The M Word: The Talk Everyone Needs to Have

The M Word: The Talk Everyone Needs to Have

As a financial advisor and senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Lori Sackler has been counseling individuals and families on how to manage their money for the majority of her career.

But she noticed that the same issues began cropping up time and again, and they all stemmed from one major problem—people didn’t know how to talk about money. “It's the thread that flows through everything we do every day. It’s ironic that money is such a taboo topic,” Sackler says.

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So Sackler took it upon herself to tackle the taboo topic head on and created a set of tools to help guide people in having tough conversations about money. She also details her efforts in a new book, "The M Word: The Money Talk Every Family Needs to Have About Wealth and Their Financial Future."

“I want to change the culture around talking about finances, so it doesn’t become a terrible obstacle to confront,” she says. LearnVest caught up with Sackler to find out how she’s spearheading the change.

LearnVest: Why is it so difficult for people to talk about money?

Sackler: There are many reasons, but one of the most interesting things that I found in my research is that there are evolutionary factors at play. Throughout history and in many primitive societies, money has been tied to sexual transactions, making it an object of control and a threat. In some ways, the same anger and shame and difficulty we have talking about sex is related to our difficulty in talking about money.

And, of course, everyone has their own history with money—there are individual psychological issues at play relating to gender, marriage politics, divorce, family history and control and trust issues. The objective is to determine which ones play a role for you and your family—and how to overcome them.

So what’s the first step in getting comfortable with the M word?

Sackler: Awareness. First, you need to understand why it’s important to get comfortable talking about money—there’s a lot at stake for your relationships and your financial future. And then you need to figure out why it’s so difficult for you: So which of the many reasons we just talked about apply to you? You can’t solve the problem until you pinpoint what’s holding you back.

RELATED: What Do Your Money Memories Mean for Your Finances?

How do you talk to someone who’s reluctant to discuss money?

Sackler: Prepare, prepare, prepare. You have to think through the factors that have been keeping you from having these conversations. When you ask for a raise from your boss or make a presentation to a new client at work, you put a lot of thought into it. You know the players, issues and problems, and you know what you want to accomplish. I recommend applying that same discipline to money conversations. It also helps to bring in professionals—like financial advisors or therapists—who talk about these issues every day, and who can be an objective party.

Let’s talk about couples. How often should they be communicating about money? And what should they discuss?

Sackler: It’s important to not just have these conversations when there’s a major life transition. Money should be talked about almost daily—it should become part of the family culture. This way, when there is a big transition (a new baby, a health crisis, a child heading off to college), it isn't such a big deal because you’re used to talking about it.

If you have communication from the start, you're laying the groundwork to remove angst from future money talks.

I also suggest having these conversations long before you get married. Couples need to be disclosing all of their assets, liabilities and financial goals. What are your values? Lifestyle expectations? What financial compromises need to take place? And, with a second marriage, there are often issues surrounding the financial responsibility of children. If you have open communication from the start, then you're laying the groundwork to remove the angst from future money talks.

RELATED: What Your Parents Mean for Your Money Outlook

The M Word FinalWhat about kids? How can people communicate with them in a way that raises them to be financially responsible?

Sackler: I get this question all of the time, so I dedicated a huge part of the book to the topic. It’s important to have plenty of communication and education around finances with your kids, and a great way to start is with an allowance. It will get you both talking about how to budget, how to save and how to donate to charities.

As they get older, encourage teens to have part-time jobs and volunteer with charitable organizations. But the most important thing to remember is that kids are always watching what’s going on in your home—your actions and conversations are planting the seeds of financial values and ideals that they will have for the rest of their lives. So it’s not just what you say to them, but what you do, that matters.

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