Why is it so difficult to talk about money? Does your family have a budget? Do you have an updated will?  What about a power of attorney?  Listen and learn as experience strategist Kelly Harper shares strategies for talking to your partner, your parents, your children and your friends about money. 

PODCAST: https://talkabouttalk.com/35-money

References & Links 

Kelly Harper



Money References

Couples and finances

Talking to Children about Money


Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki


Interview Transcript

 Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much for joining us here today, Kelly.

Kelly Harper: Thank you for having me.  

AW: Let’s start with – why is money taboo?

KH: So I’m a baby boomer. And if you think about our parents and their generation, there were things you didn’t talk about. My mom would say you didn’t air your dirty laundry in public. And I think money was one of those things, it was kept very private. And so if you’re brought up in a house where money is private, parents aren’t even talking to their kids about that. Now, what’s interesting now is we have this whole shift almost everything we do is public with social media. But that seems to be one of the last things that shifting, and I think it’s doing a lot of harm, because we’re not talking about something that’s really, really important.

AW: So as you were describing this, I was thinking she’s right, because things like mental health used to be taboo. And now we’re talking about it, right?

KH: right.

AW: Things like death. There are books being written explicitly talking about our mortality, and end of life and how we grieve

KH: I think Money …and financial literacy and financial education is going to need a bit of a movement where we can feel comfortable talking about it. The mental health example is a great example.

AW: Right? So is it because money is kept in our private bank accounts and in our wallets, it’s concealed. So there’s that part of it, there’s the fact that our bank accounts are not on display, the outcome of having money may be on display in terms of where we live, what we drive, how we dress, I’m still not sure the why it’s taboo.

KH: It is on display more than it used to be. Whereas in the 50s, and 60s, everything was a little cookie cutter, you didn’t kind of know what was happening behind closed doors. And I think part of it is we’re all looking for validation, and how money has become this symbol of success is maybe one of those pieces of validation that we don’t want to talk about. Because how I value money or success or define that might be differently than how you define that. And so I don’t necessarily want to get into that conversation because I don’t want to be left feeling that I don’t measure up. Or the opposite, I may not want to make someone else uncomfortable because they don’t feel that they measure up. So it cuts both ways, whether you don’t have enough, or you have more than your friends, it becomes sort of a hard bridge to cross.

AW: very well put. And I think that you just provided us with so many directions that we could go in, but first, I kind of want to close the loop on the taboo topic. You and I were at a conference recently, an Ensemble conference, where they were talking about the future of wealth and a lot to do with money – and you shared with the audience some research about conversations between parents and kids. Can you talk about that?

KH: We did a number of years ago – I was leading financial literacy strategy at BMO Financial Group, and we did a study on financial literacy and education specifically around what we’re you’re talking to your kids about, and 64% of parents who would they would rather talk about Kids about sex than money. It’s like, wow, have things changed, right? That that’s a staggering statistic. And that we also found out that only 47% of Canadians have a budget. I’ve learned that it has nothing to do with gender. It has nothing to do with education. There is a values component to this. I’m convinced you’re either born with a spender or a saver gene. And you can argue nature or nurture – but there’s something about the environment you grew up. A lot of researchers talk about what is that first memory of money that you have. But these are conversations that parents aren’t comfortable having, and I think a lot of it stems from –  if you are not confident, you are not going to want to have that conversation. So if you’ve made mistakes, or if you’re still struggling, you really don’t want to expose that to your kids. You don’t want to you know, be vulnerable to your children… I thought about this a lot. Also, I’m a big fan of Brené Brown, and it’s like when we’re vulnerable. We see sharing our vulnerability of shame. So we need to overcome that fear and start having that conversation.

AW: So you said there that 64%, or roughly two thirds of parents would rather talk to their children about sex, which is perhaps one of the more ultimate taboo topics than about money, which is fascinating and frightening.

KH: They’re thinking, well, they’re going to get that in school. It’s not part of core curriculum. And to be honest, financial services organizations need to do more. When you see ads for companies like cash money to a young teenager who’s like, Oh, I just need 100 bucks till payday. It’s the worst trap they can fall into because they don’t understand compound interest and what happens when you miss a payment. I always believe it’s a shared accountability between parents, families, educators and financial service institutions to help drive this conversation and create good habits and confidence.

