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Talking About Money Matters With Family at Thanksgiving

What to discuss and when and what not to and why

By Richard Eisenberg

At Thanksgiving, you might be getting together with your parents, your grown children, your brothers and your sisters. Seems like an ideal time to discuss vital family money matters, no? Well, the actual answer is: maybe.

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“No one responds well to being accused or asked questions, especially in front of everyone,” says Billy Hensley, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). There may be a time to have some money conversations in private before or after the turkey dinner, though.

Use Your Judgment

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I do think that particular touchy subjects can get fairly dramatic and explosive quickly,” says Kevin Avent, a Certified Financial Planner and managing director for wealth management at Unified Trust Company in Lexington, Ky. “You just need to use your judgment and be very careful before you broach them.”

What to discuss depends in part on the tenor of your family and how often you get together with your loved ones.

“If your family is very public about everything and you’re all thick-skinned, you can bring up money topics in a public setting and bounce ideas around,” says Avent. “But other families would be very uncomfortable talking about money.”

The frequency of your family visits matters, too.

“If you see your parents on a daily basis, you’d have opportunities to discuss financial matters other times,” says Hensley. But if Thanksgiving is one of the few times when you spend time together, he suggests, take advantage of that.

Find a Quiet Moment

“Find a quiet moment to bring up topics,” such as your fear they might become elder fraud victims, advises Hensley. “You can say: ‘I don’t want anyone to take advantage of you. I love you.’”

Thanksgiving could be an ideal time to talk with your grown children about things like investing, spending and debt.

“You might ask: ‘Are you taking advantage of your company’s 401(k) plan match?’” says Hensley. And if your son or daughter doesn’t have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, Hensley adds, “explain that there are lots of accessible, very low cost IRA [Individual Retirement Account] options” and offer advice on finding them.

Talking With Grown Kids About Financial Responsibility

This may be a particularly good year to have a heart-to-heart with your grown child about taking more financial responsibility.


“It may soften the blow a little to say, ‘The economy has been much stronger, so you could take advantage of that by picking up a side gig to get your debt under control,’” says Hensley.

For sensitive conversations, forecast what you’ll want to talk about before getting together on Thanksgiving. “With your children, say ‘I can’t wait to see you, but I have a couple of things I want to discuss,’” says Avent. “This way, it doesn’t seem like an ambush.”

Give a head’s up to your sisters and brothers if you’ll want to talk with them about your parents’ finances. “Let them know that you’ll still do celebrating and have family time. But when the kids are playing outside, you might want to go into another room with your siblings and talk about things,” says Avent.

What Not to Talk About

Some money topics are best left off the Thanksgiving table, experts say.

Avent recommends against talking about which children will get certain possessions upon your death, for instance, even though all the kids will be in one place.

“Family members can get upset quickly if this involves things they’ve had a sentimental attachment to, especially if more than one of them had that same feeling,” notes Avent. “Also, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a happy time. And there’s probably going to be some alcohol. So things can perhaps get ugly quickly.”

But other discussions can be very helpful.

Says Avent:“You have to have these conversations at some point, and for some families, this may be the only time you can.”

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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