Author Topic: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?  (Read 3280 times)

VeggieTable

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How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« on: April 05, 2017, 05:02:19 PM »
Hi. I figured I'd ask this very knowledgeable forum about a conversation I am dreading having with my mom. For some background, my dad passed away a little over 3 years ago. He was very good with finances and my mom is...not. She is basically set for life and does not need to ever work because of my dad's financial acumen. However, my mom had little to no interest in understanding their financial situation, even her own retirement, and trusted my dad 100% (for good reason). But towards the end of his life, it wasn't clear until it was too late that my dad wasn't cognitively able to explain his set-up to my mom. She has spent a long time unraveling all of the accounts and just making sense of how much money she has to live on.

My biggest concern is that she is spending money at record-breaking levels. In the past year, I'd estimate she has spent close to $50,000 on home-makeover-type projects (all projects my dad never wanted to do, of course). She is about to spend another $20,000 on a brand-new car, even though hers is only 5 years old. I've tried sooo many times to talk her out of that one, but she's set. She wanted to get a new one last year and I convinced her not to, so I call that a win :)

So, how do I approach this with her? I just want to make sure that she knows how much money she can spend every year and is not spending down the principal. If $50,000 in home makeover projects is in her budget, great! Not my cup of tea, but if she can afford it, fine. I don't, however, want her to spend the whole stash she and my dad worked a lifetime to build in

My mom gets VERY defensive very fast about any implication that she is getting older or that she *might* not be up-to-date on every aspect of managing a home (say, technology). I approach life very differently than she does, and I know that colors my reactions to her, which I'm sure contributes to her defensiveness. But I really want to get this conversation right since it's so important. So, any advice? I just want to make sure my mom is taken care of.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2017, 06:19:36 PM by VeggieTable »

zinnie

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2017, 06:45:59 PM »
I can relate to some of the ways you have described your mom, and one thing that has worked for me, especially related to defensiveness, is to make the conversation about how I am feeling, not about her or her choices. Maybe something along the lines of Ive found myself worrying about your financial situation after Dad passed away, would you be willing to share some details to help put my mind at ease that youre in a good position? And if she doesnt want to share with you, maybe Ok, I understand that you dont want to share all of your financial details with me. Would you be willing to meet with a financial planner instead? I know that finances can get really complicated and since Ive been worrying, it would make me feel a lot better.

You could also try to treat it more like asking for advice, if even implying that she might need help is too much. Maybe: Ive been evaluating my own finances recently, and I know that you and Dad did a great job saving for the future. Would you be willing to share some details on how you are doing things so that I can compare notes?

Initially, I would focus on asking questions instead of telling her what to do, and then use what she tells you to figure out how much more you want to push. But respect the fact that she is an adult who can choose to share with you and accept your advice, or not.

If I am understanding your post right, it sounds like you need information before youll even know whether she is spending too much. If you do get that information Id focus on whether or not the math works out for not running out of money (because that could potentially fall on you), instead of focusing on the spending (because that can come across as critical of her choices). Once you have a non-judgmental conversation about her situation, maybe she would either be interested in your help or she would be willing to visit a financial planner. Your comment "we approach life differently" I can completely relate to, and that's why the neutral third party option could be a better one than trying to get her to tell you everything.

YMMV, obviously. And good luck! I know that these conversations are the hardest, but it sounds like you are coming at it from a point of caring about her, so hopefully that comes through and helps your case :)

VeggieTable

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2017, 06:28:29 AM »
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I like your method of saying that it's *my* concern, not questioning her. I have tried that approach with her before and always gotten the brush-off ("I'm fine, I have plenty of money," with no details), but maybe if I press a little harder I can get more concrete information to ease my mind. That's the only reason I'm thinking of bringing up her spending, since she has shown reluctance to divulge specifics. Maybe if I can say that I see her spending a lot of money, without judgement, and I just want to make sure she has enough to cover it.

The thing is, she *does* have a financial planner. I think that's part of the reason she doesn't want to tell me even a whisper of how much money she has - she thinks she has that covered. I'm concerned she may have seen how much $$$ she has and think, wow! I can spend all of this!  She really seems resistant to me helping her out in any way, shape, or form, and I think it's because if I help, in her mind that means she can't do it herself. That's not it at all - it's more that I know I benefit from having my DH be a second set of eyes on all financial matters, but she doesn't have that luxury anymore. Typing that out now, that might be another way to approach it with her..

