion. I need ______________ (fill in the blank) to feel better about continuing this discussion. What do you need?
  • This is important stuff we need to work through. Our tension and frustration levels seem to be rising. Maybe we should take a 15-minute time out then start back where we left off before we got frustrated.

Sometimes a timeout is all you need. Taking a break from a tense discussion can help you regroup and refocus on your original goal for the discussion.

Set financial goals together then create a plan for how to achieve them.

When you have something positive to look forward to it helps motivate you to stay on track. Setting a goal you can both be excited about is a positive action that you can share responsibility in. When people are working toward a common goal, it doesn’t seem as though you are making a sacrifice. It’s a choice because you both want to succeed.

How to Talk About Money with Your Family

I need money for my school field trip. Can I have some money for gas? I need new shoes. I want a new toy! How come Mikey always gets new clothes and I get the hand-me-downs? What’s my allowance? I’m 10 years old now, I should get more allowance. Can we go to Disneyland this summer? My friend Kylie gets to go to Disneyland every year!

You are showing them that not only is it OK to talk about money, but it’s important to do it.

Needs, wants, pressures…it’s challenging to help your children and family understand how the family finances are run, especially if you’re not so sure yourself. One of the ways you can tackle this issue is by holding a monthly family budget meeting. This meeting provides an opportunity to talk about money, planning, goals, and needs vs. wants. While you may not cover all these topics in your meetings (your topics will vary depending on the maturity of your children), you could certainly address some of them.

An added bonus of these meetings is that your family becomes closer and you become a role model for being financially fit. You are showing them that not only is it OK to talk about money, but it’s important to do it.

Here are some general guidelines for your consideration:

  1. Set a regular date and time for your meetings. A regular schedule ensures that all members have adequate time to think about the topics they’d like to discuss.
  2. Create some regular standing items so the meetings have a structure. For example, at the start of each meeting, you may want to have everyone check in with a money goal that they set for the month or, if you have a family goal, you might provide a status report of where the family stands in terms of reaching that goal.
  3. Share only what you need to share. It’s not necessary to have your accountant attend the meetings and provide annual reports, flow charts, and a review of all your bank statements! Provide a general overview of the family finances and talk in general, easy-to-understand terms. For example, we have $45 in our family fun fund. Would you like to go bowling on Saturday or put it towards purchasing a new DVD player?
  4. Set family goals and monitor progress at every meeting. Many families like to save for a family vacation. You can discuss how much it will cost and how you can save the money to go at your Family Budget Meetings.

Involve the whole family in your planning and you are sure to generate excitement. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Where do we want to go for our vacation?
  • How many days?
  • Will we stay with friends and family, camp, or stay in a hotel?
  • How much money do we need to set aside?

Family budget meetings are a great way to teach your children to be financially fit. If you don’t teach your children about money someone else will, and you may not like the lessons they learn.

 Tips Just for You…


Starting a Money Conversation with Your Spouse: A Script for Couples

Planning for Your Financial Future: How to Set a Budget with Your Spouse

M. Gary Neuman's Marriage Action Plan


This article by Dr. Phil offers some great advice about talking to children about money:

This video clip features a family on dealing with real life challenges related to money. The clip highlights what happens when one person in the family makes poor decisions and how it impacts relationships.

This clip features the same family and money challenge but offers a healthier way to tackle the money issue.

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