Steve Hix—Corbis
By Dan Kadlec
June 24, 2015

If you harbor any doubt that money remains a taboo subject around the household, consider these findings from the 2015 Fidelity Investments Couples Retirement Study:

  • 43% of couples do not know how much their spouse earns annually, and of those, 10% cannot guess within $25,000;
  • 36% of couples disagree on the amount of their household’s investable assets;
  • 60% of couples have no idea how much their Social Security benefits might be worth, including 49% of boomer couples—a group in or on the cusp of retirement.

Not talking about money around the house can have broad reaching repercussions. Without discussion, odds are there is little financial planning. Nearly half of couples say they have no idea how much they will need to retire, and a similar number disagree over the amount, Fidelity found. Those with a plan are twice as likely to expect to live comfortably in retirement. Other surveys also have found that people who have a plan are more confident about their future.

On another level, the taboo around money conversations may be passed down generationally. We do our children no favors by making the subject mysterious. Young people are coming of age in a period of diminishing social safety nets and would benefit immeasurably from discussions around the house about budgeting and saving. That such conversations do not take place in many households has given rise to a broad effort to require money management courses in schools.

Among the more confounding aspects of the money conversation is the misperception that it is actually taking place. Some 72% of couples in the Fidelity survey say they communicate exceptionally well with each other, and 90% say that starting a conversation about budgets, savings and investments, and estate planning is not difficult. Yet these are some of the same respondents who said they don’t know how much their mate earns.

Meanwhile, nearly half of parents say they strongly encourage their kids to talk to them about money, but only one in five kids strongly agree that this is the case, a T. Rowe Price survey found. Nearly three-quarters of parents say they talk regularly with their children about spending and saving, but just 61% of the kids agree. A third of kids believe their parents are leaving them in the dark about money issues.

Clearly, money is a tougher family topic than most of us realize. But it has never been more essential to talk about. This quiz might help you get started. And here are four questions that can help you and your spouse get on the same page when it comes to household finances.

  • What are the next big goals? Buy a house? Save for college? Identify what you want to achieve in the next three to five years, and make saving a habit.
  • Do you have an emergency fund? What if you get laid off? What if the car breaks down? You should have three to six months of living expenses safely tucked away, just in case.
  • Do you share a vision for retirement? Travel the globe or tend the garden? Downsize and live near the kids or move to a warmer climate? Make sure you see eye to eye.
  • Are your documents in order? Plan for the inevitable by having an estate plan, a durable general power of attorney, and a health care proxy. Designate beneficiaries for investment accounts and insurance policies. To do this as a team you will need to talk about things like inheritance, estate planning and eldercare.

Read next: How to start a money conversation with your mate

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