Parents teach their children not to be afraid of the dark, yet the dark remains a potentially scary place when it comes to adult personal finances. If you’re in the dark financially, you’re not alone.
Personal Finances Are a Sticky Subject
According to the Wells Fargo Financial Health Study, 44 percent of Americans said the most challenging topic to discuss was personal finances. That’s more than those who claimed death, religion or politics were the most difficult. Half of women found it challenging to talk with others about personal finances, while 38 percent of men felt the same.
If this sounds like you, addressing money’s deep-rooted emotional aspects can help lead you to the financial light, according to Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, owner of Vermont-based KBK Wealth Connection and author and host of the “Breaking Money Silence” book and podcast. She says that attitudes about money are often formed in childhood and influence auto-thoughts and beliefs in relationships. “You break money silence by bringing these thoughts from unconsciousness to consciousness, and then becoming financially literate so you can talk about money.”
To illustrate her point, Kingsbury shares the story of working with a divorced woman whose business was modestly profitable. Each time she earned more than $100,000, she would unconsciously spend down her savings account to zero. Kingsbury learned that the woman continued to let her ex handle her finances, because she believed she didn’t have the knowledge. “But after coaching,” Kingsbury recalls, “she realized she was smart enough to take care of her finances and gave herself permission to take a raise.”
The Generational Difference
Getting to that point can be a problem, even when the reasons for remaining in the dark differ by generation.
Older women may abdicate financial duties willingly, having lived when women needed a husband’s co-signature to get a credit card.
Gen-Xers and millennials have made financial and career progress, yet often delegate handling the finances due to time constraints. Neither is enough reason to stay in the dark.
Delegate, Don’t Abdicate
“It’s one thing to say, ‘You write the checks, and I’ll get the baby to daycare,’” says Kathleen “KT” Thomas, president of NewDay Solutions in New Hampshire. Thomas is the author of “The Hardworking Woman’s Guide to Money” and host of the “KTsMoneyMatters Podcast.” “But,” she cautions, “delegation shouldn’t be abdication.”
Thomas believes couples should get together for a general accounting session “at least annually, and ideally quarterly, to look at income, expenses, cash flow and net worth. Often, one person won’t realize how expensive things have become.”
Kingsbury says you need a basic understanding of your finances, even when delegating them. “You don’t need to become nutritionists to be healthy individuals, just as you don’t need to be an expert about money and investing to know the answers to questions needed for financial health.”
So where do you start? “Set a predetermined time to talk about money with your partner,” says Chloe McKenzie, Founder and CEO of BlackFem, Inc. and On A Wealth Kick, LLC. “Bring a timer to limit the conversation if talking about money makes you feel uncomfortable.” McKenzie’s organizations provide wealth education services and education to underserved communities of color and advise institutions on how to narrow the wealth gap for women and girls of color.
“Ask, ‘How are bills paid now? How often do we save? What financial goals do we want to talk about monthly? Quarterly? Annually? Can I manage the spreadsheet?’”
Build Up To It
Then, keep the knowledge coming.
Caroline Hill, a wealth manager at Sage Rutty and Company in Rochester, New York, says that an easy way to get more involved is to download your bank and investment apps to your smartphone so you can periodically track your balances and performance. “These apps – or statements if you don’t use a smartphone – show where you are spending your money and how your investments are doing,” she says. “These exercises take about 10 minutes and can be done while you sit in a doctor’s waiting room or under a hair dryer at the salon.”
Other suggestions from the four wealth experts: Enlist a support group of women who take financial control if you feel uneasy doing it at first. Learn more about finances however you feel most comfortable doing it, whether it’s via a trusted online resource, a knowledgeable friend or family member and, ultimately, a financial advisor. Make sure you both meet with your financial advisors.
It’s Time to Take Charge
Whether you or your partner handle the family finances, it’s crucial to understand what’s going on at all times.
“You have to care enough to have the money conversation,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot longer to fix a financial problem than to discuss it before it becomes a problem.”
“Learn as much about money as you can,” adds Kingsbury. “Then, give yourself permission to practice and not be perfect about this thing called money.”
Surprise! You’ve Been Outed
What do you do if death, disability or divorce forces you out of the dark?