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Money Talks: Speaking With Your Siblings About Finances

5-minute readSeptember 21, 2020

Chances are, you love your family members and are accustomed to worrying about them and their success. When it comes to money, though, talking with your siblings can be a tricky topic to approach.

Whether you are concerned with how a brother or sister is managing their finances, or you simply want to establish some ground rules for shared concerns, it’s important to approach money talks carefully. Here are a few guidelines for speaking with your siblings about money, in a way that is both helpful and productive.

Care, Don’t Shame

So, your little sister is about to default on her credit card balance and is asking you for money. Or your brother won’t admit that he’s up to his eyes in debt, yet still feels the need to keep up with the Joneses in a big house and new car.

It can be tempting to ask them what on earth they were thinking or to chastise them for making such reckless decisions. Rather than shame them for their financial missteps, though, you should instead take a loving approach. This will keep them from shutting you out and help avoid defensive conflict along the way.

Address your sibling’s emotions first and the stress they’re certainly feeling (even if they won’t admit to it). Suggesting ways that they can establish a budget, save more money, or cut monthly expenses is an easy way to start. This might be as easy as cutting the cord or as involved as refinancing their mortgage.

Ask about their short- and long-term financial goals, and what they feel is the biggest impediment. Offer your emotional support, insight, or even to look over their finances for them if they’re interested. 

If emotions are running high or you don’t feel comfortable overseeing the situation yourself,  recommend a professional (or even an advanced budgeting app) that can help.

Balance Your Concern With Their Right To Privacy

You love your siblings, which is why you may be concerned about their financial situation or habits. No matter how worried you are, though, it’s important to maintain boundaries for both their sake and your own.

It can be tempting to step in and try to transform a sibling’s situation by digging into their budget or even developing a financial plan for them. However, even if your intentions are based in love, this can be both overwhelming to your sibling and an invasion of their privacy.

There’s nothing wrong with offering to help, but let that be theirdecision; don’t force yourself into their balance sheets or start dictating their spending. Instead, offer to glance over their plan for paying down debt, help them go through receipts come tax time, recommend places that they can get free credit checks (like Rocket HQSM!), or even just drop off a few personal finance books that you think could be helpful.

Invading privacy and forcing yourself into someone’s personal finances, even if done in love, can be both offensive and embarrassing.

Don’t Be An Enabler

As the oldest sibling, I have been taking care of my brothers their entire lives. However, I have had to force myself to take a step back as they reached their 20s, allowing them to make their own financial mistakes – and yes, even go without – in order for them to learn the hard lessons themselves.

If you’re accustomed to alwayspicking up the tab for your brother or sister, start splitting the check or letting them treat you once in a while. If you hand over cash every time your sibling overspends and winds up in a bind, consider whether you’re helping or hurting the situation. 

And if you’re going as far as to pay off credit card balances or take care of their bills each month, you might simply be delaying the problem instead of solving it.

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to be heartless, or that there aren’t times when a sibling genuinely needs your help. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally treating a loved one if you’re able, either. 

However, if the problem appears to be an issue of priorities rather than a financial slump, find ways to encourage rather than enable them.

Don’t Add Pressure

Chances are, you and your siblings all have unique financial situations and obligations. That’s why it’s important to take these into account when planning family trips or outings – to ensure that no one feels uncomfortable or is forced to spend money they don’t have.

Let’s say you want to plan a big family ski trip this winter, but you know that your sibling is aggressively paying down their credit card debt right now. Rather than pressuring them to make a difficult choice – miss out on the family trip or spend money they don’t really have – perhaps you can plan something that’s more budget-friendly for all. 

This might mean renting a large Airbnb closer to home to spend time with everyone in a more affordable way. Then, if you have the budget for it, take just your spouse and children on the pricey ski trip.

This also applies to holidays. If you know a sibling cannot afford big gifts for everyone, recommend setting a dollar limit or institute a gift exchange. Don’t show up with overly generous gifts that will make them feel embarrassed or pressured to overspend on you.

Talk About Shared Financial Concerns, Too

Aside from any financial concerns that your brother or sister may have under their own roof, it’s important to speak with siblings about the issues that will affect the whole family. This means talking about the care of parents or even a special needs sibling.

Start these conversations early and have them as often as necessary. You might want to ask questions such as:

  • Will one of you become the caretaker?
  • If so, will they be compensated and how?
  • If a family caretaker isn’t possible, what are the other options and how much will they cost?
  • How will these expenses be covered?

You’ll need to have similar conversations if there is a family business involved, or even a property that you will all inherit and share. It’s important to discuss the expenses involved, how you’ll manage conflict, whether you’ll keep or sell the property in question, and how ownership will be split.

Final Thoughts

The love and closeness between siblings is often unrivaled. Because of this, though, emotions can sometimes run high when dealing with things like money and financial hardship.

Talking to your siblings about money requires patience and even a little finesse. Whether you’re discussing their own tricky situation or planning for future expenses that will affect you all, it’s important to approach the conversations in a caring way to avoid hurt feelings and conflict. Check out our other money talk pieces on our personal finance learning center.

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