Laura33

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2017, 11:10:23 AM »
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I like your method of saying that it's *my* concern, not questioning her. I have tried that approach with her before and always gotten the brush-off ("I'm fine, I have plenty of money," with no details), but maybe if I press a little harder I can get more concrete information to ease my mind. That's the only reason I'm thinking of bringing up her spending, since she has shown reluctance to divulge specifics. Maybe if I can say that I see her spending a lot of money, without judgement, and I just want to make sure she has enough to cover it.

The thing is, she *does* have a financial planner. I think that's part of the reason she doesn't want to tell me even a whisper of how much money she has - she thinks she has that covered. I'm concerned she may have seen how much $$$ she has and think, wow! I can spend all of this!  She really seems resistant to me helping her out in any way, shape, or form, and I think it's because if I help, in her mind that means she can't do it herself. That's not it at all - it's more that I know I benefit from having my DH be a second set of eyes on all financial matters, but she doesn't have that luxury anymore. Typing that out now, that might be another way to approach it with her..

So, yeah, there's no way you can actually say the bolded *without* judgment.  Because it sounds like you guys have a history of you questioning her spending and her justifying it, so she is going to hear any mention of her spending as an attack.

This is really almost impossible to do "right," and the hardest lesson is that even if you do all the right things, she is a grown-ass human with the inalienable right to be stupid if she wants to.  So start off with the expectation that you will likely fail, and that you're giving it a shot because you love her and want what's best for her, not because you think you can actually control the outcome. 

Personally, I would try to inject as much empathy into the conversation as possible.  You are concerned, because you know your dad's death put a huge burden on her to figure out all these things that he managed for years.  You see that she has jumped in and taken charge, and you are really impressed by her ability to pick up so much so quickly.  But you are concerned, because that must have been extremely difficult, and you just want to make sure that she is getting the support she needs.  Is she comfortable with the planner?  Is he responsive, is he available to answer her questions, does he take the time to explain things to her when she needs it?  Is she comfortable with how he is managing her money?  Has he given her an idea of how much she can afford to withdraw every year in order to make sure the money lasts for as long as she will need it?  Does she feel like she can live comfortably on that amount?  Etc. etc.

And then, whatever she says, do not interject your own opinion.  Seriously.  This is one of the few situations where "I" statements are usually counterproductive, because it asks your parent to acknowledge that you have the right to be up in their business -- "I worry" -- ok, any normal parent is going to say "don't worry, I have it covered"; after all, they are the parent, so it's their job to worry about you, not the other way around.  For someone who is approaching the short tail end from life, being the watched-over instead of the watcher-overer is a huge adjustment.  So you need to find a way in that allows her to retain her longstanding role as The Boss of Her and You. 

Your goal instead is to become the trusted advisor and sounding board -- i.e., that you are there for help if she decides she wants it [of course, your whole goal is to get her to want it, but the best way to achieve that goal is to let her come to you -- there's a reason therapists listen way more than they talk].  And that starts by putting aside your own worries and listening, really listening, to what she is feeling and thinking.  You honestly have no idea what her life was like, as a mom and a wife; heck, maybe your dad was a miser and she's been waiting 30 years to remodel the house and buy herself a damn new car.  Or maybe she's lonely and adrift and is salving the loneliness by throwing money at it.  Or not -- who knows? [A:  not you]  So you need to just get her talking -- without voicing your own opinion, which will clam her up instantly -- so you can hear what her needs are, what her feelings are.  Because you can't help her get what she wants if you don't know what that is; instead, you are focusing on what you want for her. 

Once you guys have established that rapport, where she feels like she can ask you questions and you will listen, you can start to slip in advice.  But softly, softly, on little cat feet.  Think Jeopardy:  not "mom, you can't afford that car!" but "hmm, mom, are you comfortable you can afford that car?  What did [financial advisor] say?"  And then when she pushes back, let it go, preferably with something positive -- e.g., "ok!  You know, I'm really glad you talked to [financial advisor] about this, it's good he's looking out for you."  The more open and supportive you are, and the less you attempt to interject your own opinions, the more likely she is to open up the books and give you that information you need to feel comfortable that she's ok, or determine whether a more serious intervention is required.

