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How To Talk To Your Parents About Money

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It’s perhaps the only topic that will cause more awkwardness than Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards: talking to your parents about money.

Parents are our leaders in life—our teachers. The older generations teach the younger ones. They are the ones who are “supposed” to know about money and life. By approaching an elderly parent regarding the taboo subject of moolah, they may think we are trying to subtly tell them we don’t believe they are doing a good job. So the conversation is uncomfortable before it really even begins.

Here are some examples of important affairs Mom and Dad need to have in order and how their grown children can get the ball rolling:

The Subject: Parents making their will and estate plan

No one wants to talk about death—especially the people who are closest to it. And as if the estate conversation isn’t awkward enough, a mother or father might think their kids are trying to figure out how much they will get as an inheritance. To the parent, it sounds like the child values the “stuff” more than the person who raised them.

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How to address it: Keep the focus of the conversation on getting an estate plan done, not on what is being left to whom. Tell Mom and Dad you are not concerned about that; they can leave what they want to whomever they want, and you don’t care how that shakes out.

Also, you can talk to each parent about how doing the will can ensure that the second parent is taken care of in case something happens to the first. When you put the focus on taking care of the surviving spouse, the conversation has a different feel.

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The Subject: Parents paying off debt

Throw a rock out the window and you’ll likely hit someone who thinks it’s too late for them to start saving for retirement or paying off debt. That’s very dangerous thinking because it ensures they will stay broke. If your parents’ financial situation has beaten them down, let’s get them to start beating back.

How to address it: Focus on good news instead of bad. If you are concerned about your parents’ current financial state, a way to broach the subject is to talk about how much better things are for you (and your family) since you started getting out of debt and making a budget—after you’ve done so, of course.

Maybe it’s your communication level, your sense of freedom, your reduced stress and so on. That would probably be well received by your parents; after all, who wouldn’t want to hear that their son or daughter is doing well?

At the same time, when parents hear good financial news, their ears perk up. If they want to change the way they handle money to achieve similar results, it becomes their choice, not “taking the kid’s advice.” It may take some time, but keep at it.

The Subject: Parents moving into assisted living

This one is probably the granddaddy of them all. No one wants to be told that it’s time to leave the house they’ve lived in for so long and go to assisted living or a nursing home. In their mind, they think it’s the start of the final act, and they aren’t ready to bow out yet.

How to address it: Just like when you went off on your own for the first time, you must realize that they are adults and you can’t treat them like kids. Don’t tell them that they “have” to do this because that will only cause friction and pushback. You must be diplomatic.

It’s a better idea to sell them on it. If they are having trouble getting around the house, then find a good facility with an active community (preferably one with people they know, if that’s possible) and talk about how great this place is. It does all the work for Mom and Dad, and they can really start enjoying life. You may even consider adopting their family pet so they know that he/she will be in good hands. Make it their idea and they’ll buy in more.

A big hurdle (albeit a softer one) is that parents may not want to use their life savings on their own care. They’d prefer to leave it to the kids. First, do NOT tell them that’s a bad or stupid reason to not move into a home or facility. Tell them instead you appreciate the thought, but it’s their money, not yours. You’ll be fine (especially if you’ve started your Baby Steps) and are not waiting on their money.

These subjects will always be touchy and emotional, so expect that when you talk about them. Remember to speak adult-to-adult with parents about money and financial matters. It will make things easier for both of you.

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