Fam­ily Money Is money com­ing be­tween you and your fam­ily?

Here’s a great irony: you need money to live and a fam­ily to give you life, but putting them to­gether makes you want to move to a cave – alone. Bring on the har­mony with th­ese smart strate­gies for tricky con­flicts.

Good Housekeeping (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By Lisa Freed­man

NO MAT­TER HOW MUCH (or lit­tle) money you have, fam­ily can make it so com­pli­cated. You might feel to­tally in con­trol of your fi­nances un­til your mom makes a snide com­ment about the price of your new jacket or your brother asks you to chip in for a fancy Christ­mas gift for Dad. Maybe you feel frus­trated by what oth­ers want from you – or afraid some­one will love you less if you can’t help out enough.

If the angst seems un­avoid­able, it’s be­cause in sce­nar­ios like th­ese, you’re rarely ac­tu­ally talk­ing about money. ‘You’re ar­gu­ing about se­cu­rity, con­trol, love, re­jec­tion and all the other things money rep­re­sents,’ says Sy­ble Solomon, the cre­ator of money-per­son­al­ity tool Money Habi­tudes and an ex­pert in be­havioural eco­nom­ics. ‘With fam­ily, your strong­est de­sire is to be loved and ac­cepted, and bring­ing up fi­nances can put those needs in play.’ Once you ac­knowl­edge what’s re­ally go­ing on, it’s eas­ier to start sep­a­rat­ing emo­tions from rands. No-one claims that’s the eas­i­est chal­lenge in the world, but ex­perts do have ad­vice that will work.


‘When you’re ar­gu­ing about money, you’re ac­tu­ally ar­gu­ing about all the other things money rep­re­sents’

If only you could do things ex­actly like your par­ents did – and read their minds. Then there’d be no hurt feel­ings! Some­times your money choices may be the ones they would make – they raised you, after all – but plenty will and should be based on your own opin­ions. That’s where things get tricky.

THE CON­FLICT: Your par­ents or in-laws make a judg­men­tal re­mark about how you spend your money.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE: Un­der­stand where they are com­ing from. ‘They’re anx­ious and wor­ried,’ says Dr Mary Gre­sham, a psy­chol­o­gist who spe­cialises in fi­nan­cial is­sues. ‘They couldn’t imag­ine us­ing their money that way, and they’re wor­ried you’ll spend your money poorly.’ This usu­ally isn’t a judg­ment of you or how smart (or dumb) they think you are, though; it’s more about them. They used to sup­port you, and now they want to be sure they’ve taught you to make good choices – and to them, of course, good choices are their choices.

Don’t ex­plain your pur­chases. ‘If you’re de­fen­sive, the other per­son usu­ally comes back even stronger, and it can es­ca­late from there,’ warns Gre­sham. In­stead, she sug­gests say­ing some­thing like ‘My ideas about spend­ing are dif­fer­ent from yours.’ ‘You don’t even have to ex­plain how you’re dif­fer­ent,’ Gre­sham says. ‘That state­ment is pretty hard to ar­gue with.’

Oth­er­wise, have a big­ger con­ver­sa­tion. ‘Sit down and ask how fi­nances were han­dled in their lives as they were grow­ing up. Then ask if they’re wor­ried about your choices,’ Gre­sham says. ‘That sets the frame­work for their re­marks about your spend­ing to be viewed as their anx­i­ety and worry about your well­be­ing.’ Try to re­as­sure them that you’re re­spon­si­ble and that they taught you well.

If their com­ments make you se­cond-guess your habits, know that this is nor­mal too. ‘We’re wired to want the sup­port and val­i­da­tion of our ear­li­est care­givers,’ Gre­sham says. But your goal should be to hang on only to the feed­back that’s ac­tu­ally help­ful and dis­miss the rest. Thank them for their sug­ges­tions, then ask your­self whether you’d feel dif­fer­ent about the ad­vice if it came from a friend, a col­league or a fi­nan­cial pro­fes­sional, Solomon says. You could even re­search what tips fi­nan­cial pros give to oth­ers in your sit­u­a­tion. ‘Be hon­est with your­self to de­ter­mine whether you ac­tu­ally need the guid­ance,’ she says. If you do, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Ei­ther way, you’ve thanked your rel­a­tives for look­ing out for you.

THE CON­FLICT: Your par­ents of­fer to help you fi­nan­cially, but the of­fer seems to come with strings at­tached.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE: ‘Few peo­ple can give money to other adults with­out con­tin­gen­cies,’ says Gre­sham. ‘Par­ents give food, shel­ter and an al­lowance to kids with­out ex­pect­ing any­thing in re­turn be­cause the kids are de­pen­dent. Yet even in the eyes of their par­ents, adult chil­dren are tech­ni­cally not sup­posed to be de­pen­dent, so of­fers tend to come with un­spo­ken ex­pec­ta­tions.’ If your par­ents pay your travel ex­penses when you visit, for ex­am­ple, they might sim­ply want a thank you (how evolved!), or they may have some­thing more spe­cific in mind, like your fol­low­ing their or­ders for the kids’ en­tire hol­i­day. You might feel as though they are try­ing to con­trol your life, and hey, they may be – whether or not they re­alise it.

It’s im­por­tant to know their ex­pec­ta­tions up­front. ‘As soon as they of­fer to help fi­nan­cially, ask, “What would be im­por­tant to you if I ac­cepted this money?” and then de­cide if the money is worth tak­ing,’ Gre­sham says.

Even if you think you know what they want, Gre­sham sug­gests bring­ing this up be­fore you ac­cept their gift. Get­ting it out in the open can ac­tu­ally help you find so­lu­tions: if you want or need your par­ents’ money for your daugh­ter’s birth­day party, for in­stance, but can’t sched­ule it on the day they wanted, tell them so you can find a com­pro­mise.

