How to talk money with your aging parents


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Talking money with your parents is no one’s idea of a good time. But as you enter middle age, and they enter their Golden years, it’s important to create an open dialogue.

Because one day, you could be pressed into duty helping them manage their finances, or even stepping in with financial support yourself. Pew Research Center polled adults with an aging (65+) parent and found it’s more common than you might think.

So before you buy another bouquet of flowers, or another tacky tie, consider gifting your parents an awkward but meaningful conversation on money’s role in aging with grace. Here’s how.

Step into their shoes, then switch mindsets

If you think it’s hard having this “talk” with your parents, imagine how they must feel.

Maybe they’re afraid their money won’t last.

Maybe they’re too embarrassed to ask for help. From anyone, let alone someone whose diaper they once changed (and changed, and changed).

This sort of empathy sets the stage for a true heart-to-heart. Sure, you could share any number of practical tips—everything from catch-up contributions and safe withdrawal strategies to (quick plug) how awesome Betterment is and how easy it is to switch—but those conversations are best left for another day.

What matters most in these first few exchanges is to build trust, and to come at things through the lens of curiosity, not problem-solving. To that end, we leave you with a few suggestions.

Three ways to set the table, and three icebreaker ideas

Depending on your relationship with your parents, there may be no way around this: It will be awkward. Your inquiries may be met with resistance. So start getting comfortable with both possibilities. A few tips can help your odds:

  • Pick a boring time. Steer clear of hectic holidays.
  • Start small. Spread things out over multiple conversations.
  • Stay curious. The questions matter more than the answers.

Now, once it’s time to actually start the conversation, consider a few icebreakers:

  • The “23andMe” angle. “I’m curious, how did your parents handle their finances as they aged? Did you ever talk about it with them?”
  • The “I’ll go first” angle. “With the kids getting older, I’ve been thinking more and more about estate planning lately. But it’s all so overwhelming.”
  • The CNBC angle. “Did you see the Dow just dropped [insert number] points? I know it’s easy to overreact, but it stings seeing my portfolio shrink even just a little.”

Regardless of where things go from here, remember to give yourself credit. You just took the hardest step (the first one) in joining your parents on their financial journey. And if there ever does come a day when they consider joining you at Betterment, our team is here to help.


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