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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

How to Tell Your Deadbeat Partner to Earn More

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Talking money with loved ones can be uncomfortable.

“It’s hard to remove the raw human emotion from financial decisions,” says Consumer Reports, the independent and nonprofit consumer organization.

A recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center asked more than 2,800 baby boomers and Gen Xers about having difficult money conversations with their spouses, parents, siblings and children – including telling their spouse they’re not bringing in enough income, asking their siblings to borrow money, and discussing with their elderly parents whether it’s time for someone to take over managing their finances.

The survey respondents who had engaged in those conversations then reported how uncomfortable those talks were and those who hadn’t had those talks gauged how uncomfortable they thought those discussions might be.

For instance, the survey finds of those surveyed who told their spouse they weren’t bringing home enough money, 49% found it uncomfortable.

“Personal finance is as much personal as it is finance,” Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports senior editor, said in a statement. “You can be great at money mechanics, but family emotions can really affect your decisions. When making decisions about family and money, there is more to consider than just the bottom line.”

The survey looked at conversations such as how uncomfortable it is to tell a spouse he or she is too cheap, and disagreements over big purchases. According to the survey, 23% of respondents had a conversation with their spouse about big purchases, and 45% of them found it to be uncomfortable. Meanwhile, 25% respondents who didn’t have the conversation thought it would be uncomfortable.

The survey also found that 28% of married people had a conversation about both spouses spending too much money, and 35% said it was uncomfortable.

The most frequently held conversation between spouses (42%) was about determining whether to financially help out a relative, according to the survey. The survey found that 42% of respondents have had this conversation and 28% found it uncomfortable.

Looking at relationships between parents and children, uncomfortable conversations have included parents telling their teenage or adult children that it’s time to leave the nest and parents discussing limiting or cutting off their financial support.

When it came to parents telling their teenage or adult children that it’s time to leave the nest, the survey found that 40% of those that had that conversation found it uncomfortable. In addition, 39% of the parents who discussed limiting or cutting off their teenage or adult children’s financial support reported that was uncomfortable.

The survey also found that siblings were uncomfortable asking each other for financial help. Of the 15% of brothers and sisters who said they had asked their siblings for financial help, 47% said it was uncomfortable. And 16% indicated that they had a conversation with their sibling(s) regarding concerns about their sibling(s) taking financial advantage of their parents, and 40% of them found that discussion to be uncomfortable.

Consumer Reports also has advice on how to handle those situations.

  • Meet in a neutral place. People tend to keep their voices down and control their anger more when they’re not at home, according to Consumer Reports.
  • Focus on one topic. “If you and your siblings have to deal with a parent’s daily care, for instance, focus first on what it will cost and how you’ll pay,” Consumer Reports says. “Later, discuss who will oversee the care.”
  • Hire a pro. If the issue is a particularly contentious one, hiring a neutral person – such as a financial planner or CPA – can help keep conversations on track, Consumer Reports says. The facilitator can also take responsibility for assigning tasks or requiring parties to share documents.
  • Listen actively and be respectful. When someone is talking, Consumer Reports advises to wait for them to finish making their point and don’t interrupt.
  • Agree to disagree. No amount of talking can guarantee that the other person will agree. “When you reach an impasse, you sometimes have to be prepared to let it go and move on,” Consumer Reports says.

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