Dr. Moira Somers is a psychologist and professor and has uncommon expertise in neuroscience, financial psychology, and mental health.
In this interview we dive into three important topics:
- Direct and indirect financial stress
- How to have productive money conversations
- Why it’s a bad idea to avoid talking to adult children about your end of life plans and how to have that conversation
If these uncertain times have you more worried than usual and you would like to learn how to better talk to your family about money, today’s episode is for you.
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- Dr. Moira Somers
Dr. Moira Somers: How to Have Productive Conversations About Money
Moira Somers: Starting is the hardest part. It seems to me as a society we still don't talk about money very much.
Taylor Schulte: Welcome to the Stay Wealthy podcast. I'm your host Taylor Schulte, and today I have Dr. Moira Somers on the show. Dr. Somers is a psychologist and professor and she has this uncommon expertise in neuroscience, financial psychology, and mental health.
In today's interview, we dive into three important topics.
Number one, direct and indirect financial stress. Number two, how to have productive money conversations with your spouse. And number three, why it's a bad idea to avoid talking to your adult children about your end-of-life plans and how to have that conversation constructively.
For all the links and resources mentioned today, head over to youstaywealthy.com/74.
Alright, I will jump right into it. So you wrote an article called Families, Money, and the Tincture of Tenderness and you shared that especially right now, families around the world are reeling from the effects of direct and indirect stress that even if your current earnings are unaffected or you haven't lost your job, it's kind of business is normal.
Indirect financial stress can still show up in ways that we might not even realize. So I'd love to just start off with having you expand on this and and share more about direct and indirect financial stress, especially given current events and where things are at today.
Moira Somers: Yeah, I think we probably don't have to spend too much time Taylor at all on direct stress. I think the indirect effects can be hugely varying. You know, a lot of people that I'm talking to just say that they struggle with their own privilege sometimes when they're the ones not being affected, that it's just a sense of guilt almost about not being affected is one way that it's coming up.
I think most emotions are there to just signal us to pay attention to our lives and to get grounded again in what matters to us. And so just that reminder that such feelings can give us to pay attention to our givings, to pay attention to being thoughtful and intentional about how we want to use money to make a difference in the world.
Another way that indirect stress can come in is of course through the ways that the people we love may have been affected. The whole world of decisions that ushers in. How much support to give to adult children.
For example, what to do when one child may be struggling more than the other. What to do when somebody has just had a run of bad luck and is starting to feel, you know, like there's a cloud over his head. How do you work with somebody within your family or within your workplace who's just kind of reeling?
And to have the front row seat to that kind of distress can in itself be quite distressing. So those are just a few examples of how indirect stress can show up.
Taylor Schulte: And you mentioned that the end result of this financial stress, whether it's direct or indirect, often result in an increase in conflict. I think a lot of us know and, and there's plenty of research to back it up that says most marital conflicts have to do with money.
So avoiding these conversations or not having them in a productive manner can be damaging to relationships and marriages. Maybe let's pivot and talk about how you think we should be having these productive money conversations, either with our spouse and maybe that's a good place to start with our spouse, if you think that's appropriate or with other people in our family.
Like how do you suggest setting ourselves up for these and maybe what are some pitfalls to watch out for
Moira Somers: Sure. I think the biggest pitfall to watch out for is just your own depletion. Under normal circumstances, we wake up every day with a fresh store of mental energy that sleep has given to us. And over the course of the day we try and keep that reserve topped up with food, maybe with exercise, with things that are meaningful to us.
But it's just a natural kind of cycle that every day we wake up with a fresh store of mental energy and every day we go to sleep depleted. And in a normal kind of time that waxing and waning happens every day when stressors mount Taylor, it can happen that we just run out of energy before we run out of day.
It shows up differently for different people, but I'll give you some of the common signs that you may be running low, you may have become mentally depleted.
The first is that decisions are harder to make. It feels as though you just can't get to that place as effectively as efficiently. You worry more about the quality of your decisions and sometimes you just have a hard time pulling the pin on anything. And other times you might make a decision quite abruptly just to get it off your plate.
So that's one way. Another sign of mental depletion is that you are just a little bit more raw, a little bit more thin skinned stuff, penetrates more readily. And so you may find yourself responding with greater emotionality either in the positive direction or the negative direction than is typical for you. You just speak more sharply. You weren't even aware it was in your heart until you heard your own tone.
Other signs of mental depletion include just greater inefficiency in learning and in getting things done, everything is beginning to feel like it's coated with molasses, you may be giving into temptations more often. Your smoking may have gone up, your drinking may have increased.
