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Lauren’s blog covers topics that impact your finances, your family, and your future. Is there a topic you’d like Lauren to tackle? We’d love your suggestions and feedback.

Sex, religion, politics… and money. Breaking the silence.

Sex, religion, politics… and money. Breaking the silence.

Most of us learned early on to avoid three things in polite conversation: sex, religion, and politics. Oh, how times have changed! Today, sex, religion, and politics seem to be the hottest topics—in the news and on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Unfortunately, few of these conversations are spurring rational, thoughtful discourse (often quite the opposite). And while it’s unlikely any of us can personally shift what seems to be the new societal norm, the one conversation we can shift is the one about taboo-topic number four: Money.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the importance of having “the money talk” before you get married. But what about the rest of the time? Talking about money before you say “I do” is important, but breaking the silence and keeping that conversation going in every relationship in your life can deliver some fantastic benefits. A stronger financial partnership with your spouse or partner. Better balance between your long-term and short-term goals. More financially aware children. A better understanding of your aging parents’ financial needs. And less money-related stress for everyone.

It’s a grand goal, but fostering healthy money conversations can be a challenge, especially when we’ve been taught that money talk is as taboo—if not more so—as sex, religion, and politics. In my own family, my parents seemed always to be talking about money. While it seemed to be their favorite topic, the taboos still existed. They talked (and argued) about money, but they never, ever mentioned amounts. Were we rich? Were we poor?  I never knew. But I do know I walked away with my own deeply held beliefs about money, and not all of them were good.

I’m not alone in that experience. I meet many people who don’t know a thing about their parents’ assets. They don’t know if Mom and Dad have enough saved to fund their old age (which can have a dramatic impact on the finances of their adult children). They don’t know if their parents have an estate plan, if they have any significant debt, or how they plan to pass on their assets to the next generation. Worse yet, many people carry on that tradition of money secrecy into their own relationships—and bring a whole lot of money “baggage” along for the ride.

It’s a tough cycle to break. Not only do many of us lack the vocabulary to talk about money, but breaking free from our old ways of thinking can be a huge challenge. If a friend or co-worker asks how much money we make, we cringe and wonder, “How can she ask me that?! She broke the rules!” The better question is, “Why wouldn’t she ask?” Does the question bring up negative emotions? Self-judgment? Pride? Ego? Shame? Consider this: What would the conversation be like if we could let go of those emotions and have a real conversation about money?

While you might not be ready for the leap of discussing your salary at work (though I urge you to get there eventually), the place where it is vital to start talking about money is in your own home. The first step: explore your money mindset by looking at the conversations you have with yourself about money. Ask yourself these questions and think deeply about the answers. Don’t be surprised if your answers run the gamut—from easy or exciting, to stressful or shameful, to downright emotional. Remember that there’s no right or wrong. Just be as honest with yourself as you can:

  • Talking about money is                       ?
  • Talking to my romantic partner about money is                       ?
  • Talking to my parents about money is                       ?
  • Talking to my children about money is                       ?
  • At work, money is                       ?
  • My parents taught me that money is                       ?
  • My religion taught me that money is                       ?
  • My biggest fear about money is                       ?

Once you’ve thought about your own responses, ask your spouse or partner to do the same—and then share your answers with each other. It’s a great way to open up the channels of communication and understand your unique perspectives about finances. It may suddenly make complete sense to you (and to him) why your spouse has a hard time putting money away for that next vacation, or why your stomach drops every time you take on even a little extra debt. There’s nothing like good communication to foster understanding.

Of course, understanding your partner’s perspective isn’t the same as agreeing with it. Money problems rank as the number-one reason for divorce, and it’s no wonder. In her book Breaking Money Silence: How to Shatter Money Taboos, Talk More Openly about Finances, and Live a Richer Life, wealth psychology expert Kathleen Burns Kingsbury suggests couples agree to the following rules for whenever money is a part of the conversation:

  • Be respectful.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Listen actively.
  • Don’t mind-read.
  • Practice curiosity.
  • Agree to disagree.
  • Reward yourself.

Following these basic guidelines can help you turn money arguments into real conversations that spur the rational, thoughtful discourse that can lead to better decisions, better finances, and yes, better relationships. And if you find that you need assistance appreciating each other’s differences and working together toward a more sound approach to your finances, a financial advisor—especially one trained in mediation techniques—can be a tremendous benefit. As always, we’re here to help.

