Awkward money questions seem to be in full force during end-of-year family get-togethers, whether from siblings who hit you up for cash or parental pressure over why you’re not yet a homeowner.
To pacify relatives and give your financial life a boost, try these strategies for handling common (and painfully awkward) money questions you might hear this holiday season.
When Your Grandmother Asks About Your Nest Egg
Retirement may feel like a lifetime from now, but older family members swear they'll be here before you know it. And they’re kind of right — so the earlier you start saving for it, the better.
Start by getting familiar with the various types of retirement accounts, such as an IRA or 401(k). Then explore which options may be available to you through work. If you have access to a 401(k) or other type of employer-sponsored retirement plan and haven't enrolled yet, you’re missing out — especially if your workplace offers any sort of match.
If you’ve already started saving, aim to increase your retirement contribution in the New Year. Maybe it's as small as 1%, or enough to meet the company match. Whatever the amount, any uptick could have a potentially big impact later.
Then, when Grandma asks about your nest egg, you can fill her in on all the responsible things you're doing now to build it.
When Your Parents Ask Why You’re Still Renting
Renting isn't uncommon among millennials: The homeownership rate of people under 35 has been on the decline, reports NPR, dipping from 42% a decade ago to just over one-third now.
And homeownership shouldn't be something you rush into if you're not financially ready.
For starters: Do you plan on moving within the next five years? Do you have a great rental deal in a lovely neighborhood? Would buying a home mean a longer commute to work? If you answer yes to any of these questions, it might make more financial sense to rent for now.
Consider the down payment, too. If you aren’t able to put down at least 20%, you may end up paying private mortgage insurance as well as a higher interest rate, which raises your monthly payment and eats into your investment in the long run. (This New York Times calculator helps you compare home-related costs so you can see when it would make sense to rent or buy.)
So be honest with your parents, laying out the ways in which renting is a better fit for you right now and how much better off your finances are as a result. (A big mortgage payment may have meant not being able to afford your plane ticket home, for example.)
When Your Cousin Asks You to Jump on a Hot Stock
We’ve all got that one family member who likes to push investment opportunities. Maybe it's the company that is bound to be the next big thing or the real estate venture that is sure to go through the roof. These conversations may end with: “Do you want to get in on this?”
Your answer will probably depend on a number of factors, including your appetite for risk, your money goals and the timeline for those goals.
But if you're like many people, you're probably not looking to make a quick buck through investing; rather you've likely got a longer-term goal in mind, like buying a home or retirement. In fact, we at LearnVest don't recommend you invest to fund a goal unless it's at least five years away because of the risk associated with investing (the shorter your timeline, the less time you have to potentially recover from drops in the market).
But if you think you're ready to invest in the market, you probably shouldn't start with Cousin Dan's investment plan. First, get educated about the basics, as how you invest can affect other areas of your financial life, such as your taxes. Then, see if you have all your financial ducks in a row. Have you started saving for retirement yet? If not, that should be the first goal you consider investing for. Do you have a plan to pay down your debt? Are you making good progress on an emergency fund? If yes to all, then you can start considering investing outside of a retirement account.
Already have an investment portfolio? Good for you! You could ward off Cousin Dan by telling him that your investment strategy isn't based on the "hot performance" of one or two stocks, and that you prefer to stay diversified instead (meaning your investments are spread out among different asset classes and categories to reduce risk). You can even go a step further and fill him in on the type of mutual funds or ETFs you invest in and how they provide you with exposure to many different types of companies.
Maybe then he'll keep his hot tips to himself.
When Your Younger Brother Asks You for a Loan
When a family member asks for cash, the best-case scenario is that you help a loved one through a tough time while also keeping the relationship — and your own finances — intact. But what if the family member in question fails to make good on the loan?
Be honest about whether you’re in a position to be giving out loans in the first place. Even if you have faith that the recipient will pay you back over time, draining your savings puts you in a potentially hard financial place.
If you’re able to take on the responsibility, lend only what you can afford to part with. From there, establish a clear payoff timeline and put the agreement in writing. The dessert table probably isn’t the best place to discuss these details, but make no mistake that these terms are must-haves.
When Your Aunt Wants to Know if You're Ready for a Rainy Day
If Great Aunt Martha is asking how robust your emergency fund is, she may mean well. If the question makes you uneasy, though, ask yourself why.
Is it because you’re not quite sure where you stand? If your emergency fund won't see you through a job loss or unforeseen pop-up expense, it may be time to re-prioritize your financial goals. A good rule of thumb is to have anywhere from three to nine months of take-home pay put away. At the very least, you should have one month saved before you get aggressive about your other money goals.
Look for a high-yield savings account so your cash can earn some interest until you have to dip into it. Generally, online savings accounts offer higher interest rates because there's less overhead involved than with a brick-and-mortar bank; just be sure to check if you have to meet any qualifications to get the best interest rates, such as maintaining a minimum balance, or whether the account has any restrictions, like the number of allowable monthly transactions. And consider choosing a savings account that is different from your main checking account, so it won't be so easy to access that cash. Once you've opened an account, set up an automatic monthly deposit from your checking.