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Sense for Cents

How to prepare and start the conversation about money.

Mom and daughter on boardwalk
How to enrich your money talks.

Do you tug at your collar when the conversation turns to money? If so, you're certainly not alone. According to recent research, money—not death or politics—is the topic of conversation to which we're most averse, with 44% of survey respondents saying that money is the most difficult topic to discuss with others.

The finding isn't so surprising. Personal finance is, well, personal—and money can be polarizing, says Erin Donnelly, a therapist with experience handling financial conflicts. Some people are spenders and some people are savers. Some people view money as a status symbol, while others view it as a means to achieve their goals. But as difficult as the subject may be, these conversations are important ones to have, especially with your loved ones. Below are some do's and don'ts when talking about money:

Don't start with numbers

Before you talk cents, get a sense of how the other person views money. That means focusing on upbringings, goals and fears. Start with questions like, “What did your mom teach you about money?” or “What does retirement look like to you?" In relationships, for example, understanding each other's views is so important that Grose recommends taking the time to write your “financial autobiography” before having any money conversations at all. Once you understand the role money plays in each other’s lives, your future conversations will be easier. Donnelly says a lack of understanding is one of the biggest barriers for having productive conversations. “There has to be transparency between partners about how they view their personal finances.”

Do it together

Whether it's creating a budget or setting goals, the experts can't stress it enough: do it together. Grose recommends that couples create a shared financial plan (i.e. budget and goals), and refer back to it when money conflicts arise. If and when one of you veers off the plan, you can go back to the guidelines you created together. Financial planning can hit a snag when one partner earns more. Regardless of how much you earn, it’s essential to approach these conflicts with a team-first mentality. Go back to the goals, says Grose. Start by “bringing up the goals that you agreed on as a couple, and then identify the way each partner's spending habits affect those goals.” But avoid pointing fingers, says Donnelly. “Financial disputes in relationships can lead to guilt and shame,” and those emotions will only make matters worse.

Do get the kids involved

It's never too early to start teaching your kids about money. Both Grose and Donnelly agree that a great way to introduce them to money management is by giving them an allowance. I suggest giving them a list of things you’re not going to buy for them anymore with it. (This will help them learn how to budget their money.) The goal is to teach kids the difference between wants versus needs.

With reporting by Max Miller, this article was originally written for SavvMoney® by Jean Chatzky