Let the conversations begin!

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Ready to shift your relationship with money? It’s time for some BRAVING

Ready to shift your relationship with money? It’s time for some BRAVING

I joke that I discovered Brené Brown in much the same way Columbus discovered America: I simply stumbled into the right place at the right time. And boy, am I glad I did. In just one Ted Talk and as much of her newest book as I’ve had the time to read (I’m not quite through, but I’m cherishing every word), this researcher and storyteller has me thinking deeply about vulnerability and bravery and how to build the courage to be “enough” for myself and others in order to live the fullest life possible.

What’s fascinating to me as a financial advisor is how much all of these ideas play into what I see every day with my clients—and how vulnerability, bravery, and courage impact each person’s sense of financial “success.”

If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, I highly recommend taking some time out of your day to check her out. A social science researcher, she is a stickler for data and a mid-life convert to the power of vulnerability (listen to her Ted Talk for more on her journey). Through her research, Brown has studied people—mostly women—who experience love and belonging in their lives and those who don’t. What’s the difference? It’s shockingly simple. People who have love and belonging believe they are worthy of it. Those who don’t, don’t. Even more, it seems that what empowers people to achieve that state of worthiness—of believing they can be and deserve to be loved—is the courage to be vulnerable.

Courage and vulnerability resonate with me. In my life, I’ve observed that many of us seem to have lost our ability to be vulnerable. Perhaps it’s because we spend too much time in our bubbles. Alone and watching other people’s lives on social media or television. Alone commuting in our cars. Alone walking in a crowd with headphones in our ears, shutting out the world around us. Being alone has become our safe place where we are not judged or confronted or questioned. And it’s where we can choose specifically not to feel.

I think Brown hits the crux of it when she speculates that the reason we’re the most in debt, obese, and medicated adult population in history is because we’ve become completely uncomfortable with our vulnerability. When we feel exposed or conflicted or anxious, we choose to numb our feelings through food, alcohol or Facebook. Further, her research shows that there’s another way we numb our vulnerability, and that is to make everything in our lives certain. We no longer leave room in our public and private lives for reflection or uncertainty about our faith, our politics, and our preferences. It’s created an unsavory divisiveness in which everything is black or white. We’re labeled, and we label others in all-too-certain terms. We blame others as a way of discharging our fears. We use certainty as just one more tool to numb our vulnerability. As a result, we feel more judged, and, indeed, more vulnerable.

Perhaps the most important idea Brown presents is that numbing our feelings of vulnerability has an unintended consequence. Because we’re not capable of being selective about which feelings we numb, when we numb our vulnerability, we also numb joy, happiness, love—all of the feelings that make us happy and content as human beings. If there’s ever been a reason to nurture our vulnerability, this is certainly it!

As these ideas are all swimming around in my head, I keep coming back to how important it is to invite vulnerability into the financial planning process. If vulnerability is the key to more fulfilling relationships, it follows that it can have a dramatic impact on our relationships with money which, just like every other relationship, can come with a whole lot of baggage. Love. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. Obsession. The list goes on.

In Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, she uses the word “BRAVING” as an acronym for the seven rules for building more connected relationships rooted in trust and vulnerability. It’s amazing to me how each of these statements can relate directly to every relationship—including our relationship with money:

  • Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and I am clear about my boundaries, and you respect them.
     
  • Reliability: I trust you if you do what you say you are going to do. Not once, but over and over again.
     
  • Accountability: I trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. And when I make a mistake I am allowed to do the same.
     
  • VaultWhat I share with you, you will hold in confidence, and what you share with me, I will hold in confidence.
     
  • Integrity: Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy. And practicing your morals, not just preaching them.
     
  • Non-judgement: You can fall apart and ask for help and not be judged by me.
     
  • Generosity: If I mess up, say something, or forget something, you will make the most generous assumption and check in with me.

I have strived to foster and live up to each of these values when I work with clients, but Brown has brought some valuable clarity to my thinking. I wonder if BRAVING may just be the key to help shift not just how we interact with each other, but also how we look at and feel about money. Brown says that when we are vulnerable, “We feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters most.” What a wonderful foundation on which to create a Brave New Financial Plan.

