Dec. 3, 2019
Should you talk turkey over the holidays—or money? The answer is a little of both, says financial planner Kristi Sullivan.
She says all you need to know about common holiday family dynamics is in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. “It has all of the elements: The pressure of putting on the perfect family holiday; feeling like you’ve overspent on gifts, entertaining, décor, and travel; personal space squeezed by guests crammed into your house; Cousin Eddie asking for money,” Sullivan says. “All of this stress leads to short tempers. Bringing up others’ financial shortcomings or needed life changes could be met with resistance. Be willing to listen to all sides of a story and make compromises.”
Often, a holiday gathering is the only time everyone can get together. It can be the perfect opportunity to bring up financial issues such as end-of-life plans, housing changes, or supporting a family member who needs help. There are also general money talks that might have to happen: Most of us don’t have enough saved for retirement. Multigenerational housing is at its highest peak in decades. And the average college student will graduate owing more than $37,000. That's a lot to chew on.
Sullivan says that it is acceptable to talk about saving, retirement, college planning, and budgeting--in very general terms. Beyond that, it can get tricky. “Presenting topics as something you’ve reading about or discussing with friends can start the conversation off on neutral ground. If family wants to reveal personal information, great, but don’t push it. Giving unsolicited advice directed at one person --i.e., ‘Jeff, you never have saved well and it’s time to get serious’--, will lead to awkward silences and hurt feelings,” Sullivan said.
She advised that serious and personal conversations might go better the day after the holiday, or if you’ve planned ahead. “If it’s something to do with older parents, talk to siblings beforehand to get on the same page. Remember to treat the people involved with kindness and patience and remember that they are adults with their own valid opinions,” Sullivan said. “Don’t expect everything to be resolved in one family meeting. You may have to circle back by phone a few times and even make subsequent visits to get your objectives accomplished.”
She said to think hard about what you say, how you say it, and when you present it—if it’s something that goes badly while you’re having dessert, “you might ruin pecan pie for your kids forever and that would be sad.”