I mean, everybody talks about the pandemic poundage that's come on just because we're closer the fridge than ever before during the day, you know, normally in the course of a day you have enough energy to keep that in check. You have enough energy to learn new things and to get everyday stuff done.
You can manage the normal kind of pain and stress and you can control your own emotional displays. You can learn new habits and invest in habit investments without having everything else go to pot. And as you get depleted, every one of those things just becomes more and more effortful.
And so when you go into conversations like money conversations that just tend to be a little more emotionally fraught, especially if you know you may be coming at it from different points of view, then that depletion may mean that you're not arriving as your best self, as your most flexible, mellow, decisive, compromising self.
So to the extent that you can schedule those conversations in advance, set the intention that you will both show up as best you can with your best selves. Keep them short. Do not have them drag on forever. The longer it drags on, the worse usually the quality of the decision that gets made.
And do your best to remind yourself that you know this is the person to whom you pledged your life. This is not the enemy. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful that your marriage can be what most marriages have been over time, which is an economic powerhouse. Most marriages result in a higher level of standard than people could achieve on their own, a standard of living and people could achieve on their own. And so to continue to hold the hope that this can be the case in your family too.
Taylor Schulte: Do you have any thoughts on where these conversations should be held? My wife and I do an annual financial round table. We get a babysitter to come watch the kids and we go to a totally neutral place to have this conversation.
Last year we picked a coffee shop nearby that we don't usually go to very regularly and grabbed a table and sat and had our conversation there. And I found that to work really well. Do you have any thoughts around the location of some of these bigger conversations?
Moira Somers: Well, given that we're all housebound these days, do you? Yeah, true. Yeah. Which coffee shop do you like? Do you like the bathroom, coffee shop? The basement coffee shop. I do like that notion, especially if things are prone to be heated, sometimes, you know, going to a coffee shop is better because people are just generally on better behavior when they're out there.
Sometimes we recommend that you hold those conversations in the presence of somebody that you trust of a third party, not to turn that person into a mediator or an arbiter, but rather just somebody who knows you well and who can remind you both of what it is you stand for and what it is you want end of day is often when things just default to, but as I said, that's when you're most likely to be depleted.
And so setting a time aside to bring in the sitter, preferably during a time when you may not be so wrung out, we'll be setting it up for a better outcome.
Taylor Schulte: And how do you deal with situations where if we just kind of zone in on spouses here, how do you go about situations where one spouse is kind of taking the lead with the financial side of things and the other spouse is just kind of really passive, doesn't really care, doesn't really want to be involved, just says things like, oh, just take care of it, it stresses me out, it worries me, and they don't really want to have these conversations.
How does the other spouse approach that? Is that when you do bring in a third party, are there any kind of tips around how to handle that?
Moira Somers: Yeah, I mean sometimes it feels like you need smelling salts to stay awake during during meetings with financial advisors. Like, oh, just awake me when it's over. I hear that all the time.
I think that it's one thing to kind of agree that one person in the relationship will take the financial lead on things that might be based on interest or abilities, but it's really important that that not become tacit permission for the other person to become financially unconscious.
How many cautionary tales do we need to hear from widows who said that? Or widowers who, who didn't know where any of the documentation was, who didn't, who didn't have any clue about how their financial life was structured or organized?
So I think it's, it's no longer in anybody's interest if it ever was so in the past, it's no longer now in anybody's interest to be oblivious to how things get made, how decisions get made, where things are.
It's a terrible imbalance in power dynamics and it really leaves people more vulnerable, not less so to say, you know, if you are the one that's kind of taking the lead, try to be disciplined about that and make sure that you have things organized so that if you were to become incapacitated tomorrow, that there is a file folder that you know in a place where the spouse is clearly aware that it exists and that it's located and you make sure you know that because you have them retrieve it before this meeting and they say, I don't know where that is.
Okay, well it's here right beside the computer, here it is. And just constantly, you know, document, make things clear for some of the things that might not get touched on on a regular basis. You have to make sure that you include passwords and you know, all of that stuff.
That's sort of a conversation for normal times. I would say Taylor, and certainly, if it hasn't happened during normal times, this is a really good time to, to make sure that it's done. I think though that what a lot of families are dealing with right now are things like, what do we do now that our family income has taken such a big hit?
How can we pivot? How can we make sure that the bases are covered And to continually ask one another, are we doing the right thing? Is this feeling right for you? Where is it feeling uncomfortable? What do we need to be considering?
If we were wrong about this, how would we know to ask and answer both those confirming and disconfirming questions about financial life. Are you sure that we should take the insurance off the second car? How will we make sure we don't forget it's off the second car? Where will we put these keys so that we, you know, don't intentionally blow it?