AW: So let’s start diving into then the various stakeholders that you just listed there and let’s start first with talking to our kids about money. How can we prepare our kids to be financially responsible?

KH: So I think the first thing to do is not assume that it’s too late to start, or I can’t talk about this when my kids are young. So there are different lessons, you teach your kids all the time that are age appropriate. So I’m not talking about explaining compound interest to a five year old, that doesn’t understand fractions. What I am talking about is having conversations that are in the moment. So if you’re grocery shopping, and your kid says, Can we stop at McDonald’s for dinner on the way home? It’s like, well, we could but we’re at the grocery store. And so instead of spending $25, for a family of four to have dinner at McDonald’s, we could buy a whole chicken and we could buy some vegetables for salad and we could eat for probably a couple of meals. Maybe we pick a special dessert to go with dinner instead of the Happy Meal or whatever you’re going to have at McDonald’s. You need to stop Having those trade off conversations early, because at the end of the day, this is about needs and wants. And this is about really understanding, I think some of the trade-offs that we all need to make. I’ve heard stories about kids that went off to university and they’re living in an apartment eventually not outside of a dorm where they don’t have a cafeteria necessarily to eat at and they have to stock their own fridge and they actually don’t know how to grocery shop, because that was always looked after for them.

AW: So right. I appreciate that implicit advice even about bringing your kids shopping with you, right. One thing that I’ve done just recently, I started to show my kids on the labels where they have the price per kilogram, the really small writing in there. And so now they think it’s really cool to go in and compare with cereal, for example.

KH: I think a lot of the teenagers think that there’s a grocery fairy that just puts the groceries in the cupboard. They just show up.

AW: And one of the things that you mentioned there was distinguishing for children between needs and wants. How do you work conversations about that with your children, and when is a good time to start doing that?

KH: So I think again, it comes back to what’s age appropriate. So as your kids are getting older and you’re thinking about trade-offs, do you need a new pair of jeans? Or do you want a new pair of jeans and then having that conversation? So why do you want these? Why don’t you like the ones that you have? And maybe you’ll find out in that conversations like, well, I’m getting teased at school because I’m wearing Walmart brand, and all the kids are wearing something else. I don’t even know what fancy jeans are anymore.

AW: it changes – it changes all the time.

KH: So then have that conversation, but it’s like, okay, so there’s nothing wrong with the pair of jeans that you have, but you want another pair of shoes. So let’s talk about that. And then let’s talk about the trade off, but you also want x, y and z. So which do you want more? And this is our budget for this and how do you have that consultation budget, giving them a budget? And I think what’s interesting as we talked to different stakeholder groups, and as we did research, I said, I find that this isn’t about gender, education, or even how much families make. But I think the conversations actually are harder when families aren’t struggling to make ends meet. Because when you’re struggling to make ends meet, it can be a very honest conversation. It’s like no, I can’t buy new jeans right now because we have to pay the heating bill or the hydro bill. But when you’re not struggling, it’s harder to have that conversation because you yourself are not making those trade-offs. And I think as parents, we want so much for the kids in our lives that we want to be able to give them that and when we can, it’s hard to pull back and not do that without having a conversation about why you might still buy the new jeans. But at least you’ve had a different conversation getting to the new gene, right?

AW: So that means we’re not going to order sushi tonight.

KH: We’re not having sushi tonight. Or if you could be watching a TV show or a movie where someone is making a choice and say, Hey, what did you think about that? And then just build that into the conversation. Especially with kids. You don’t want this to be heavy. You want this like Oh, Mom, you don’t want the roll of the eyes. And I know I’ve talked a lot, but I just wanted to touch on I went to some research a number of years ago and it talked about the power for children to know they’re being invested in and so and what they commit to school. And so if you’re saving for your kids’ education, and RRSPs, tell them, because they will know that they’re being invested in. Hiding that as a big surprise. “Surprise! We have money for school for you!” is actually not helping. It’s a signal as a parent, you’re investing in your kids. So tell them we’re going to be okay.

