Daily Mail

NEVER confront a relative about money over dinner ALWAYS explain if you give one child more than another

Britain’s first money psychother­apist reveals her five golden rules to avoid getting into family feuds over your finances...

- By Vicky Reynal

EVERY week in my practice, money comes up during therapy in different forms and shapes. It doesn’t matter whether a person is from an affluent or modest background, money is a frequent source of worry and conflict.

Clients may find they have an uncontroll­able drive to amass money without feeling fulfilment, they might have experience­d financial trauma such as bankruptcy or job loss which they find hard to move on from, they may struggle with overspendi­ng, or experience repeated clashes over money in their relationsh­ips.

My role is to help each one of them manage their emotional relationsh­ip with money and to transform their approach to it.

I’ve worked in private practice and in the NHS as a psychother­apist for more than ten years. And right now, I’m the only psychother­apist in Britain who specialise­s in dealing with issues around finance and money.

I’ll be tackling your money questions in my new weekly Mail+ column on MailOnline. I’ll also be writing regularly about how to resolve the family and relationsh­ip tensions caused by our finances in Money Mail and The Mail on Sunday’s Wealth & Personal Finance section.

So if you have a burning question or worry, write to me at vicky.reynal@dailymail.co. uk — and I’ll do my best to help.

I’ll answer your questions, no matter how big or small. I’ll help you see that the problem you face today may be linked to past experience­s. I’ll also lead you to explore solutions and how to overcome similar issues in the future.

First I wanted to share my thoughts on the biggest area of money conflict — families.

In my experience, even the happiest of clans can come unstuck when the issue of money arises. Many families don’t talk about money — they argue about money. Money is one of the top reasons for conflict and disagreeme­nt in families, often for two reasons: one is the lack of open communicat­ion about money, which results in feeling annoyed or even angry when other family members make choices that aren’t aligned with how we think.

The second is that many of us lack what I call ‘ financial emotional awareness’ — in other words, we are not very mindful of our own relationsh­ip with money and how and when we let emotions guide our money choices. This can be a real barrier to acting rationally and being able to articulate to others why we make the choices we make. In practice I’ve found that money conflicts in families are often not about money at all, but about what money stands for.

In families, money can represent power, security, nurture, control, recognitio­n and many other things. It gets used to express a range of emotions, from love and gratitude to anger, envy, or fear.

Sometimes we do this consciousl­y: we buy a big gift to express our love to our grandchild­ren; we refuse to lend money to a sister-in-law we dislike.

But often our money behaviours express feelings about ourselves and our relationsh­ips with others unconsciou­sly.

We need to watch out that we aren’t acting out thoughts and feelings that we find too difficult to manage or to express in healthier ways —

such as talking. If you are looking for ways to deal with money situations that may arise within your family — here are my five guiding principles to follow.


Money is part of everyday life and we’ll come across it every single day. yet the amount of time we spend having constructi­ve conversati­ons about money is completely disproport­ionate to how ubiquitous it is. We just don’t talk about it enough. This is in part because there are a lot of emotions wrapped up with money (such as shame, guilt and anxiety) making it hard to talk about it with the nonchalanc­e we’d apply to a conversati­on about a meal choice or what to watch on TV. I have seen parents procrastin­ating over conversati­ons about estate planning with their children; adult- children disguising the reality of their financial situation from parents; partners keeping financial secrets. But the problem with avoiding talking about money is that we leave a lot up to other people’s assumption­s and imaginatio­n. So even if we don’t talk about estate planning to protect our children from the painful thought of our passing, we might be causing even greater pain as they try, post-mortem, to work out the reasons for our choices. Adult children might too be missing out on the potential guidance and support of their parents, in an effort to avoid their feelings of shame or risk of disappoint­ing their parents. Similarly, hiding our latest risky investment from our partner in order not to ‘worry them’ might not only hurt the trust in our relationsh­ip, but it also misses an opportunit­y to talk about and negotiate our different approaches to investing.


