Even if you wisely avoided getting into the weeds of financial planning in the middle of Christmas dinner, spending time with family often stirs up money matters, whether you opt to address them immediately or file away for another day.
There is no manuscript for talking money with your family. Like snowflakes, no two situations are alike. There are, however, strategies you can use to balance prudent planning and precious family time.
Talk values, not dollars: Ideally, you can keep the holidays somewhat sacrosanct. If you can, delay any big discussions until after the New Year. “This is a time when family should enjoy each other’s company and just spending time together,” says Judy Spalthoff, head of Family and Philanthropy Advisory at UBS Financial Services.
There is a practical benefit to this advice. In the big-picture of planning, family bonding is as important as studying portfolio returns or talking tax strategy. For that reason, she carving out time over the holidays to have an intentional—but lighthearted—conversation about your values, goals and aspirations, as individuals and as a family. “Regardless of your level of wealth, it’s important to start a dialogue about how you view money in the bigger scheme of things,” she says. “This helps lay a solid foundation before you start talking nuts and bolts.”
Separate business and pleasure: If you work with a financial advisor and decide to hold a financial summit around the holidays, there are ways to do it without being a Scrooge. First, give everyone fair warning. “You don’t want to spring it on them,” says Kathy Longo, founder and president of Flourish Wealth Management in Edina, Minn. While you’re at it, be clear about who should attend. For example, do you want to include spouses and grandchildren?
Next, choose a neutral location, such as your advisor’s or attorney’s office. Even seemingly benign money discussions can drum up unforeseen emotions, she says. Meeting outside of the house helps draw a clear line between family business and family festivities.
Don’t force the discussion: It’s one thing to want to bring your family in the loop on your finances and quite another if you hope to initiate a conversation about how they’re managing their affairs. Here’s where it’s important to tread carefully, especially over the holidays.
If you’re worried about one family member, best to speak with him or her one-on-one. Be discreet and look for the right opportunity, which may not come until after everyone goes home. “Nobody wants to feel ganged up on,” says Brianna Marshall, a licensed marriage & family therapist in Las Vegas.
It helps to frame the conversation with what’s going on in your life. For example, maybe you say you recently looked at your own retirement portfolio and it made you think about whether your son or daughter had started to think seriously about saving. “You can also talk about it in terms of your own experiences and feelings,” Marshall says. Without pointing fingers, you might say you’re worried or that you have been thinking a lot about your loved one’s own financial security, or maybe you can relate to a moment when you were in a similar situation.
If your child—or parent, or sibling—is dismissive, don’t push the conversation. It may be the case that your concerns are in fact not justified or that he or she needs more time. “The holidays might be better spent doing some data gathering before you make any plans to offer advice or help to a family member,” says Lynn Ballou, regional director of EP Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, Calif.