By: Amanda Dempsey Barnes, LMFT and Buckhead Director at GROW Counseling
I often see clients in my office who are in conflict over finances.
Sometimes these are couples who haven’t had transparent conversations around money. Other times they are families who need help navigating difficult conversations with their young adult children regarding how to transition financial responsibility.
Usually, these parents are trying to teach their college-aged children how to stick to a budget, set boundaries about what is okay to spend vs. not okay to spend, etc.
These can be difficult, emotionally charged conversations and both parents and children often leave feeling frustrated and misunderstood if you do not have the proper tools to navigate these discussions.
If you find this happening in your family, here are a few tips to help ensure productive financial conversations:
1.) Start early.
- Start financial discussions as early as possible so that your children have basic understanding and tools by young adulthood. Consider your child’s developmental stage and level of understanding to create age appropriate learning opportunities.
2.) Understand your own beliefs and values around money.
- What does money mean to you? What did money mean to your family when you were growing up? Does money mean security, power, success, freedom or other? What values do you want for you children to have around money? The more you understand about your own beliefs, the better you can convey and pass down those beliefs to your children.
3.) Understand what feelings surface for you when having financial discussions.
- Fear, shame and anger tend to be common emotions around money. Do you feel pride when you think about being able to support your children through college? Do you feel relief that your children will soon be off of your “payroll”? Do you feel shame if you need for your children to contribute? Do you feel fear even if you’ve planned for this transition? These are all common emotions to experience yet understanding exactly how you feel will help you manage your emotions throughout financial conversations.
4.) Listen well and manage your own anxiety.
- Making sure your children feel heard and understood will create an environment for vulnerable and productive conversations. Use active listening statements such as “What I hear you saying is…” to let them know you are listening and understand their thoughts and feelings. Avoid statements beginning with you and instead use “I” statements when discussing things they’ve done that have frustrated or disappointed you. Manage your own anxiety and the feelings that surface for you by taking deep breaths and timeouts if necessary. The calmer you respond, the more likely your children will feel comfortable being honest with you.
5.) Establish rules and boundaries prior to your kids leaving for college.
- It is best when rules around money are established prior to your kids leaving for college so they know what boundaries to stay within, although it is never too late to do so. This helps to alleviate conflict on the front end. Will they have a certain amount per week, per month or per semester? Will they need to contribute to their spending money? What is the exact budget and how will they stick with this budget? What are the consequences if they do not stick within the budget? Establishing dates for check in discussions throughout the semester keeps everyone in the loop and can mitigate small financial issues from becoming larger financial issues.
6.) Keep an open dialogue.
- Lastly, make sure your children know that the door is always open for honest, calm and vulnerable conversations surrounding money. This keeps transparency high and conflict low.
Amanda Dempsey Barnes is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and GROW Counseling's Buckhead Director. To learn more about Amanda or GROW Counseling, visit the GROW website.