Talk about a generation gap. I recently looked at the TIAA 2017 Family Money Matters Survey and the results are dismaying. The families surveyed like the idea of talking about finances, yet very few follow through on their intent. For example, 74 percent of parents and 87 percent of adult children surveyed said financial conversations are important while only 11 percent of parents and 37 percent of adult children say they started a conversation on any financial topic.

The money talk is critical. For parents, the four big topics are estate planning, shelter, personal finances and health care. For example, parents need to have a will (and some a trust). Information about bank accounts, savings accounts, mutual fund investments, retirement savings plans and the like should be documented and gathered together. Sharing ideas about shelter is important, especially with the popularity of aging in place. Family members need to know your medical directives.

The challenge is starting the conversation. This is one of those times when conventional advice is right: Ease into the money talk. I would stick initially to big picture topics. Do you have a will? Do you want to stay in the house or are you thinking of moving? How many bank accounts do you have? Whoever starts the conversation should also volunteer their own information, a technique that helps keep a conversation going.

These money conversations are important and practical. I also think they can be made richer. I would like to see a greater emphasis on generations exchanging knowledge, experience and information about money and values.

Take charitable giving and volunteering. A study by a team of scholars at the University of Indiana-Purdue University in Indianapolis found that parents who volunteer are more likely to have children who volunteer. Even more intriguing, the researchers found the choice also goes the other way.

Young and older adults may find charitable giving and volunteering a good way to share broad perspectives about money and values.

Similarly, older adults might want to consider an ethical or legacy will, a statement of the values you would like to pass on to your children and other family members. Young adults could tell their parents what values they have learned from their parents.

These are just two examples. The evidence is compelling that millennials get along with their aging parents, and vice versa. It’s time to get the financial talks started.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.