NeonPegasus

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2017, 11:30:21 AM »
What about something like this: "Mom, I truly don't care what you spend your money on but I want to make sure your money lasts as long as you need it to. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 4% of your total retirement portfolio every year. So, if you have $1,000,000, that's about $40k/year. That allows your money to grow some to keep up with inflation over time. If you have any concerns about this, I'm always here to help."


Catbert

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2017, 01:48:34 PM »
Just a couple of random stories for what they may be worth:

I was a young widow (early 40s) with a good job.  My salary was plenty for my needs and the life insurance payout was a bonus.  I invested most of it, but spent over 50K during the year that followed DH's death.  45K for a new, fancy car.  5-10K for new furniture.  Several thousand for vacation for me and my sisters.  It's worth noting that this was 20 years ago so add inflation.  Then I went back to normal spending w/o a problem. 

A friend was widowed early (30y.o.).  He DH was the drunk driver in a wrong-way-on-the-freeway accident.  She spent the 100K life insurance as quickly as possible.  She said she "just wanted to be a normal person" and saw the money as a burden (guilt?).   Then she went back to living on a relatively low clerical salary.

Do either of these stories/motivations resemble your mother?  I not sure that either of us would have taken your advice, no matter how good.


VeggieTable

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2017, 05:36:31 PM »

So, yeah, there's no way you can actually say the bolded *without* judgment.  Because it sounds like you guys have a history of you questioning her spending and her justifying it, so she is going to hear any mention of her spending as an attack.

This is really almost impossible to do "right," and the hardest lesson is that even if you do all the right things, she is a grown-ass human with the inalienable right to be stupid if she wants to.  So start off with the expectation that you will likely fail, and that you're giving it a shot because you love her and want what's best for her, not because you think you can actually control the outcome. 

Personally, I would try to inject as much empathy into the conversation as possible.  You are concerned, because you know your dad's death put a huge burden on her to figure out all these things that he managed for years.  You see that she has jumped in and taken charge, and you are really impressed by her ability to pick up so much so quickly.  But you are concerned, because that must have been extremely difficult, and you just want to make sure that she is getting the support she needs.  Is she comfortable with the planner?  Is he responsive, is he available to answer her questions, does he take the time to explain things to her when she needs it?  Is she comfortable with how he is managing her money?  Has he given her an idea of how much she can afford to withdraw every year in order to make sure the money lasts for as long as she will need it?  Does she feel like she can live comfortably on that amount?  Etc. etc.

And then, whatever she says, do not interject your own opinion.  Seriously.  This is one of the few situations where "I" statements are usually counterproductive, because it asks your parent to acknowledge that you have the right to be up in their business -- "I worry" -- ok, any normal parent is going to say "don't worry, I have it covered"; after all, they are the parent, so it's their job to worry about you, not the other way around.  For someone who is approaching the short tail end from life, being the watched-over instead of the watcher-overer is a huge adjustment.  So you need to find a way in that allows her to retain her longstanding role as The Boss of Her and You. 

Your goal instead is to become the trusted advisor and sounding board -- i.e., that you are there for help if she decides she wants it [of course, your whole goal is to get her to want it, but the best way to achieve that goal is to let her come to you -- there's a reason therapists listen way more than they talk].  And that starts by putting aside your own worries and listening, really listening, to what she is feeling and thinking.  You honestly have no idea what her life was like, as a mom and a wife; heck, maybe your dad was a miser and she's been waiting 30 years to remodel the house and buy herself a damn new car.  Or maybe she's lonely and adrift and is salving the loneliness by throwing money at it.  Or not -- who knows? [A:  not you]  So you need to just get her talking -- without voicing your own opinion, which will clam her up instantly -- so you can hear what her needs are, what her feelings are.  Because you can't help her get what she wants if you don't know what that is; instead, you are focusing on what you want for her. 

Once you guys have established that rapport, where she feels like she can ask you questions and you will listen, you can start to slip in advice.  But softly, softly, on little cat feet.  Think Jeopardy:  not "mom, you can't afford that car!" but "hmm, mom, are you comfortable you can afford that car?  What did [financial advisor] say?"  And then when she pushes back, let it go, preferably with something positive -- e.g., "ok!  You know, I'm really glad you talked to [financial advisor] about this, it's good he's looking out for you."  The more open and supportive you are, and the less you attempt to interject your own opinions, the more likely she is to open up the books and give you that information you need to feel comfortable that she's ok, or determine whether a more serious intervention is required.

