How to break the ice around family finances

Morgan Stanley Wealth Management


Summary: Money is one of the trickiest topics to discuss but avoiding the conversation can be even more problematic. These tips can help start the dialogue with your family.

What’s the hardest thing to talk about? Death, religion, politics? Would it surprise you to know that one of the most difficult things to discuss is money? When polled, 44% of Americans claimed that personal finance was the hardest to discuss – beating out politics and even death.1

While talking about money can feel uncomfortable, the consequences of not discussing money can actually have more detrimental outcomes and unexpected consequences for your family. We break down three core reasons to break the ice around family finances:

  1. Develop good habits: Talking to your children about money now can help them avoid mistakes in the future. The key is to talk about what money means to you and how it’s used in your daily life through budgeting, saving, spending, and investing. It involves being open about the challenges and responsibilities that can accompany money. The conversation can serve as an empowering first step to forming a healthy relationship with their finances.
  2. Establish common goals: It’s never too early for your children to understand the value of creating a financial plan and budget that takes family members’ needs into account. Family members may not be aligned on priorities, such as long-term health care needs, college savings, retirement planning, or charitable giving. A good first step is to take the time to establish common goals and how all family members can participate in achieving them. Not sure where to start? Check out 5 Quick Steps to Build a Budget.
  3. Create a legacy:  According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of people over 65 will require some long-term care at some point in their lives,2 which is why having financial conversations with aging parents is critical. Once a crisis hits, it’s often too late. Now is the time to determine if sufficient long-term health care plans have been made, as well as who will make financial decisions on your parents’ behalf if they lose the ability to safely handle their money. Proper planning gives you time to discuss your decisions with family members. This open communication can help to reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of family discord, resentment, or conflict.

Having a hard time starting a conversation about family finances?

Here are a few questions that can make it easier:

  • At what age do you hope to retire?
  • When is it ok to borrow money?
  • Is it important to talk about money as a family?
  • What is your favorite charitable cause and why?
  • How is your generation different from the generations before you?
  • Should children give to charity?
  • What financial legacy do you want to leave to your family?

After you think through these questions with your loved ones, align your goals with potential strategies:

  1. Create a plan customized to reflect what you care about most. It should address both the goals you hope to achieve and the risk of outliving your assets.
  2. Address the shifting nature of issues and unknowns you face at different stages of your life and consider risks beyond market volatility, like inflation. Learn more about planning throughout every stage of your life.
  3. Seek to mitigate judgment and behavioral risks such as panic selling in difficult markets or overspending.

Smash the taboo

Sitting down to discuss your parents’ long-term health needs or checking in with your siblings to see if you are all on the same page isn’t easy. What about your children—do they value the same causes that have moved you all your life? Is your spouse prepared should something happen to you?

The tough part is getting started. Keep in mind: It’s not just a single conversation, but rather a series of talks that shift as your life changes. It’s a road. And you don’t have to travel it alone.



1. Ingrid Paulin and Wendy de la Rosa, “Why Is It So Hard to Talk about Money?” Scientific American, March 22, 2018.
2. US Department of Health and Human Services.


The source of this article, How to Break the Ice Around Family Finances, was originally published on November 1, 2020.

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