 

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What would you change if you were rich?

What would you change if you were rich?

I’m a theatre lover, so it won’t surprise you that I know the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man” from the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof by heart. In the song, Tevye sings about how his life would change if he were, indeed, a rich man. For the peasant Tevye, his dreams are pretty simple. But have you ever asked yourself how you would change your life if you were rich?

I sat down with Jack and Mary last week and asked this very question. Both recently retired, they’re financially fortunate. They have been very careful with their money, have saved a significant amount and, as icing on the cake, five years ago they received a large family inheritance. Logic would say that they should be able to relax now and simply enjoy the benefits of a well-planned, well-funded retirement. But when it comes to money, logic doesn’t always prevail. Instead of enjoying their assets, they focus on being frugal—to an extreme. And because Jack is even less comfortable spending money than Mary is, it’s a source of tension in their relationship.

To help de-stress the situation, I gave Jack a little homework: I asked him to simply write down what he’d do differently if he felt rich. When I read his answers, I couldn’t help but think of Tevye’s simple dreams. Why? Because while they aren’t the dreams of a fictional peasant, Jack’s dreams are almost as simple., Jack said that if he felt rich, he would eat more sushi, buy more books on his Kindle, and eat out at nice restaurants more often. If he felt really wealthy, he said he would think about replacing his 10-year-old car, fly first-class on an airplane (at least once!), and treat himself to a new camera. Even in his wildest dreams, Jack is anything but a spendthrift!

My good friend Ava is another example of someone who has turned frugality into an art form. Divorced when her children were still small, she was determined to create a financially sound life for herself and her family. She spent as little as possible, saving every penny she could in jars labeled as “lunch money.” Today Ava’s “lunch money” amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. She may not be rich (yet), but she’s well on her way to a very comfortable retirement. The problem? She rarely lets her frugal mindset—or herself—take a luxury vacation. Over the years, I’ve done everything I can to persuade her to use some of her savings to do things that will make her happy today.

Happily, we’ve made great progress. I’ve had more than a few calls lately that burst with excitement: “Lauren, you’ll be so proud of me!” Ava is finally remodeling her home (something we’ve talked about for over a decade!), and she’s now planning to go to a yoga retreat… in Hawaii. I couldn’t be happier for her. She’ll never overspend, but at least she’s allowing herself to enjoy the fruits of her labor—and her “lunch money.”

If you’ve built your life around saving, it can be quite a challenge to suddenly change your mindset, no matter what the numbers tell you. As an advisor, I know that I can’t solve internal problems with external solutions. You can look at all the charts and projections in the world, but that won’t change how you feel on the inside, and that’s what matters most when it comes to financial confidence and peace of mind. So what’s the answer?

Start by recognizing that the process is different for everyone, and that it takes time. Just as it can be difficult for someone who has overspent their entire life to put boundaries on their spending habits, if you’ve never let yourself feel comfortable spending—even when you have the money to spend—it can be difficult to open your wallet without feeling those old pangs of guilt.

The next step is to take a close look at your assets and your budget. Are you under-spending? If so, do you know why? Are you scared of outliving your money? Did your parents teach you that saving was “right” and spending was “wrong”? Perhaps start by journaling about it to get to your essential truth. Ask yourself why you have trouble spending. And if you’re ready to have some fun, ask yourself the Tevye question: How you would change your life if you were rich? Your answers may surprise you!

Of course, finding the level of spending that’s right for you is a balancing act, and very few of us have such unlimited assets that we can completely forget about budgeting. A trusted advisor can help you understand how much money you have today, establish a realistic budget based on your cash flow, and help you start to internalize your boundaries moving forward. It can be a freeing experience, but it has to come from the inside.

My friend Donna is newly widowed, and understanding how to set her spending boundaries is a learning process. She calls me often for help. “Can I buy this?” she asks. My reply is always the same: “I don’t know… tell me, exactly how long are you going to live?” We both laugh, and then we move on to the reality of helping her find her new balance. It will come. Until then, I just keep reminding her that she does have assets. Her real challenge is to gain the confidence and peace of mind to know she’s not overspending, while still being generous to herself. Donna deserves it. Don’t you?

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Index

09 November 2016

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All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Lauren S. Klein, President, Klein Financial Advisors, Inc. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Read More >