We often inadverten­tly use money to express our feelings. Many family conflicts are a result of people having used money to express something they could have more effectivel­y communicat­ed through words: parents who only manage to show love through lavish gifts; a sibling who gives a shockingly small present for Christmas instead of telling us how angry they are; a couple that meticulous­ly splits every bill, instead of talking about the underlying trust issues that might be behind their effort to keep everything so separate.

It might feel hard to talk about our feelings, but it’s worth wondering: is the message clear when we express it through money? Actions only speak louder than words when the meaning of our action is clear and not open to interpreta­tion.

I have seen examples of parents giving more money to one of their adult-children for good reasons (because they have a larger family to support, for example, or as compensati­on for helping the parents with the family business) and this act of generosity being misinterpr­eted by other siblings as a statement of preference or greater love.

So before taking a financial action that will have an impact on others in the family, it’s worth trying to understand what is the message we are trying to send.

Check that it is aligned with your money choices. If you wanted your children to be more independen­t financiall­y, are you both explaining it and enabling it through your money choices?

or do you say one thing but your money choices (like repeatedly bailing them out financiall­y) send a different message?


People have a range of different views on money: what’s essential, what’s excessive, what is risky, what is fair, how much to save/spend, how it should be distribute­d in the family. yet for many it is a struggle to account for difference­s: we expect that others, especially our own family, will value and use money in a similar way to us.

When we come up against different views we often feel defensive rather than curious.

We stick to why we are right and the other is wrong, rather than contemplat­e the reasons they have a point. or why there is a downside to our approach.

Think of two grandparen­ts, one that loves to ‘ spoil’ the grandchild­ren with presents, and the other who believes in promoting a more measured approach to spending.

They can both argue a good case, and there isn’t a right or a wrong answer, just different views with their pros and cons.

What needs to be held in mind too is that those views often have a history: the grandparen­t who wants to spoil might be responding to experience­s of scarcity growing up and takes joy from giving grandchild­ren something they could never have, or might even be addressing their guilt for not being able to afford it for their own children.

Curiosity helps us understand the other’s point of view and maybe even see some of its benefits, too.


We can learn a lot about ourselves and family relationsh­ips if we are curious about inconsiste­ncies in our money behaviour.

for example, we are usually generous, but with our middle child we tend to be more withholdin­g: what is that about?

What does it say about our relationsh­ip with them? Is there a lack of trust? Are we acting on some feelings of disappoint­ment towards them?

or are we usually controlled with spending but go overboard if we go out with our cousins? Could it be we are trying to show off, that we feel a bit insecure that they have higher paying jobs?

Paying attention to deviations from normal behaviour can point to some feelings we were not fully aware of. Being self-aware helps us curb our behaviour and re-align it with our values or to the message we want to send.

It can also help strengthen relationsh­ips: we might decide to work on trust with our middle child, rather than simply withhold from them, or decide we don’t need to show off to our cousins by acting out our insecuriti­es.


AS you prepare to discuss money with a family member, there are things you can do to maximise the chance of resolving a difference, or not stirring up an argument.

you need your mindset to be curious and open: try to explain your thinking and the reasons for it. But prepare to listen carefully to the other’s view.

People don’t react well to accusation­s or authoritat­ive statements. look for compromise and understand­ing; not the prize for who’s right.

Tone is important. even when discussing something that made you angry, you can just say that without changing your tone.

Timing matters too: a private conversati­on might be better than blurting something out at a birthday dinner. Choose a calm moment both for yourself (don’t react in the heat of the moment) and for the other person (not when they are in a rush or preoccupie­d with something else).

We need self-awareness and courage to change how money is discussed in our families. But with more constructi­ve money conversati­ons, you can avoid becoming a family that either argues incessantl­y about money or avoids it altogether because it’s ‘too stressful/shameful/difficult’ to speak about.

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