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How to Discuss Money and Debt with Your Parents

You’re probably used to your parents teaching you things and helping you as needed, but the number of seniors facing debt problems is rising and the rate of seniors filing for bankruptcy and consumer proposal continues to increase. This means you could find yourself in a situation where your parents are having debt or money problems and, if this happens, you’ll likely want to talk to them about it.

Of course, having a conversation about money and debt is rarely one that comes easily and it’s often not a comfortable topic to bring up. This is especially true when it’s your parents. They may feel as though it’s not polite to discuss money (especially with their kids) or they could be embarrassed to tell you that they are struggling with debt.

Here are some tips for talking about money and debt with your parents.

Lead by Example

If your parents see you working to pay down debt, save for the future, and avoid spending more than you can afford, they might be inspired to do the same. They next time you’re shopping with your mom or dad, mention that you don’t want to buy something because it isn’t in your budget, because you want to increase your retirement savings contribution this month, or some other reason. Even small mentions like these ones could cause your parents to consider their own spending and potentially put them on the right track.

Discuss your Own Money Situation

Nearly everyone has debt, and everyone should have a budget, so start by talking to your parents about your own financial situation before heading into theirs. A good tactic is to start by asking them for advice.

For example, tell them you’re not sure if you have a large enough emergency fund or ask them if you should put your tax rebate away for emergencies or save it for retirement. Or you could ask them if they have any strategies for paying off credit card debt quickly. You could even mention how you feel much more relaxed since you started focusing on debt repayment.

You don’t want to worry them by mentioning every single money issue you have but, by framing the conversation around your situation, they’ll still feel like “your parents” since they will be the ones giving you advice. Many parents do not want their children to “boss them around” or tell them what to do, so they won’t be open to their kids giving them advice. But if you start by asking them for their help, it gives you an opportunity to discuss money without offending them.

Talking about your own situation will likely lead to an overall discussion about debt which can help you gauge how your parents handle their own finances. For instance, if you say “I’m not sure if I have enough saved for emergencies” and they respond with “Oh, I don’t have anything saved for emergencies” then you’ll learn something about their financial situation and you can use this opportunity to discuss the importance of saving for the future. This could cause your parents to decide to make financial changes.

Don’t Lecture Them

Most people do not respond positively to lectures and this is especially true for parents listening to their children. They will not want to be “told off” by their kids so you’ll need to start the conversation in a calming and respectful manner. It may take a couple of tries before you come up with the right strategy and are able to start the conversation. If your first attempt results in a brush off or an argument, come up with a different approach and try again.

Talk About the Future

Rather than saying “I think you have too much debt” or “we need to talk about how you’re not saving enough” you can instead begin the conversation by talking about the future. If your parents are still working, ask them how they plan to spend their retirement. This can give you a good opportunity to discuss the importance of retirement saving and paying down debt.

By beginning your discussion with a talk about the future, the conversation becomes less intimidating. It feels less like “you’re doing this wrong right now” and more like “if you want to do this, you need a plan,” which is more constructive.

Talking about money, debt, and the future can inspire your parents to be more responsible with their financial situation.