Money conversations can be powerful vehicles for change by improving financial literacy and financial wellbeing – and by removing family conflict.
Let’s take black tax as an example. Most definitions of black tax include words like “unspoken agreement” or “expectation”; nowhere does it state that black tax is a negotiated agreement that educated and employed people have with specific family members to support them financially or in other ways.
The problem with unspoken agreements and/or expectations that are not out in the open, is that there are no ground rules. People don’t know what they can realistically expect and there are no boundaries. When it comes to money (and relationships!), such uncertainty is a recipe for disaster.
The only way to change things for the better, is to have frequent money conversations.
Money conversations in a family serve two purposes:
1. Improve everybody’s short- and long-term financial wellbeing.
Unhealthy financial habits not only prevent a family from paying all its bills every month; they can also make long-term financial wellness impossible. For instance, if parents don’t involve their children in saving for a family holiday or agreeing on how big the monthly entertainment budget is but instead take out loans to cover these expenses, the debt burden can prevent savings for education, resulting in children not being able to go to university after school.
Similarly, when young professionals spend so much on supporting their parents or extended family members that they cannot build up savings of their own, it is likely that their children will one day have to help support them. In these ways, cycles of poverty or over indebtedness continue.
2. Develop financial literacy and the skills to manage money better.
Money conversations are opportunities to empower your family members with skills and knowledge that will make it possible for all of you to have a brighter financial future. Everyone involved in the conversation learns a bit more about money and how it works, and how to work with it.
What should we talk about?
The list is endless, but here are some ideas:
- Planning and budgeting for a specific event, such as a family holiday, a birthday party or a cultural ceremony.
- How to track expenses and why it is important.
- The family’s grocery budget and how to plan for meals within that budget.
- Your household’s financial goals and dreams. For instance, a new family car, or tertiary education for all the children.
- Financial concepts, such as saving, debt, responsible lending and whether or not one should lend money to friends or family members.
- The family/household budget. You really want every member of your household to understand how much money comes into the household purse and how it is spent.
The idea is not to create a sense of there’s not enough money, but to help everyone understand that how you spend money is a choice. A budget calculator like this one, can be very helpful: Budget Calculator
How do we talk about money?
Here are some tips on how to approach your discussion:
- Find a good balance between formal and informal. Draw up a fun little agenda, set aside a specific time and gather in a place you won’t be interrupted.
- Keep the tone light and make an effort to get everybody to participate. The goal is to give every person a voice.
- Listen and be kind. Understand what other people are saying, never make fun of someone else and be gentle when you correct a wrong perception.
- If the discussion gets heated, take a break – but always come back and close out the conversation properly. If you are concerned that your family members won’t be able to control their tempers, especially if you have a serious topic to discuss, ask a friend to lead the meeting.
- Write down all the decisions you take during your discussion, and put it up where everyone can see it if they want to. This ensures that you do what you agreed to do, and that everybody leaves the meeting with the same picture.
A family money meeting can sound very intimidating, heavy and unpleasant. But it doesn’t have to be. It is an opportunity to learn from each other, develop financial skills and grow closer together as a household and a family.