Money talks with family shouldn’t be uncomfortable

YONKERS, NY (CONSUMER REPORTS) Talking money with the people you love can get awkward and tense pretty fast. It’s hard to remove the raw human emotion from financial decisions, finds Consumer Reports, the world’s largest and most trusted independent, nonprofit consumer organization, in its latest look at the challenges of solving family money discussions.

A recent nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center asked more than 2,800 Baby Boomers and Gen Xers about having difficult money conversations with their spouses, parents, siblings, and children. Respondents were asked whether they had any of those talks, including telling their spouse they’re not bringing in enough income, asking their siblings to borrow money, and discussing with their elderly parents whether it’s time for someone to take over managing their finances..

Those who had engaged in those conversations then reported how uncomfortable those talks were. Survey respondents who hadn’t had those talks gauged how uncomfortable they thought those discussions might be.

“Personal finance is as much personal as it is finance. You can be great at money mechanics, but family emotions can really affect your decisions. When making decisions about family and money, there is more to consider than just the bottom line,” said Tobi Stanger, Consumer Reports senior editor.

Many of the money talks CR focused on were about talking directly with a spouse. CR’s survey looked at conversations such as how uncomfortable it is to tell a spouse he or she is too cheap, and disagreements over big purchases. Of the 23 percent of respondents who had a conversation with their spouse about big purchases, 45 percent found it to be uncomfortable and 25 percent who didn’t have the conversation thought it would be uncomfortable.

The most frequently held conversation between spouses (42 percent) was about determining whether to financially help out a relative. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents who had that conversation told CR they found it uncomfortable. The survey also showed that it is uncomfortable to talk to your spouse about money when you are part of the problem. Of the 28 percent of married persons who had a conversation about both spouses spending too much money, 35 percent said it was uncomfortable.

The complete “Solving Family Money Fights” story and survey results focusing on the 15 Toughest Money Talks in our survey are available at or on newsstands in the Consumer Reports May 2017 issue. In the article, Consumer Reports also gives expert advice on how to handle those situations.

To help couples manage shared daily finances, for instance, CR suggests using a web-based money-management service—such as or—that allow partners to view shared accounts in one place, which can make budgeting, planning, and saving easier.

When it came to parents telling their teenage or adult children that it’s time to leave the nest, CR’s survey found, 40 percent of those that had that conversation found it uncomfortable. In addition, 39 percent of the parents who discussed limiting or cutting off their teenage or adult children’s financial support reported that was uncomfortable.

The survey also found that siblings were uncomfortable asking each other for financial help. Of the 15 percent of brothers and sisters who told CR they had asked their siblings for financial help, 47 percent said it was uncomfortable. And 16 percent indicated that they had a conversation with their sibling(s) regarding concerns about their sibling(s) taking financial advantage of their parents. Forty percent of them found that discussion to be uncomfortable.

Conversations with people you love about money concerns can get awkward and tense pretty fast. Here, Consumer Reports asked experts to share strategies to help take the sting out of thorny money conversations with a family member:

  • Meet in a neutral place. People tend to keep their voices down and control their anger more when they’re not at home. “Studies find people are better able to process information and come up with creative ideas while engaged in physical activity in nature,” explains Holly Gillian Kindel, a certified financial planner with Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco.
  • Focus on one topic. “Too many people try to tackle too much at once,” says state district court Judge John Roach in Collin County, Texas, co-author, with his wife, Laura, of “Divorce in Peace: Alternatives to War From a Judge and Lawyer” (Wheatmark, 2016). If you and your siblings have to deal with a parent’s daily care, for instance, focus first on what it will cost and how you’ll pay. Later, discuss who will oversee the care.
  • Hire a pro. If the issue is a particularly contentious one, hiring a neutral person, such as a financial planner or CPA, can help keep conversations on track. The facilitator can also take responsibility for assigning tasks or requiring parties to share documents.
    Listen actively. “Mirroring what someone said in your own words allows them to feel heard and to say whether you’re understanding each other,” says Jennifer Safian, a divorce mediator based in New York City.
  • Be respectful. “When someone’s talking, we tend to anticipate what they’re about to say and interrupt them,” Roach says. “Conversations break down at that moment.” Fight the temptation and wait your turn.
  • Agree to disagree. No amount of talking can guarantee that you’ll get another person to see things your way, Roach says. When you reach an impasse, you sometimes have to be prepared to let it go and move on.
Reporter:Lindsey Sablan
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