Never Discuss Religion or Politics, However…

David L. Johanson |

We've all heard it—never discuss religion and politics.  It’s easy to understand why.  Some folks hold very strong opinions, and it’s easy to get swept up into an unwinnable argument.

Did you know politics and religion aren’t considered the most difficult subjects to discuss with others?

A study of Americans found that personal finances (44%) ranked ahead of both politics (35%) and religion (32%).

In case you were curious, death came in at 38%, which is also quite high.

The study showed that 71% of adults learned the importance of saving from their parents, yet barely more than one-third of today’s parents report frequently discussing the importance of saving money with their own families.

Sadly, about one-third have a hard time discussing money with their spouse or partner, with 25% of those ending in heated discussion.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  This month, I’ve put together an outline you may use as a guide for getting through these conversations cooperatively.

Talking with Your Significant Other

When discussing financial matters with your spouse or partner, it is important that you find a shared vision.  If you don’t, you’ll be working toward different goals, and the risk of failure and frustration is elevated.

I know a couple that has been married almost 10 years.  Each year, they come up with a word or an area of financial focus.

In their first year, they came up with two goals - Fun and Debt Reduction.  Their first year of marriage was a blast.  You could see it in their body language; you could see it in their eyes as they shared their experiences.  This couple created lasting memories.  They never turned down invitations with friends.

Moneywise, they squashed over $20,000 in debt.  As their life together has progressed, goals have changed.  Today, they have two young children, and they continue to keep the lines of communication open.

What might be the best way to talk about money with your significant other?  Go on a date - a money date.  Get out of the house, get away from distractions, and leave the kids with a babysitter.  Here’s where you’ll discuss goals and craft a plan.  Nothing is off limits.  You may discuss retirement savings, large purchases, debt reduction, a down payment on a new home, or bolstering your savings.

Remember, don’t overindulge.  Take one step at a time.  Retirement savings may be the first topic.  Or getting out from under credit card debt may be your first challenge.

Come up with realistic goals together and check in on a regular basis.  When you’ve accomplished various goals, reward yourself.

Talking with Aging Parents

Many parents rarely discuss their finances with their children.  Their parents didn’t share details, and they don’t feel obliged to break with family tradition.

Surveys show 73% of Americans haven’t had this discussion with Mom and Dad.  The surveys also found that respondents ages 45-54 were the most likely to say that they haven’t broached the subject because they are not comfortable with the topic.

Many of us don’t know how to begin the conversation so here are some suggestions:

  • Express genuine concern.  You care about what’s going on with your parents, and it extends beyond their financial situation.  While money matters may seem difficult to explore, let them know you are having the discussion because you love them and want to be sure they are being taken care of as they age.

They may be open to talking or they may take time to process your invitation.

  • Tell parents “Our financial advisor, Dave Johanson made me do it.”  One way to jumpstart the conversation is to point the finger at us, or another trusted advisor like your lawyer or CPA.  “I was talking to my financial advisor the other day, and he said we should have a talk.” Or, “I was reading my newsletter from my advisor, and she emphasized the importance of having a conversation about finances with you.”

Leveraging our credibility, or the credibility of another trusted advisor, can go a long way in opening doors.

  • Elder fraud may be on their minds.  Not comfortable jumping in?  Scams that target the seniors (and for that matter, all of us) have exploded.  None of us want our parents to become victims because there is little to be done to undo the damage.  Money lost will never be money recovered.  Expressing genuine concern by sharing articles on elder fraud is a good way to ease into the subject.

This will be hard work but think of the payoff.  Keep calm and discuss on.