Talking Money Across Your Relationships

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Stack of one hundred dollars bills on wooden desk -- Getty Images

As I've plugged away in my home office -- and I'm blessed to have been able to do so -- it's clear to me that the global pandemic and our accompanying response has brought a whole new meaning to the idea of togetherness. But let's face it; money is a leading cause of stress in many households and families. While financial hardships can be difficult for anyone, the day-to-day financial grind can also take its toll on your friends, family and closest loved ones.

Whether it's a financial crisis as the result of the pandemic, or just plain old daily financial operations here are some ideas for talking with your spouse, family, and friends about money matters.

1. Your Marriage

When money is tight, it's easy to play the spousal blame game: "You talked me into this expensive house, and now look at the pickle we're in!" or "You were sure this retirement investment was a good thing, but now we'll have to work another 10 years!"

Unfortunately, assigning blame won't solve your problem. You signed up for “for better or worse” so why not accept your financial mistakes and move forward to fix them -- together? A few ways to do that:

Make financial dates. Commit to regular time together, without kids or the distraction of TV, so you can map out your personal financial recovery or a roadmap to achieve your future financial goals. Looking for an agenda item meeting number one? Do you have a monthly budget? If not, take out the yellow pad and pen to dinner, or if you're tech-savvy and have cleared the house of kids, sit down in front of the computer to tackle the task. Websites like Mint.com or even your bank's website may provide valuable assistance in developing and tracking your budget. Regardless of the topic, meet at least quarterly to focus on finances.

Get outside help. If you're really locked into money struggles, an accredited financial planner or a marriage counselor who specializes in financial issues can help you sort out practical solutions and defuse intense emotion. Sometimes three is not a crowd!

2. Your Aging Parents

If you haven't yet had "the talk" about your parents' money and their future, this is a good time to broach it.

Start slow. Money can be touchy, so tackle other issues first. Ask your parents if they've thought about where they'd like to live if they're less independent in the future, or what their wishes are regarding burial or cremation. If a friend or other loved one of theirs dies, that's often a good time to bring up this sensitive topic. Over time, ease into questions about money.

Or cut to the chase. If your parents are openly worried about their assets, help connect them with good resources. A financial planner, tax professional or elder-law attorney can help your parents evaluate their financial picture and perhaps ease their fears.

3. Your Kids

Many children are aware that something unusual is happening or have friends whose parents are laid off. Since they already sense that something is up, be up-front with your children about any changes in your own family's finances.

See this as a teachable moment. Don't keep the kids in the dark. While they shouldn't be involved in your financial decision-making, they can be involved in the effort to effectively manage your finances and should have an understanding that money doesn't grow on trees. It's never too early to start planting the seeds of prudent financial stewardship. If your kids someday face money challenges, they'll take strength from recalling how your family successfully tackled them together during a tough 2020.

Let kids help. Call a family meeting and ask kids to suggest some ways to cut back so they'll feel like part of the team. Share the benefits of shopping with a list with your kids and let them check off items as they go in the cart at the store and let them see how you're not going astray of the list. Also, let tweens or teens manage a piece of their own spending, such as clothing. They quickly become careful spenders when it's their money they're using.

4. Your Free-Spending Friends

Right now, in the shadow of the pandemic, frugal is cool. It's easier than ever to get out of unnecessary spending on activities with friends. If you still have a few clueless pals, it may be time for some straight talk.

Decide how much you want to say. You don't have to bare your financial soul to your friends. However, you can simply say, “We're tightening our belts right now. Instead of XYZ restaurant, how about a barbecue at our house?” Your friends will understand that the cost is an issue, but you still want to see them.

Axe the guilt. If financial difficulties or just a focus on achieving your financial goals results in a little different routine, it's not a bad thing and shouldn't carry a stigma. If your friends are truly that they will become accountability partners as opposed to roadblocks to your effort to stay on track.

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