3 Tips for Communicating about Money Among Generations

Everyone knows that couples need to be able to discuss finances, but it’s also crucial to talk with your kids and your parents. Here’s how.

By ANDY BURDSALL, INVESTMENT ADVISER | Riverbend Financial Group, April 2017

It is my opinion that there are more younger Americans who expect to receive an inheritance than seniors who plan on leaving them. This underscores a growing problem that financial professionals see every day when they meet with clients: a lack of generational communication about finances. This takes place in many different relationships, and each has its own challenges for the present and the future.

Here are some tips for overcoming these challenges.

Spouses must communicate with one another.

This means actual face-to-face talking, not emails or texts. You need to talk about your dreams and desires, your hopes and fears, what matters to each of you. The most successful individuals, married or not, are those who understand their own values, which create priorities, which drive actions.

Let me give you an example: I know a married couple who are both teachers. They value education highly, so one of their priorities was sending their children to college. When they decided that was a priority, it became important to save for school. They did not take extravagant vacations or drive expensive cars. Instead, they chose to allocate those resources to college savings. Their actions lined up with their values. And now, years later, their kids have graduated without student loan debt.

These values can be applied in your life as well, as in your communication. Does your wife know the checking account balance? Does your husband know how much you spent on Christmas gifts? Sure, one of you may be more interested in finances than the other, or one of you may have more time than the other. But, financial accountability with your spouse is important in keeping your marriage strong. How are you doing?

Parents need to communicate with their children.

Maybe a driving teenager knows how much it costs to fill her car with gas. But does she know how much insurance costs? Does she know how much it costs to heat or cool the house? I’ll bet if I took a survey at a local school, only one student out of 100 could tell me the mortgage or rent payment their parent or guardian makes every month. That being the case, we can’t be surprised when young people are confused when they get their first job and their paycheck doesn’t cover everything. They haven’t been raised to understand how to manage money. Often, their parents weren’t raised understanding it either.

Please talk with your kids about money. As more and more young people are faced with their first financial decisions, it will likely help them more than any other discussion you will ever have with them. If you feel as though you are ill-prepared to have the talk, there are many online resources that can help. You all can learn together!

Grown children and their aging parents need to be on the same page.

There are many layers with this relationship. First, Mom and Dad are supposed to be the ones who taught you what you know (see point above). Of course, it’s often the case that the older generation was not as forthcoming with financial information as they should have been. So now Mom and Dad are living on pensions, Social Security and maybe some investment income while facing rising health care costs, potentially long-term care costs and an increasing cost of living in general. Plus, as seniors, they may be at risk for falling for fraudulent schemes and giving their money to thieves.

These days, more and more grown children are being called on to help manage and even supplement expenses for their aging parents. Do you know how your relatives are spending money? Are they spending more than they make? And is someone watching their accounts carefully to make sure someone isn’t taking advantage of them?

Whether your worries are about your current generation or an older or younger one, we must figure out how to manage money. Keeping our collective heads in the sand or making up bogus financial plans is not working. For the current and following generations, company pensions have virtually gone away and employees seem to be drastically under-saving for their own futures. The No. 1 question I am asked by seniors is, “Will I have enough money to last as long as I live?” These are all recipes for disaster.

We have to own this. We have an obligation to future generations and, if you even hope to get an inheritance, the past generation as well. Our legacy depends on it.