Money is a complicated, intimidating topic for most people, and that includes parents. If your parents need financial help, it can be a tricky subject to approach. I asked a few money experts for their opinion on how to talk about the topic delicately.
My parents have always been pretty good with money. My mum is a prudent saver and my dad focuses on investing and growth. Still, being a financial writer, there are some topics that I know quite a bit about just from researching and writing about money all the time. Thankfully, both of my parents are pretty receptive to learning, but not all parents feel the same way. It can be hard to take financial advice from your kid. Here's what a few other financial writers and experts suggest.
Lead by Example
"My parents were inspired by my debt repayment journey and learned a few things along the way," she said. "Share with your parents what you are working on and hope it rubs off."
If your financial habits improve, chances are, your parents will take notice. Ideally, that will inspire them to take action on their own. Even if it doesn't, it's easier to have a money conversation when they see you're already walking the walk. Savings expert Kendal Perez says she and her mum are shopping buddies and, after becoming more frugal with purchases, Perez noticed that her mum followed suit.
As I've pared down my belongings and changed my relationship with things, I've backed away from peer pressure and now ask questions like, "do you already own something similar?" or "will that go with a few items you already own?" Recently, I notice she asks the same questions of me when I'm deliberating a purchase, and it makes me smile; it feels like we're evolving in the right direction! I think kids who lead by example and practice patience will find their positive spending and consumption habits can influence their parents in an impactful way.
Beyond that, Lockert adds that it helps to focus on goals. No one likes unsolicited advice, so if you can make it more about what they want to accomplish, whether it's a retirement plan or a trip to Italy, it's a lot easier to talk about all the boring money stuff it's aimed at accomplishing those goals. You also want to address what your role will be in their plans.
Wait for Them to Approach You
Again, no one likes unsolicited advice, but it might be necessary. It's fairly common for adult children to support ageing parents in some way, so their finances can certainly affect your own down the road. Of course, this only makes the conversation more awkward.
To curb the awkwardness, you might consider waiting for your parents to open up the dialogue on their own, then stretch it into a deeper conversation. Here's what Jackie Lam of Cheapsters.org suggests:
I do sometimes worry that I come off as a know-it-all, so learned to wait for others to approach me with questions. I try my best to refrain from poking my nose in other people's business, because as you know a lot of people don't really like talking about money, or just aren't ready to hear what you have to tell them... I usually try to wait until my mum asks me my opinion on money matters such as buying a new car, what she should do about her retirement, and credit card stuff.
That way, the advice isn't even unsolicited. Chances are, the topic of money will come up at some point. If it does, that's a good time to talk about their bigger financial picture. If it doesn't, though, there are other options.
Find a Liason
The main reason it's tough to have these conversations with parents is you don't want to come across as judgemental. It's easy to get defensive about money as it is; when your child lectures you about it, it's only natural to be a little taken aback. If you're worried your parents will get so defensive that they will shut down the conversation entirely, consider a liaison, suggests Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial:
This may sound strange, but consider tapping your significant other or your brother's or sister's partners to start an open dialogue with your parents. Sometimes it's easier for your parents to open up to a close loved one that's a son-in-law or daughter-in-law and not their actual child.
She adds that it might be easier for an ageing parent to talk to someone about retirement or end of life plans when they're not emotionally or financially invested the way an adult child would be.
Point Them in the Right Direction
Instead of giving the advice, you could just show them where to find it. Personal finance expert Stefanie O'Connell told me she implemented this strategy with her own parents by gifting them a personal finance book.
Because it's a gift, it doesn't come across as aggressive, and because this particular book offers a more holistic approach to ageing, I feel like the money discussion can be broached as part of a larger conversation surrounding values, wants and needs in retirement - which is what managing your money is all about anyway.
It's a passive strategy, but it can come in handy, especially if you haven't really talked about money before. It's also a good way to break the ice.