Talking Across the Generations about Finances

Generational conflict at home and work is not a new concept. Did any of you Baby Boomers attend Woodstock despite the pleadings otherwise from your Traditionalist parents? How many Baby Boomers are now struggling with Millennials at work because they question everything, even during their first day on the job?

Conflicts among the generations may not be new, but what is different is that with all the rapid changes, the generation date ranges are getting shorter, causing there to be a greater number of generations working together than ever before. Generation X (born 1965-1980) was bashed by Traditionalists (born before 1945) and Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964) for many years before the Millennials (those born approximately 1981-2001) came along for all three of the previous generations to join in the battle against. Now parents and teachers also are engaging with the generation of those born after 2001, and those children are quickly approaching working age. With all of this in mind, it is no wonder that generational differences are such a hot topic right now.

Learning to understand others is an important skill to develop to help work through these generational differences, especially as it relates to money both at home and in your business. How many of you have the following questions or concerns?

  • Do you struggle to get through to your children about
    the value of owning their own business or starting a
    solid career?
  • Do you have aging parents and find it difficult to discuss finances with them?
  • Do your children shut down when you try to talk to them about important topics like money?

You can start the process of feeling more in control of these matters by being armed with a little knowledge, some actionable steps, and a lot of patience.

Knowledge as Armor
You don’t need to spend hours a day reading to be knowledgeable enough to talk with your family members or co-workers about money. Whether you agree with them or not, a great place to start is to work on seeing things from their perspective.

The book “Sticking Points,” by Haydn Shaw, is a potential resource for gaining this sense of perspective. The author spends much of the first part of the book going into the “ghost stories” of each generation. Reading through these stories makes it easier to have empathy for the different ways generations handle life situations. A key takeaway from this book and other similar resources is that you can’t change the perspective of other people, but you can learn to appreciate them and combine strengths to work together more productively.

There are many resources out there on technical knowledge related to money. You will want to go into any conversation with a minimal level of knowledge. A financial adviser would be a great resource to consult with before approaching your family member or co-worker. They typically have years of experience working with multigenerational families and their finances. Investing a little time will go a long way in helping you accomplish your goals related to money, your business, and the success of your children or employees.

Action Steps
One of the best ways to get people to listen to you is first to listen to them and show them you care about their opinions. For your children, your parents, or your staff, let them talk first about money. If they are reluctant or you are having trouble starting the conversation, then you can ask some nonjudgmental probing questions. You can also frame it by stating what you are doing about the same situation and let them talk about how they are handling it, so it starts as a non-confrontational conversation.

  • For your parents: “Bob and I have recently started keeping a list of all our financial account information for the children in case something happens to us. It has been comforting. Do you have something similar?”
  • For your children: “Your mom and I delayed saving until we were 40 and now we are putting away 30 percent of our income to catch up. We wish we had started at 25 and could have had the same amount of money as we do now only putting in 10 percent of our income.”
  • For your work staff: “We are having problems with equipment breakdowns, and they cost us a large amount of money. Do you have any ideas on how we could solve this problem?”

Younger generations have grown up with information at their fingertips. This has caused them to come into the workplace on day one expecting to have responsibilities that might have taken the older generations years to obtain. This can frustrate older generations, but can also be a big benefit for your organization. Give them a project they can lead. Start small and see what happens. It will make them happier, develop loyalty, and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Laser Your Focus
We may want our children to follow in our footsteps, or we may want them to have it better than we did. We may want our parents to make smart financial decisions and worry about them falling prey to a financial predator. We may wish our younger staff would get engaged and stay with the company longer. These things are all very important, but as we move forward, we need to remember that small baby steps are better than no steps. Many people take the dangerous road of an all or nothing mindset.

Those who are most successful with any change tend to be those who take small steps and use consistency over speed. The person who exercises moderately for 20 minutes three times a week is likely going to be healthier than the one who works out vigorously on occasion. Use this mindset in financial manners as well and, eventually, your efforts will show progress.

Now is the Right Time
The January/February 2017 issue of Money Magazine included an article by Beth Kobliner titled “Make Your Kid an Investing Genius.” In that article was a graph that included survey data from T. Rowe Price related to parents and their discussions about money with their children. The graph illustrated that 36 percent of parents didn’t talk finances with their children because they thought they were too young, and 52 percent of them don’t want them to worry. Children are learning things very young these days, whether you like it or not, and you want to be their first and lasting impression.

Just like any healthy lifestyle change, it is never too late to start. All generations are learning to access data more readily. This makes it easier to adjust to changing ideas about all things including finances. As long as you keep up the dialogue and don’t be quick to judge, you will always be heard by those who respect you. They may not show it immediately, but the positive results will manifest eventually.

It all comes back to patience. Life and dealing with others can be frustrating, but it should be much easier to have patience with those that you love or those that are integral to your business. You are invested financially and emotionally with your children, your staff, and other close family members. Don’t give up.

Bree Urech-Boyle is Chief Financial Officer at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at

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