November, Financial Literacy Month is just around the corner. During November, the charitable credit counseling sector from St. John’s to Vancouver will beat the drum emphasizing the importance of talking about money. Credit Counselling Agencies will be spreading this message because experience tells us most people avoid the subject altogether, and we do so deliberately. We’ve made money talk taboo because we’re embarrassed by our own financial positions or because we think there’s nothing more private to start with than our own finances.
That view is perfectly logical; after all, it’s not called “personal finance” for nothing! But while it might be logical, it’s not a good idea.
Talking about money, more than anything is about the transfer of both knowledge and life experience. It’s about getting new information, mulling it over and building confidence. It’s also about knowing and applying our own limits in financial transactions. Equally important, it’s about being willing to help someone else along their financial road, particularly if they’ve been struggling or making choices that are not resulting in good financial outcomes for them.
If your financial decisions are impacting or have the potential to impact others, then talking about money is important too. This is especially so if the people in question are related to you by blood, or if you are somehow financially responsible for them. But what if within your own family dynamic, others see you as somehow accountable to them for the financial choices you make? Now then! That’s another discussion These are complex concepts for sure. Maybe a true story will make it easier…
A few years ago, I learned of a family of four adult siblings who had always anticipated an inheritance from their mother’s estate. This eventual reality, in their individual and collective estimations, was entirely reasonable. It was based upon what they knew of their mother’s lifestyle
and many other observations they had made over the years. At a minimum, they felt each would inherit a minimum of $100,000.00 based on the value of the family home alone!
However, a week or so after their mothers sudden passing, they learned in fact, that the family home, while appraising at almost $440,000.00, was encumbered by a $225,000.00 mortgage; Mom, now deceased, had been using cash from the house’s equity to supplement her pension income for many years. You see, their mother had been a busy, life loving, vibrant and completely competent woman who did not feel a need to disclose anything about her finances, not even to her children. Nor did she feel accountable to them for her choices and in no way, did she feel any need to seek their advice or approval. Likely, any inquiry would have been rebuffed and unwelcome.
I’m not suggesting that the mother acted inappropriately in any way. HER HOUSE; HER MONEY; HER LIFE. In the end, in her mid-seventies, after an evening of cards with lifelong buddies, death came as a friend. She was granted an exit of the world, that saw her pass quickly, quietly, unannounced and unmolested from the same bed in the same house where she had slept for more than 50 years.
Who knows; eventually she might have disclosed her financial position to her children. Maybe, if her health had declined, she would not have had a choice. If her passing had been more predictable or expected, the children might have even asked outright. But instead, she was too busy, vivaciously alive, completely active and living her life to the fullest until the very, very end. To the end, she was private about her money.
The reality is, within this family, nobody discussed money! Mother’s decision to remain silent had regrettable outcomes for her children, at least in their estimation, and for several it even caused resentment.
Just the same, the story is cause for reflection, since there are lessons. And the contemplative moments are an ideal time to truly reflect upon the genuine importance of talking about money… and the consequences of not.