AW: I think that is absolutely brilliant advice. And I definitely hadn’t heard it before. I hadn’t thought of it.

KH: Yeah. Again, back to the whole point that talking money is talking taboo. Why would I talk to my kids about the RRSPs that I have? Right? It was a wow moment for me when I heard it.

AW: Yes. And the other sort of positive externality that’s coming out of that is you are explicitly telling your children that you are investing in them.  So related to the topic of taxes, then, let’s move on to beneficiaries and wills. And we’ve all heard the horror stories of people who have a relative who dies in a car accident. Suddenly, and there’s absolutely no will whatsoever or even if there is one, it hasn’t been discussed. Maybe you can share some nightmare stories with us, they will scare people into talking about it?

KH:  So the first lesson that I’ve taken away rather recently (I am an executive in the state right now, an estate that I wasn’t expecting to be an executor of.) This is part of being an adult, having a will. Some people think, well, I don’t own a home, I don’t need a will, or I own a home, but I don’t have kids. So I don’t need a will. You need a will. This is part of the adult thing. What a will does, it is a way of telling your family what you want, when you’re not there to speak for yourself. And it could be as small a thing as where you want to be laid to rest. It could be you know, when my nephew was really, really young, and you always look at this book, and we would share this book together. It’s making sure that that person gets that memento. So it’s not even about money, per se thinking about how you want to be remembered how you want that memory to be preserved with the people that love you, they’re really hard conversations to have. My first piece of advice would be to start small. So just it’s almost like having the money conversation and relationships that will talk about start small and kind of know your audience. So you have to have a written will. Okay, there are all kinds of sites online to do wills. We actually just I just heard of a fabulous one called willful recently. There’s all kinds of legal documents that you can get at Staples or online, there are two forms of will in Ontario I can I can’t speak to other provinces, a handwritten will completely handwritten in your own script and signed by you will serve as a valid will in Ontario. And I’ve had that experience with a cousin that had died. A printed-out will that’s not signed or not was witnessed is not going to be valid. So if you use a tool or if you use some sort of template, you need to print it, you need to sign it and it needs to be witnessed by two adults that do not benefit from the will.

AW: Otherwise it’s kind of a conflict of interest.

KH: Right. They can’t benefit from it.  But this can be very simple and very straightforward. You could do it in word or if you have very simple, you know, wishes or very straightforward estate this is another word estate. People think estate is, you know, a sprawling acreage home. And the estate is everything you own. The government will take its share –  so unless you have those documents, the government takes … it can’t be probated, and they start taking a chunk of everything.

AW: So what I’m hearing then is that when you have a will, that you’re really doing yourself a favor because you’re ensuring that your legacy is what you want it to be. There’s also the benefit though to everybody else that’s involved – the family and close friends of you when you’re gone.

KH: There’s so many emotions, there’s so many difficult things happening. Are there children involved? I mean, there’s an emotional loss . And so the more that you can think of, and write down and share your wishes, … The last thing that your loved ones have to think about doing are those things and they can be, as I said, they can be small or big things. And so it is the gift that you give to those that you love – having a will.

AW: I think you’ve convinced me.

KH: And so a number of years ago, I had a good friend of mine come to me and say, my wife, and I are updating our will. And they have three kids, and they said, If something happens to us, we’d like you to take care of the kids. And I was like, really? Since it can be awfully crowded in my one bedroom apartment. And he’s like, No, no, the money comes to the kids. I’m like, okay, and I said, I’ll do it on one condition: that you tell your family that that’s what you’re doing a decision like that, that is so important. Even if you’ve written it down. Again, it’s emotional. Well, why isn’t it me? Why isn’t it them? Why is it you know, someone outside the family? So that was my one stipulation. And you know, they’re happy and healthy and their kids are wonderful. It was it was a difficult conversation, I know, for them to have and it was a difficult conversation for them to have with their family. But that was really important to them. And then as you start getting into parents that are divorced and you know, second families.  It becomes more and more complicated.

AW: And probably therefore then more and more important.

KH: Yes, right. Exactly.

AW: I like your advice about making sure that all of the potential involved are communicated with in advance?

