From the time we begin to conceptualize how money and finances impact every facet of our lives, we are also faced with the uncomfortable realization that no one likes to talk about money. Issues surrounding finances and money are among the primary catalysts for family arguments, marital problems and divorce, failed business partnerships (no surprise there), and even dissolved friendships. So, why, if we know how important these issues must be to most of us that they result in so many ended relationships, would we not begin to address the root cause of these problems? Poor communication.
Typically, what we have learned about money and how we discuss it has been learned from our parents or those who raised us. We learn good, or not so good, money habits at a young age and if we change our not-so-good habits at some point in our lives, it is usually because we have learned from some pretty challenging mistakes. Having discussions about what money means, what it means to save, how to live within one's means, how to understand the value of not acting on one's impulses, but balancing that to avoid being too stingy, how to talk with a friend, relative, partner or colleague about money in a meaningful way, are all things that are cultivated over a lifetime, but can have a valuable impact on a person's relationships with others as well as improve their own relationship with wealth.
THERE ARE A FEW STAGES IN LIFE WHEN MONEY DISCUSSIONS ARE OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE. IT IS ON THESE STAGES THAT WE WILL GIVE FOCUS:
- Considering marriage
- Considering having children
- Approaching retirement
- Planning for a family wealth transfer
GOING TO THE CHAPEL AND WE'RE...
The amount of planning that goes into the day of one's marriage, in many cases, is a process that takes a long time. For some people, they have been planning their wedding since they were 12. Unfortunately, the same amount of planning does not go into the discussion of wealth and money when people get married. According to a survey of engaged couples by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, "68% of respondents held negative attitudes toward discussing money with their fiancé(e), with 5% indicating the discussion would cause them to call off the wedding."i
Why is it so important to discuss money before marriage? Based on findings from the National Survey of Families and Households, divorce was more likely among couples who had disagreements about money regardless of their financial stability. This suggests that it is people's communication about money and not their financial well-being, which is more heavily tied to marital bliss when it comes to money.ii
If you or people you care about are getting married give them this advice. Talk about money before you tie the knot. Some areas to focus on would be each other's overall philosophy about money, an honest discussion about credit scores and reports, income, budgeting, savings goals and children. Talk about retirement and whether you have begun to plan for it. It will also be important to discuss life insurance, health insurance and other policies that may include both people once the knot is tied.
SHE'S HAVING A BABY!!!
The costs associated with raising a child vary widely depending on where you live, whether or not you need to pay for childcare, what type of childcare you would like to provide for your child, whether or not you will send your child to private school and whether or not you are planning to pay for their college education. It is important to discuss the values that are significant to you and your partner before deciding to have a child. Understanding your values will help you to be realistic about the number of children you may be able to raise, given the costs associated with your established principles about how you want to raise your children. In the Northeast (Maine-Pennsylvania), a family earning between $66,000 and $166,000 per year, who has determined that they will pay for their child's college education, will pay an average of $402,856 over the course of the next 22 years for one child. My assessment is that may be a low number.
Another aspect of child rearing that is important to plan for is the time off of work that it will require for one or both parents. Most companies offer between 6 and 12 weeks of maternity leave and some companies offer some form of paternity leave. What varies, however, is whether or not this leave is paid. It is then crucial to know whether you will receive temporary disability payment during this time if your leave is unpaid. Purchasing a temporary disability policy in advance of conceiving may serve as supplemental income during one's unpaid maternity leave, subject to the policy's provisions.
Having discussions about your family values, education, child care and the number of children you want can help save you stress and unnecessary costs in the long run. Improved communication can help provide you with peace of mind in knowing what's in store financially when it comes to growing your family.
RETIRE IN STYLE...
When it comes to retirement, each of us has a very unique perspective of what that life may look like. One person's ideal retirement may be another person's nightmare. What if those two people are married and supposed to spend their retirement years together? It would be best to have that discussion sooner than later in order to plan for some kind of compromise, right?
What I've learned personally from helping and working with many retirees over more than 25 years, is that when people have differing ideas about what they'd like to do in retirement, it likely means that they envision spending their retirement dollars very differently as well. Whether you have a sizable nest egg for your retirement or your means are more modest, that money will go twice as fast if it is being divided into two very different lifestyles.
When it comes to retirement, as is the case with most major decisions in a marriage, there will have to be a lot of discussion and eventually some type of compromise. My advice is to start by making a list of goals or objectives for your retirement, and trying to prioritize them by level of importance and expense. Talking with friends or family members to see if they can offer suggestions, advice, or perhaps, weigh in on something you hadn't yet considered can also be helpful. Finally, and probably most importantly, my advice is to listen to each other. The choices about how to spend retirement are important to each of you equally. It is important to listen to one another and to respect that you will each possibly be giving something up in order to arrive at some middle ground.
PASSING THE TORCH...
Our last topic and the one that is usually most difficult for families to discuss is family wealth transfers. The biggest challenge about wealth transfer talks is that people have to talk about death. And, pretty much, the only thing people hate discussing more than money, is about the passing of a person they love. Added to the mortality issue is the concern from parents that, in the event of an inheritance, access to a substantial amount of money may steer children in the wrong direction, give them a false sense of entitlement or demotivate them to become their own success story.
With all of this fear and insecurity it is no wonder why I see these conversations tabled over and over again. Sadly, according to The Williams Group – a family wealth transfer research organization in the US, a shocking 70% of wealth transfers are not completely successful for three primary reasons:iii
- 60% of failed transfers are the result of an internal breakdown of trust and communication
- 25% of transitions break down due to a failure to prepare heirs
- 10% of transfers are unsuccessful as a result of a lack of an agreed-upon mission for the family wealth
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Over the course of our lives money will impact us all in many ways. The manner with which we are equipped to handle these instances is directly dependent on how well we have communicated with those we love and share life with.
As a fiduciary and advisor, we help people develop a better understanding of their relationship with money, their goals, their limitations, and the options that they may not have known existed. We help our clients and their families establish the framework for making these types of discussions easier and more enjoyable. And, it is my personal wish, that perhaps what you have just read will in some way be of help to you and whomever you may wish to share it with as well.