Another thing that I suggest that each individual do is to pay attention to the emotion of resentment. I think it's one of the ways that we are signaled to some really important dynamics, including often the dynamic that we're doing something that is no longer developmentally appropriate or required in the relationship that we are giving too much or foregoing too much resentment is sometimes I think a sacred signal that this isn't necessary anymore.
And I think it's always a signal that a conversation needs to be had and you can hold it with a kind of curiosity and sort of light hands on the reins to say, I'm not sure where this is coming from, or I think I know where this is coming from and I'd like to talk to you about the fact that I am feeling resentful about dot, dot, dot fill in the blanks about how you look over the grocery list when I bring it home.
Or I am feeling resentful about the fact that everything else that we agreed would be put on the back burner is okay, but I'm really feeling resentment about not being able to go golfing or buy some fabric or again, fill in the blank resentment if it's unspoken becomes really toxic and you start making up stories about being victimized or bullied or overpowered instead of really finding your own power to express your own needs.
And I think that's a very valuable exercise for every one of us.
Taylor Schulte: Let's switch gears a little bit here and talk about having these conversations with children. And the first question I want to ask is, I don't know where I read it or or listened to you say this, but you made a comment that it's a bad idea not to tell your kids and and talk to your adult children about what choices you've made in your estate planning.
I think a lot of people can relate to, I just don't wanna burden my kids with this or this is really private information, I don't want to share this with them. So I'd love to hear you talk more about why it's a bad idea not to talk to your kids about, let's just say your estate planning choices that you've made.
Moira Somers: It's not just the estate planning stuff Taylor, it's the whole end-of-life stuff across the socioeconomic spectrum. You can see that there are different challenges that people face.
So a lot of adult children, they don't even know if their parents are financially okay because their parents have never told them whether they're financially okay or not. And so they may be combing through the tea leaves trying to figure out what is the meaning of the fact that mom just mentioned she hasn't had a new pair of shoes in years.
What does that mean, being able to let your kids know that you're okay to be explicit about that or if you're not okay what your plans are. I really recommend that parents introduce their kids to their financial advisors. That often comes as a huge relief and blessing to adult kids. They tell me all the time they wish they knew their parents' financial advisors for a couple of reasons.
You know, one is so that they understand that their parents are being well taken care of or under good care, but also because the kids themselves often are at a point where they feel in need of direction. And if the parents are happy with that advisor, that's a pretty solid recommendation.
Other end of life kinds of concerns that parents need to be frank about are where they want to live, how they're going to make the decision about when to pull the pin on living in the house or whether to pull the pin on living on their own where it is that they would want to go when they could no longer manage on their own or would they like some of their assets freed up to pay for in-home help.
You know, those kinds of decisions, how it is that they will make the decision to give up driving. When it comes to estates themselves though, I think that at the very least the parents need to tell the kids where the will is and who's the executor.
Don't make mistakes like you know, putting the will in the safety deposit box, which automatically gets locked away until the executor is identified. And if nobody knows who the executor is, we're in big trouble. Talk ahead of time about what it means to who it is that should be the executor.
Often the parent will turn that rule over along with the power of attorney rule to the child that they're emotionally closest to. And that can be problematic at some levels. You know, if that is the child who would also be the one who's most devastated by your death, they may not be in great emotional shape to be doing everything that needs to be doing, especially if it's all coming as a surprise to them.
So to just be intentional and open if you possibly can be with the people who are going to be affected by your death and by your dying and by the estate that you'll leave behind. When people have fractious families, often they don't have those conversations because they just, they don't know where they're gonna end up and they worry sometimes with good cause that they're going to end up in conflict and with hurt.
And if that's kind of your prophecy about where things are going, I would just encourage you to figure out how that dynamic could be helped to change. Again, would a third party be useful? Could your advisor work with you or could your advisor recommend somebody, a therapist, a mediator, a family wealth psychologist who could work with you to help give you the words that you need to explain why it is.
For example, that you may be giving more money to one child than to another, or to explain why you're not giving more money to one child than another. Even if there are hurt feelings about that, if you do it enough in advance you, you give time for those feelings to settle and for relationships to be restored, not so if that information is only revealed after your passing.
Taylor Schulte: So if anyone is looking for kind of a starting point for how to attack some of these conversations, we had Paul Malley, the president of Five Wishes on the podcast, episode number 48.
If you want to go back, youstaywealthy.com/48 and Five Wishes has been a great tool for my family for a lot of our clients. My mom went through the exercise, filled everything out, and then she gave me a copy along with other important people in her life.