The thing is, I have never once questioned my mom's spending. I certainly haven't been praising her like crazy for all the changes to the house, which seems to be the reaction she wants, but I've never questioned what she spends her money on. After years of being her daughter, I know better than to do anything other than gently offer help, and only with tasks she has stated she wants to do but is unsure how to approach. I offered to help her wade through the financials after my dad died when she told me that she didn't understand any of it. She very quickly refused. This is what most concerns me - she is not open *at all* to help from me even when she realizes she doesn't know what she's doing. My mom has always been very sensitive to any indication, no matter how indirect, that she may be aging. I think she perceives receiving help from a child as "old people" territory.

I strongly suspect she is spending money because she is lonely. She has been saying for the last 3 years that she's "almost done" with the house, but projects keep appearing. My dad didn't want to spend money the way she does, but he certainly didn't skimp. Unfortunately, I can't help with the loneliness problem. She lives 700 miles away, and her visits to me are fairly short, by her own choice. My sister visits her less than I do, but there's nothing I can do about that.

But, I love your approach of starting with empathy, and moving towards asking her what her financial advisor has said about her purchases. That way hopefully she will talk to *someone*, even though it's not me. Honestly, I don't ever expect that she will come to me about finances - she won't even let me set up Netflix on her smart TV for her.

VeggieTable

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2017, 05:44:50 PM »
Just a couple of random stories for what they may be worth:

I was a young widow (early 40s) with a good job.  My salary was plenty for my needs and the life insurance payout was a bonus.  I invested most of it, but spent over 50K during the year that followed DH's death.  45K for a new, fancy car.  5-10K for new furniture.  Several thousand for vacation for me and my sisters.  It's worth noting that this was 20 years ago so add inflation.  Then I went back to normal spending w/o a problem. 

A friend was widowed early (30y.o.).  He DH was the drunk driver in a wrong-way-on-the-freeway accident.  She spent the 100K life insurance as quickly as possible.  She said she "just wanted to be a normal person" and saw the money as a burden (guilt?).   Then she went back to living on a relatively low clerical salary.

Do either of these stories/motivations resemble your mother?  I not sure that either of us would have taken your advice, no matter how good.

This is what I keep hoping will happen, but it's been a pattern every year. I'll be honest that I'm partly being selfish - I don't want her to blow the money she and my dad earned and then come looking to me for a handout.

My mom is 61 - the age my dad was when he died, actually. I know part of her spending is her intimate knowledge that life is short.

What about something like this: "Mom, I truly don't care what you spend your money on but I want to make sure your money lasts as long as you need it to. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 4% of your total retirement portfolio every year. So, if you have $1,000,000, that's about $40k/year. That allows your money to grow some to keep up with inflation over time. If you have any concerns about this, I'm always here to help."



Oh man, I really want to just say this to her and be done. This conversation is going to be painful, and I want to rip off the band-aid and get it over with. This is a nice, succinct way of conveying the point I want to get across to her.

Poundwise

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2017, 08:56:55 AM »
Very sorry to hear about your situation, which is quite similar to mine, except that my mother is older and lives closer to me than yours. Posting to follow, and hoping I can learn some tips.

My interactions with my mother feel very like interactions with a teenager...

VeggieTable

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2017, 05:23:00 PM »
Just wanted to give a quick update. I talked to my mom on her recent visit, but thanks to you all, did it in a rather subtle and oblique way. Never would have approached it that way on my own, as subtlety is not one of my strong suits. Basically, I eased into it by asking her if her financial advisor did her taxes for her. The conversation turned to if she was happy with the services and trusted him (yes to both - he sounds reliable), and she shared a little about the source of what she's living on. All in all, it sounds like she is aware of how much she can spend each year and is keeping her spending within those limits. I knew my dad had set her (ideally it would've been *them*) up for life, so I'm glad to hear she isn't going crazy.

Anyway, thanks to all for the advice. I will continue to say nothing about her spending levels, since it sounds like she has plenty. I'm glad I didn't mention her spending at all. The conversation was totally neutral and I doubt it even registered at all to her as me probing.

ambimammular

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2017, 06:56:23 PM »
Nice job with the communication!

Hopefully that put in some subtle ground work for future money conversations, (if they are needed).

Laura33

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Re: How to approach a conversation about money with a parent?
« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2017, 07:02:19 AM »
Awesome news!  Congrats and well done!

Patterns are patterns only if we continue to repeat them.  Kudos for working hard to break out of one that wasn't working for you.