1 - Ask for Advice
If your parents are anything like mine, they love to give advice.
Even at my age of 39, my parents still love to give advice about anything and everything you can think of.
What I should eat…
How I should drive…
My favorite – How I should raise my kids…
Of course, like a good son I try to listen patiently, but most often I’m just nodding my head without actually listening.
But, you can use this trait to your advantage.
Parents are reluctant to open about money because they feel uncomfortable about the decisions they’ve made or they don’t want to feel like they are being lectured by their adult children.
However, if you approach the conversation with a “posture of asking for help,” they might be more open about their own financial situation.
I’ve used this tactic to learn more about their retirement plan.
“Hey dad and mom, I’m learning more about 401K and retirement plans. It’s fascinating. Where are you holding your 401k? Are you getting good returns?”
“Oh… You don’t have one? Ok…”
There you go I learned something new!
2 - Use a Story
People relate to stories and so do your parents.
I’ve used this tactic with my parents to get them to speak to an Estate Lawyer.
“Hey dad, do you know the Artist Prince?”
“Oh you don’t? Well it doesn’t matter.”
“So this guy had a lot of money but he died without a will or an estate plan. Guess what, this was four years ago and his siblings are still in probate court fighting over this estate.”
In the perfect world, this would naturally transition to a discussion about what he needs to do and how it would be most responsible for him to set up an estate plan so he doesn’t leave my sister and I to be in an awkward situation in the probate court after his passing.
Or better yet, by having basic documents such as the “Power of Attorney” and “Healthcare Directives,” make things smoother for everyone.
Most likely it will take several conversations to get your parents to act, but using a story is a great way to start the conversation.
3 - Share Your Own Financial Experience
As my wife and I’ve learned money lessons from paying off our student loans and cutting back our expenses, we became more comfortable about discussing money in general.
We tried to leverage this comfort by discussing openly with my parents the lessons that we learned through the money mistakes we’ve made in hopes that they would open up about their finances.
This has worked well to help my parents to not only get comfortable speaking about their finances, but understand our money habits as well:
Money Decisions – Why we make certain decisions (e.g. not buying a more expensive car though we can afford it. etc.)
Investing – Or why we don’t obsess over individual stocks like some people they know.
Due to both language and cultural barriers, my parents grew up without strong financial literacy.
They immigrated to the United States to provide my sister and I better opportunities.
However, beyond the advice of “study hard go to college” they couldn’t provide any advice on investing or wealth building.
They believed that if someone drove a nice car, it was because they were successful and was rich. My wife and I now know this to be not true,
But my parents would scratch their heads when they saw us downgrade our cars to increase our savings rate after we got a pay raise.
Shouldn’t you be upgrading your car if you are making more money?
I don’t think they’ll ever completely understand our decision making, but opening up about our money lessons frequently have allowed them to open up about their own perspective on money and to learn from each other.
There is no one right way or a one-size-fit all approach to talking to your parents about money. These are some tactics that my wife and I have found success in.
Whether you use some of the tactics listed here or not, the most important lesson is to start.
You are not going to cover all topics overnight. It could take months or even years. But if you take the initiative to start today, you prevent the ‘conversation by crisis’ down the line.
Have you tried any of the tactics listed above? Or are there strategies that I didn’t discuss here but have worked for you?