If they can’t ad­mit or ar­tic­u­late what they want in re­turn but you know it’ll hang over you, you have to make the call: turn down their gift, or take it and be grate­ful for it while liv­ing your own life your own way. Plus, con­sider that your feel­ing of emo­tional debt might be your own is­sue, says Solomon. Tak­ing money from fam­ily can be hard even when you’re fine with the strings at­tached – or there re­ally aren’t any.

‘Some­times par­ents feel for­tu­nate that they can give money to their chil­dren and have no set ex­pec­ta­tions,’ Solomon ex­plains. It’s nor­mal to feel guilty or em­bar­rassed to ac­cept such money even if you need it, be­cause learn­ing to re­ceive well takes prac­tice. It’s sim­ple to start. ‘All you need to do is say thank you,’ Solomon says. In time, you’ll see that get­ting past your own hes­i­ta­tion and ac­cept­ing gifts and op­por­tu­ni­ties can be em­pow­er­ing.

Sib­lings When adult sib­lings ar­gue about money, they’re usu­ally en­act­ing a ba­sic hu­man strug­gle over whom Mom and Dad loved more, ex­plains psy­cho­an­a­lyst Kachina My­ers, who spe­cialises in fi­nan­cial ther­apy. In­stead of fault­ing their par­ents for any anger or re­sent­ment that has built up, sib­lings turn against one an­other. This kind of ri­valry can be aw­fully hard to grow out of.

THE CON­FLICT: You and your sib­lings dis­agree about who should pay for what when it comes to tak­ing care of your age­ing par­ents.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE: ‘Most sets of sib­lings are not all in ex­actly the same fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances when their par­ents are age­ing, so a per­fectly even fi­nan­cial split is not likely to be pos­si­ble,’ says My­ers. She sug­gests a com­pro­mise: for ex­am­ple, a sib­ling who has less money to of­fer can help by driv­ing a par­ent to and from doc­tors’ ap­point­ments (if he or she is lo­cal) and take part in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. You’ll need to be clear about how much of your time and your money you can give.

Of course, this as­sumes that you and your sib­lings want to help. ‘Kids have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties in terms of how giv­ing and nur­tur­ing they are. They also have dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tions of how loved they felt grow­ing up, which may af­fect whether they want to give back or not,’ says Olivia Mel­lan, the psy­chother­a­pist be­hind fi­nan­cial-coun­selling ser­vice www.mon­ey­har­mony.com. Maybe one of you was clearly the favourite, or maybe you got a fi­nan­cial bailout years ago and your brother thinks it’s time for pay­back. It’s dif­fi­cult to put your hard-earned money to­wards the care of a par­ent if you don’t feel your par­ent did enough to take care of you. So be­fore you let your­self feel slighted by sib­lings who won’t help with ex­penses, ‘re­ally con­sider the emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences that brought them to the place they are,’ My­ers says. Then ac­cept that if you’re go­ing to han­dle the bill alone, you’re do­ing it be­cause you feel it’s the right thing to do – not just be­cause your sib­lings won’t chip in. If you’re the one who’s un­will­ing to help, be pre­pared to deal with the hurt and frus­tra­tion your sib­lings may have. Above all, ex­plain why you’re not con­tribut­ing. Your sis­ter might not agree with your de­ci­sion, but it’s im­por­tant that she un­der­stand where it’s com­ing from. THE CON­FLICT: You’ve got into an in­her­i­tance squab­ble with a sib­ling.

HOW TO MAKE PEACE: ‘When we mix grief with money, the con­se­quences are ex­plo­sive,’ says at­tor­ney Ann-Mar­garet Car­rozza. That’s why ex­perts say this is the top is­sue that tears adult sib­lings apart. If you’re feel­ing burned after read­ing the will, give your­self time to col­lect your emo­tions. Then, if you’re still hurt, calmly tell your sib­ling how you feel. ‘Don’t lay a guilt trip on him or her or ask for any­thing. After all, the di­vi­sion of the in­her­i­tance was your par­ents’ de­ci­sion,’ Solomon says.

Con­sider what the in­her­i­tance rep­re­sents to you and what you think it rep­re­sented to your par­ents. Par­ents of­ten make cut-and-dried de­ci­sions about who should get what. ‘They say, “This child has been so suc­cess­ful and doesn’t need it,” or “This child needs ex­tra help,”’ says Solomon – equal­ity goes out the win­dow. In­her­i­tances turn us into kids again, and it’s hard to quiet the eight-year-old in your head say­ing, ‘She loves him more.’ Tak­ing your par­ents’ per­spec­tive could help you shift this think­ing and con­trol how you re­act to­wards your sib­ling. Be hon­est with your­self: if there were al­ready un­re­solved is­sues be­tween you and your sib­ling, the in­her­i­tance isn’t caus­ing the con­flict. It’s bring­ing it into the open. Now is a good time to work on those is­sues, be­cause no amount of money or prop­erty will fix them. Of course, the best thing would be to have no sur­prises to be­gin with. If you have liv­ing par­ents, Car­rozza sug­gests bring­ing up an­other fam­ily you know who had a fight over a sen­ti­men­tal item after a par­ent’s death be­cause there wasn’t a clearly writ­ten plan for how jew­ellery or fur­ni­ture should be di­vided. This may get your fam­ily talk­ing about the will be­fore it’s been writ­ten.

Th­ese con­ver­sa­tions are hard to have, but with each one, you’re nearer to find­ing more clar­ity, un­der­stand­ing and ac­cep­tance – and those are things that keep fam­i­lies close for gen­er­a­tions.

‘When we mix grief with money, the con­se­quences are ex­plo­sive’

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