How to Talk to Your Parents About Money (Without Losing Your Mind)
Other than your love life, finance might just be the last topic you’d ever want to discuss with your parents. Not only could it potentially open you up to unnecessary and unwanted criticism (ahem, like comments about avocado toast), but financial advice from a baby boomer can sometimes feel a little irrelevant. The financial climate has changed considerably since your parents were in their 20s or 30s. The cost of higher education has gone up 1,120% in 30 years, and millennials (i.e., you) are carrying majority of the $1.2 trillion in student loans Americans currently owe and are paying back.
But just because mom and dad might have some advice that’s a little outdated doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. They’ve been through their own financial journey, after all, and they’re inevitably going to be a part of yours, too. At worst, you’ll bring up money and end up getting a few long-winded lectures. At best, you’ll come to understand how they paid off debt or planned their investments, and it will be a learning experience on both ends.
Tread lightly at first
When it comes to actually having the conversation, start by just asking how they managed their finances when they were your age. Depending on what your family is like, they may never even mention money at the dinner table, let alone talk about stock options and 401(k)s. If you’re not on good terms with your parents, sticky topics like money can be even more uncomfortable to broach, which is why starting with a lighter question is a good choice.
No family is the same, and any conversation that has to do with finances might bring up more painful topics. If you grew up in a single-parent household, or one of your parents has passed away, that will, of course, affect the dynamic of the conversation. Similarly, if your parents are divorced, they may have a different view on how to manage money than parents who have been married for 40 years. Be open to their opinion, even if it’s not the one you want to hear, and be sensitive to the fact that asking your parents to delve into personal financial matters may push them out of their comfort zone.
Then go more in-depth
Once you’ve started the conversation by asking how they managed their finances at your age, you can move into the more nitty-gritty questions. What was your mom or dad’s credit like, and how did they afford college? When did they open a retirement account? How did they make the decision to stop renting and buy a house?
By asking these questions, you won’t just get advice—you’ll open the door to a larger conversation that can help your parents understand your current situation. Talk to them about their financial regrets. After all, if you can’t learn from their feedback, you can at least learn from their mistakes. Do they regret not refinancing their mortgage or other debts? Should they have started investing sooner? Do they wish they had gotten help managing their investments, and would they have benefitted from speaking with a financial advisor?
Understanding their perspective will help you establish trust and force you all to get on the same page when it comes to money issues. Once you’ve given them time to open up, share your future goals and explain the reasoning behind your recent financial decisions. Be honest about your financial concerns. Listen to their advice without inviting micromanagement; let them know you value their experience without letting them overstep your boundaries.
This conversation is a perfect opportunity to ask about things step-by-step. You can talk through the questions you’ve been afraid to ask about mortgages, investments, and refinancing debt. Your mom or dad might not be experts, but at the very least they’ve already negotiated through most of the territory you’re heading into now—whether it’s saving up for a down payment, budgeting for kids, or other major financial life milestones.
Bring up their financial future as well
Once you’ve opened the floodgates to start talking about money, don’t just discuss your future—ask about theirs, too. There’s never an easy time to ask your parents how much they’ll need your financial help during retirement, or how they feel about nursing homes, but it’s crucial to know about these things in advance, before the time comes to decide and the conversation carries an even greater emotional weight. Take the time to also understand their current investments and plans for their estate, if they already have those plans in place. Have them be as clear and direct about they want from their future so that if they do end up leaning on you financially, you can carry out their plans.
Overall, these conversations can bring you and your parents closer, and you might find they have interesting insights, even if they don’t necessarily apply to your situation. No matter what, it’s better to have these talks sooner and on your own terms, rather than in a time of crisis—or, worse, at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
After you’ve talked with your parents about your financial goals, consider online investing with a SoFi Invest account, where you can get access to financial advisors who can provide personalized advice and help you set future goals.
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