KH: There is no more formal reading of the will…  you know:  we’re all going to get together in the lawyers office and we’re going to read the will … what do you mean that happened? It rarely happens like that anymore. But there’s still could be a real surprise for some people that could again, create tension and anxiety in a period that’s so emotionally difficult already. And it’s easy to say, Well, I won’t be there to manage it. But that’s a copy of it …

AW: That’s a cop out!

KH: If you love your family, it’s a gift.

AW: Let’s move to another stakeholder than and specifically talking to your partner. So it could be who pays the monthly bills, who does the investing, what is disclosed, should we have separate accounts or joint accounts, who has access,… but then also longer term planning. I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories.

KH: Financial stress is one of the number one stressors. Seven out of 10 couples will say it’s their biggest stressor in their relationship.

AW: So 70%?

KH:  70% say it’s a significant tension in their relationship. It’s still I think, often cited as one of the number one reasons for divorce. And again, it might not be the ultimate reason, but it creates other tension and other stress. And it’s often about back we talked earlier, the different values and how you manage money. And so I think when you think about having that conversation, it’s like what we talked about with kids, you’re not going to have a complicated mortgage conversation with a five year old. You’re not necessarily on a third date going to jump into some of these topics that for some people are kind of heavy conversations to have as the relationship develops and matures. Can we deepen that conversation? So early days, you know, you can start looking for cues, does your new partner want to go out all the time, and not stay at home? Or going to lavish restaurants? What’s their tipping behavior? So start having conversations about, well, what vacations do you like to take? How do you like to spend your time and that’ll sort of gauge and again, they’re awkward conversation. So you kind of you kind of wade into it like a pool, you don’t dive into the deep end, right?

AW: If you’re on like a second or third date, and you’re not sure – you want to ask them about their financial expectations. It’s kind of the same. You hear about couples hinting that … “so do you want to have kids someday?”, right?

KH: Yes, exactly. Going humming along, like everything’s great. And then later, well, let’s buy a house. And it’s the first time we’re at the bank and our credit scores are on the table exposed in front of us. It’s like, honey, you didn’t tell me about that credit card, or I didn’t know that that happened. And it’s bad. It’s back to the shame and the vulnerability of maybe we’ve made mistakes.

AW: Is there a list of conflict triggers? specific, financially related topics that couples may disagree on, so there could be the extent to which you’re comfortable with debt or that you are in Debt right then there’s your relative affluence. What are some other things that couples may get into arguments about?

KH: Part of it is just your outlook on saving and planning. A lot of Canadians don’t plan. And this is why retirement planning is so hard because one it’s if you’re in your 30s or 40s, or if it’s like it’s so far away, so many people that you know, are entrepreneurs or they started a second career later in life and they’re moving towards something different that this notion of retirement is even changing to think about planning and visioning. Well, what do you want? Like what do you want our life to be in five years to do?

AW: Never mind 20 years?

KH: Never mind 20 years – like do we want to go on vacation next year? Okay, so there are two ways to pay for that. We can save or you know, we’re just going to put it on our credit card and kind of run the numbers when you see the numbers on paper. They don’t lie. There was a great Sex in the City episode where Carrie was trying to buy a condo and she realized that she had $40,000 worth of shoes in her closet and that was a down payment on a condo!

AW:  That perfectly relates to the next question that I was just thinking that I was going to ask. We’ve heard of this high-low thing. And I think it was Sharon Stone who went to the Academy Awards wearing an Armani suit with a Gap t shirt.

KH: Yeah, yes.

AW: And it was the high low. People often have something that they love to indulge in. I know people that aren’t particularly affluent, but who will spend a lot of money on wine, they’ll have a wine cellar in the basement. And that’s just their thing. I can imagine that particular thing that people spend their money on could cause conflict in relationships, right, especially if it’s not shared, if it’s not a shared passion.

