Discussing Family Finances

By Kristen Buchman on May 21, 2020

Kristen Buchman
As a financial planner, I quickly became an advocate for open communication about finances. Personally, my husband and I had made it a priority in our marriage and I advised my clients on its importance with their families.


Or so I thought I had.


My grandfather passed away several months ago and I realized I hadn’t had the conversations with my own extended family that I recommend to my clients. I, too, made the mistake I often see families make–I assumed everything was taken care of. My grandfather was a successful businessman for more than 40 years, but finances weren’t his conversation of choice.


This experience solidified for me the impact that life transitions can have on families and just how important communication is.


So, while the holidays may not be everyone’s ideal time to discuss finances, my parents, siblings and our families all sat down around the dinner table for our own family finance conversation.


I spent some time reflecting on our conversation, the advice I was already providing to clients who were hesitant to share about their finances and how I could use this experience to impact others.


First, consider how to broach the conversation.


Discussing Finances
Notify the individuals you’d like to talk to and allow them to mentally (and perhaps emotionally) prepare for the conversation, as you have. This is a topic that is often uncomfortable for some individuals, so set yourself up for success in creating a secure, yet relaxing environment in which everyone feels safe openly communicating.


Remember that just because you might not consider the information private, doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.


Consider also making this a recurring conversation with the frequency depending on those with whom you’re communicating.


For instance, if you are discussing the details of your finances with your spouse, try a monthly “money date.” Grab coffee or make dinner together and touch base on progress to make sure you are both still working toward common goals. Or if this is with a larger audience (parents, children, siblings) maybe it’s an annual discussion to make sure outstanding tasks are being checked off the “to-do” list.


So, then the question becomes, what to actually converse about?


First, establish your goal for the discussion and more importantly communicate your goal with others involved. Hopefully they will come to the conversation with their own goals as well. Communicating the goals and keeping them at the forefront will help guide the conversation, especially during the tough or even awkward moments.


There is no “perfect” or “right way” to have this conversation as it can look very different for everyone, but in my family’s situation our goal was to ensure that we all have appropriate estate planning documents in place and we know whom to contact in the event of a family emergency.


Questions may include some of the following:


  • Who are your trusted professional advisors (legal, tax, insurance and financial?) And how do we get in contact with them in the event you are unable to do so?
  • Do you have appropriate documentation naming an agent in the event you are unable to make financial or health care decisions for yourself. Remember this applies to anyone over the age of 18 or someone who doesn’t have a legal guardian.
  • If you have these documents, where might we locate a copy? Have you provided health care documentation to your doctors?


If this conversation is geared more towards your immediate family/spouse, start by thinking about the financial goals you have or consider whether it’s easier to identify the financial stressors and then jot them down on a piece of paper. A conversation with your spouse may be more intimate, so encourage each other to also discuss feelings.


For example:

  • What is the maximum dollar I amount I can spend without consulting you?
  • How do you feel about the progress (or lack of) toward our financial goals? How would you go about implementing change?
  • Is there an experience you’ve had that is influencing your response about this financial topic/issue? For example, how your parents/family handled money?


It’s always a good idea to end the conversation with something positive that was accomplished, something to continue to improve upon and a plan for the next conversation. This will help to close the conversation on a positive note and hold one another accountable.

And remember that finances can be a touchy subject for some individuals.


This conversation may not go as you had planned or hoped the first (or even first few) time(s). However, the discussion will go more smoothly if you approach the conversation from a helping mentality rather than a criticizing or negative temperament. Keep the goal at the forefront.


If you do encounter a difference of opinion, be sure all parties have an opportunity to feel heard and validated. Hopefully you can work toward a shared solution through that discussion.


When in doubt, if you encounter someone like my grandfather--who was uncomfortable speaking about his financial affairs--encourage them to communicate via written instructions. Communication is key–no matter the form.

This article was originally published in the April 2, 2020 edition of the Kansas City Star.

Kristen Buchman is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a member of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City. At The Trust Company, an independent wealth management firm with four offices in Kansas and Missouri, she is passionate about helping clients attain their financial goals. The Trust Company provides a multi-dimensional approach to financial well-being through investment management, trust administration, estate & charitable gift planning, and more.