Although we are often afraid of becoming our parents, it is true that we typically inherit our relationship to money from them – as they did from theirs. Many of us were brought up to believe that it is taboo to talk about money, but this idea maintains financial illiteracy and avoiding money talks can have a lasting negative impact on our own money behaviors, relationships and life goals. Only 24% of millennials show basic financial skills, according to a report by the National Endowment for Financial Education, which translates to three-quarters of a generation poorly prepared for their retirement or other economic milestones. Having direct conversations about our finances can help us learn, grow, and better prepare for our future.
Money was not really talked about in my own family when I was growing up. When she grew up in an Asian household, considerable emphasis was placed on education, but strangely no financial education. It was only when I graduated from college and entered the “real world” (and had to pay my own bills) that I began to adopt my own basic truths. Since then, I have shared them with countless families over the years in my work as a financial advisor.
In short, some long-held beliefs about money no longer hold. Many of these ideas that have been inherited through generations should be put on grass. Here, in particular, are five outdated taboos to be banished, followed by some more useful mantras that can serve as a replacement for them.
Note: On September 30, Halbert Hargrove will hold a free webinar focusing on fearless money talks about the new rules for retirement planning. To learn more and sign up for visits: www.fearlessmoneytalk.com/fmtregister1.
Taboo # 1: Debt is always bad. (False!)
Many parents tell their children that it is bad to have debt and something to avoid. But there are different types of debt and not all are equal. For example, most homebuyers need to take out a mortgage loan when deciding to make the big purchase, which is an example of good debt. And debt for student loans is not necessarily bad either, as it is considered an investment in your future!
Instead of worrying about the idea of debt, it is best to educate yourself on things like interest rates, credit results and loan terms to ensure that you can manage debt properly. In fact, if you are disciplined enough and are one to pay things like credit card bills in full each month, you can use some of the benefits to your advantage.
Taboo # 2: It’s never OK to cut off your children. (Sorry, kids, but that’s wrong!)
I have personally seen how difficult it can be for parents to interrupt their children financially. In fact, I have seen clients continue to give their children a monthly allowance well into their 50s! When I am a parent myself, I understand how difficult it can be to go between being supportive and helping your children too much, which can often be detrimental.
One of life’s critical ongoing lessons is to achieve independence – including financial independence. Encouraging your children to earn their own money and support themselves is better for their self-confidence and growth as an individual.
Taboo # 3: Leave your children a legacy, even if it means a huge sacrifice. (Definitely fake!)
Many parents have the idea that they should leave their children something when they pass. The idea of leaving a legacy in terms of financial assets or real estate is a common and long-standing tradition, and rings especially true with an emotional asset like a family home. While this is a good idea, keep in mind that these assets should not be set aside for the sake of your own well-being.
Most kids just want their parents to live out their final year in comfort, so if you can’t afford to leave a legacy, that’s more than fine!
Taboo # 4: You should never keep finances separate in a marriage. (Not true!)
Many of our parents happily combined finances into joint accounts and shared everything. But that is no longer the norm, as couples often keep their finances separate or take a hybrid approach – a shared account plus individual accounts. According to a survey conducted by Fidelity, one in five couples identify money as their biggest challenge in the relationship. Communication about finances is necessary to help strengthen relationships and ensure that your big life goals are synchronized, as money is often one of the main causes of divorce. Do what works best for you and your partner. The important thing is to discuss your financial ambitions and maintain open communication about finances.
Taboo # 5: The same goals that were good for your parents are good for you. (Nothing!)
Times have changed. It is no longer the norm to get married in your early 20s, buy a house right away and have children. Although this plan worked for previous generations, it may no longer be the smartest or best approach, especially as housing prices skyrocket and our lifestyles change. Don’t worry – renting can even be a better financial decision depending on your situation. It’s okay to let go of your parents’ dreams; the important thing is that you have your own financial goals and a plan to achieve them.
Talking about money should not be taboo
According to Walden University graduate Audra Sherwood’s research, “Differences in Financial Literacy Across Generations,” approximately four out of seven Americans are financially illiterate and report that they are unable to manage their finances. On top of that, a FINRA survey showed that over 53% of adults say that thinking about their financial situation makes them anxious, and 44% say that it is stressful to discuss their finances. The cycle of financial illiteracy and negative emotions associated with money will continue unless we learn to break the taboo.
Bottom line: Having open conversations about money is how we learn, grow and build healthy relationships. As much as it was not part of my childhood, I consciously try to have those teaching moments around money with my 4-year-old. It’s fun to talk to him about how he will split his birthday money and what he will save for next time. Although he is still young, I can already see him grasping some basic economic concepts. As for my parents, they have also become more open about money and finances over the years, and we have had many conversations about planning for the future. These discussions eventually led to their retirement this year.
It is also important to remember that as much as our upbringing affects the way we view economics and wealth, we ultimately define our own stories and can change our thinking. Find out what money stories you are telling yourself and where these ideas came from. Did a belief come from a particular situation or memory from a family experience? Is faith in conflict with your life now?
If the money stories you tell yourself no longer work for you, then redefine your goals to align with your values and stop living by unwritten rules defined generations ago.
Halbert Hargrove Global Advisors LLC (“HH”) is an SEC-registered investment advisor located in Long Beach, California. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Further information about HH, including our registration status, fees and services can be found at www.halberthargrove.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personal investment advice. It should not be construed as an invitation to offer transactions in personal securities or to provide personal investment advice. The information provided does not constitute legal, tax or accounting advice. We recommend that you seek the advice of a qualified solicitor and accountant. All opinions or views reflect the author’s assessment from the date of publication and are subject to change without notice.
Wealth Advisor, Halbert Hargrove
Julia Pham joined Halbert Hargrove as a wealth consultant in 2015. Her role includes encouraging HH clients to explore and fine-tune their ambitions — and work with them to create a roadmap to achieve the goals that matter to them. Julia has been working in financial services since 2007. Julia earned a Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude in economics and sociology and an MBA, both from the University of California at Irvine.