KH: And so I think it comes back to – we tend to have long term relationships with people that we share values with, and money and how you manage money really is one of those values. I believe very much in Yours, Mine and Ours, and it’s like that’s your money and you can spend your money however you want. We have our bucket for our shared goals. And then I know have mine as well talk to me about how that work. Almost every bank today makes it easy. We all do online banking; it’s probably cost virtually nothing to set up. So set up a system. So use the tools that are out there. It’s amazing when you even start tracking your expenses. And I know I’m jumping around here, but some people don’t even know where they spend their money. And because we’re in a plastic society, and debit is so peripheral and Apple Pay. We don’t even have a sense of how much money we’re spending. And at the end of the month, you see where you spent your mistake. Wow, I did not realize that’s where all my money went.

AW: So that’s kind of what I was saying at the very beginning. Part of the reason that money may be taboo, and maybe it’s actually becoming more taboo, because it’s becoming even more invisible. We don’t have the paper and the coins in our wallet anymore necessarily.

KH: Just track your spending, go to your credit card at the end of the month, and oh, Amazon, audible. What are all these Apple pays, you’ll be surprised where all the money’s going.

AW: I agree with your point, though about it becoming on one hand, maybe easier to track because of all these apps but your point was, it’s also more difficult to track when I look at my visa bill at the end of the month, a big part of it is Amazon but they don’t actually say what it is

KH: Right!

AW:  And I’m just oh my gosh! I don’t know if it’s groceries and some of its clothing some of its household stuff. There’s no distinguishing it there.

KH: So this is why I’m happy we still have an LCBO because it says LCBO on the credit card. And it’s not mixed in with my grocery.

AW:  That’s funny! What about with our parents? (and I think the big one here is wills.) We want to make sure that their wishes in fact become a reality, right?  Should we broach that? How do we broach that?

KH: It is still for your parents about protecting what they’ve built, as well as giving you some peace of mind. But there are three things that are really important. There needs to be a will they need to have a power of attorney. So a power of attorney for personal and a power of attorney for medical decisions. Okay. The power of attorney for medical decisions is if your parent or parents one on one Both of them are incapacitated and can’t make medical decisions that you decide who will make medical decisions for them. Again, these are emotional conversations, but generally that you only have to have at once. So sit down after dinner and say, you know, let’s carve out some time when we talk about a couple of these things. And your parents might have it, you don’t even know that they have it. And all you need to say is great. When was the last time you looked at it? Are you still really comfortable with it, and that’s great. You don’t necessarily need to know the details. The medical one kind of helps because especially you think about blended families. So the second one, the power of attorney for personal care is if your mom can’t sign her signature anymore, or they have some what a lot of spouses do today, which helps with that as they have joint bank accounts. So they also think your parents might think well, everything we have is joint and Everything I have is going to your mother and everything your mother has is going to me, so we don’t need these things. Well, it’s fine when the first one goes when the second one goes, you still need those things. So even if you never need the power of attorney it helps to have on because it becomes very hard later, if there’s any change to get one of those things done, and they’re super easy to do, they don’t cost any money to do.

AW:  So be proactive, again, proactive?

KH: you can find these forums online and just go in and have that conversation and then the will with your parents. Again, it’s the same thing for them. What’s more important is how do you minimize tax that the estate may have to pay? And you just want to know that your parents are setup and if they don’t want to talk about the details.

AW:  What if they don’t want to talk about the details?

KH:  I think you have to be honest first with yourself about why do you want to know the details like I want to know so that I don’t need to worry about it. I won’t be stressed about it, because I’m going to be stressed about enough or be that I’m confident that we haven’t missed anything and see just because so I can plan as well. Just like as we talked about having a having a will it’s like a gift to your families, the same with your parents. It just gives everyone some peace of mind and then also know what’s kind of coming down the road so that arguments will come up, you’ll be able to focus on the memorializing and the great memories you have. They’re actually now mobile notary services. It’s a great idea. I wish there was a notary that they’ll come to your house. So bring your Little staff don’t meet you at Starbucks. So again, it doesn’t have to be difficult to do. You don’t need a lawyer to do it.

AW:  Okay, so we’ve now covered talking to our children, talking to our partners and now talking to our parents. So the next stakeholder that I’d love to cover is when we’re talking to friends about money, particularly when our friends’ relative affluence differs from ours. And I know you have some interesting perspectives.

