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How to Get Past the “Money Taboo”

What’s more controversial than religion or politics? Personal finance topics. That’s the result of a study conducted by Wells Fargo. Nearly 40% of couples have simply steered clear of the topic out of concern that divergent financial goals or fears will create a rift.

Another study by the T. Rowe Price Group found that more than 70% of parents are hesitant to discuss their future financial plans with their children. It’s understandable. Parents don’t always want their children to count on an inheritance, which may sap their offspring’s professional (and wealth-building) ambitions.  

Still, many of us think  about personal finance all of the time. A Northwestern Mutual survey rated personal finance a top priority (second only to personal health), and the majority felt their financial planning could use improvement.

Yet there are several clear impediments in place. Time and knowledge, for example. Many people neglect to carve out the time to explore their personal financial goals. And many others feel unprepared to pursue such an exploration on their own.

Considering that many people have similar financial opportunities and challenges as their peers, you would think that a move to compare notes and strategies makes sense. But that rarely happens. Chalk it up to the “Money Taboo.” It’s often deemed impolite, or perhaps a source of shame, to talk about money with trusted friends.

But overtures to talk about money may be more welcome than you realize. As etiquette guru Lizzie Post has said, "it's OK to broach the subject with someone you think manages their money really well and say, 'I'd really like to get your opinion on this.' That's the way to invite a conversation and give the person an out."

It can also be useful to help identify the right financial professional to help you. A starter question to a friend may be 'Hey, you seem to be doing OK. Do you work with anybody?”

And couples that have been avoiding the “money talk” can schedule a time when there are no distractions and they can map out shared values and concerns, as well as opposing perspectives. It need not be a fraught emotional conversation that drags up past financial choices.

Talking about the feelings around money has become a growing area of focus for financial planners. They’re increasingly trained to help navigate a discussion around financial wishes, needs and fears, even before the actual number-crunching process begins.

In fact, there’s a growing subset of planning known as “life planning,” founded by author George Kinder, who provides extensive training for planners to build life planning coaching skills.  His book, “Life Planning for You: How to Design & Deliver the Life of Your Dreams” is an excellent read. I’ve already given copies out to several of my clients.