KH: Oh, that’s that one’s really hard. I think I talked about Brené Brown. And when we share our vulnerability, it feels like shame to us, but others see it as courage. It’s really hard to tell your friends that you can’t afford to do something when for them. It’s easy to do. And my experience is that most people at some point or another had been through something similar in life positions, like hey, do you remember when you were in college and we couldn’t all go out and so we would stay home and just have a really fun house party because it was too expensive to go out. Things are a little tight like to think we could do that next time. And I’m happy to host at my place instead of going out for dinner …and have that conversation, because it’s hard, so bringing it up to your friends is really, really hard. But I think if you’re there, your friends are going to understand. And I think having that conversation is really important when you’re talking to your kids as well. Sometimes they don’t want to admit that they can’t do things with that their friends are doing. And so if you can sort of role model that behavior and sort of share that, it’s back to just we have to, like lift the lid off all this taboo, but I really do believe that if your friends or your friends are going to understand and they may also say, Wow, we didn’t know! Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.

AW:  What about the other way around? What if your friends wins the lottery, like oh my god, I’m so jealous that happened to them. Or now you have all the money and your friends don’t have the money.

KH: If you’re the other way around. I think you need to be sensitive that not everyone may have the cash flow that you do that you do, right, and kind of be sensitive and again, look for cues, but even that’s hard sometimes because we’re all keeping up with the Joneses. Right?

AW:  it seems like common sense. But to be honest, I’ve seen people be incredibly insensitive. And they’re otherwise caring people, but they forget. Everything’s relative, right?

KH: And we become a victim to our lifestyle, and we make assumptions about how other people live. That’s where gratitude comes in and being fortunate for what you have.

AW:  nicely put. Okay, now I’m going to move on to the five rapid fire questions that I ask every guest. So you ready?

KH: I’m ready.

AW:  First question, what are your pet peeves?

KH: People that don’t say thank you. It can be a thank you wave when I’m driving. Or if I hold the door open if someone doesn’t say thank you. Basic manners.

AW:  manners?

KH: manners.

AW:  Okay, question number two, what type of learner are you?

KH: I’m a visual learner. I like storytelling. I like to be able to see something and I still write a lot of things down because it’s the act of writing it and seeing it that helps me remember it. So I think that falls into visual learning.

AW:  Visual, and also if you’re writing it, sometimes can be kinesthetic, too.

KH: Yes.

AW:  Number three, introvert or extrovert.

KH: So I’m an extrovert. But I actually sit in the middle.

AW:  I think most people do.

KH: And there is a spectrum and you’re not one or extreme. You’re just in the middle. And so I am fine. You know, networking, going out and meeting new people, but then sometimes I just like to stay at home.

AW:  Okay, question number four: communication preference for personal conversations?

KH:  I love text now, because I’ve never been a chatty, chatty on the phone – for a long time.

AW:  Last question, is there a podcast or a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most?

KH: Brené Brown. I actually have a tattoo that says daring greatly.

AW:  Wow.

And that was from her Daring Greatly book – when I turned 50. I wanted to make some changes in my life. And I chose to take that on as a mantra and all kinds of things changed my life, all for the positive. It’s been really amazing. For work. There’s a researcher, her name is Colleen Dilanschneider, and she has a company called know your own bones. She does this great research on why people go to attractions and museums, simple things like that. And it’s very cool.

AW:  Okay, yeah, I’ll put links to those in the show notes.

KH: Thank you.

AW:  Any last advice? We’re talking about money and relationships and communicating about money? Is there anything else you want to add? 

KH: I would just add, don’t think that you’re the only one. I think if we find ourselves stuck or, or we’re afraid to start the conversation, there are probably others in the room or others in your circle of friends or family that feel the same way. And so take a bit of a leap of faith. It’s work, you know, adulting is hard.

AW:  Adulting is hard.

KH: Adulting is hard. You know, when we were teenagers in our 20s, like, Oh, it looks so easy. It’s like, this is hard. It’s hard work. Relationships are hard work. Work is hard. You know, managing all these things. Money is hard.

AW:  Money is hard. Thank you very, very much for your time, Kelly.

KH: You’re welcome. My pleasure.


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