Moira Somers: What was that like for you to receive that?
Taylor Schulte: Well, I guess I was just like really proud of her for going through that exercise. If anyone has ever gone through five wishes and you've read some of these questions, they're really heavy, difficult questions.
I know when I brought it home and gave a copy to my wife, she opened it up and she quickly closed it. She's like, I'm not doing this. Like I can't answer these questions because they're really, really difficult questions. I think the first thing when she actually brought it to me, my, my mom brought it to me completed.
I just thought good on her for actually sitting down and answering these really difficult questions and taking it seriously And you know, it's not the end all be all, but I think it's a really good starting point for somebody that wants to take action and start to document some of these really important things.
And then, you know, I hope sharing that with your loved ones, it can be an easy conversation starter or a place to start some of these conversations.
Moira Somers: You know, starting is the hardest part seems to me as a society, we still don't talk about money very much. We might let judgements fly around the room like they're God's own truth about things, but deeper honest conversations with our families about our hopes, our regrets, you know, the gaffes that we made along the way, the things we're proud of, what we're scared about for the future.
We just often don't let that get to the people that would really benefit from hearing it. And you know, there's something to be said for the benefit of expressing it too. Not just hearing it.
If you can get out of your own head long enough to get a little bit of feedback or to be questioned about, tell me how you made that decision, what went into that for you?
Again, do it enough in advance so that if you've missed something glaring or if you are making decisions that are predicated upon wrong assumptions or half-baked expectations, that you actually have time to address it, to correct it.
Taylor Schulte: What if you're the adult child and your parents are not having these conversations with you and you know that they're probably never going to have this conversation with you?
Is it your place as the adult child to try and broach this topic with your parents? If so, how do you go about doing that in a productive way? Can you share a little bit more about how an adult child might go through that?
Moira Somers: Sure. There are lots of different ways and I appreciate that there are some really, really stubborn people out there and you just have to figure out what is it that people are prepared to deal with.
So you can say, you know, mom, dad, in the whole arena of things that matter to you as you get older. Is there one thing or are there two things that you really want me to know? If you were to have a stroke tonight and end up in hospital and the doctor were to say, what should we do?
I'm not sure I would know what your wishes were, so tell me about that. Another way to do it is to be able to sort of ask for help for yourself. I'm about to get my will written, have you ever written one? Do you have any advice for me? Oh, you haven't written one. Do you wanna come with me? Do you want to see if we can get a deal? Two for one.
Do you want to be my accountability partner for getting this done? I'm not sure what the most recent stats have been in the states, but the last I saw it was around 50% of Americans didn't have a will and 80% didn't have a living will or advanced healthcare directive.
So there are defaults that just kick in and you may not like those defaults, especially if you're still on this earth to being affected by those defaults in the medical care system. So other that children can just be really clear about being respectful of boundaries and acknowledging that they want to be respectful of boundaries to say, I know this is something that you may feel is really private.
I do not wish to violate your privacy on this, but I am wondering, have you and mom thought about how you could manage how long you want to manage in this setting? What can we do to support you in what you want?
The problem is that most of us wait until there's a crisis. Somebody's already had the fall, somebody's already broken the hip, somebody has already been scammed by the fraud artists who seem to be getting, have you noticed more and more sophisticated, trickier all the time and then there is so much more emotion in the room. Because everybody's scared and angry and upset.
So you know, if you're really worried about things not going well, then don't talk. Because then the things will not go well otherwise. See if you can build your courage. See if you can build those muscles of having courageous conversations about things that matter while you can pick the time to have them.
Taylor Schulte: One of your services is to be this intermediary to come in with families and help to facilitate these conversations, these sometimes really difficult conversations. Can you just maybe share a little bit about what that looks like?
When and why would a family bring you in if you have a cost for that service? What is the cost? And then maybe lastly, given kind of where we're at right now, and do you do these virtually or do they need to be done in person?
Moira Somers: I have colleagues all over trusted colleagues that I recommend, including some financial advisors who do these kinds of things so beautifully. People who are trained in transitions, people who are trained in just getting to the heart of what matters to people. What I often do is just meet with one generation at a time.
Taylor, sometimes I need to teach some communication skills. Sometimes we just go over in the office, we role-play, right, I'm gonna say the thing that you're most scared of hearing now, how do you want to respond to that?
Let's see if we can popcorn out several ideas about how to do, how does this kid like to be communicated with? So it's so individual for every family, but I usually find that when there's a lot of fear around having these conversations, it's a really good idea that I meet with people separately with the generation separately and sometimes with the various siblings separately in order to get to this work.
My favorite gig is frankly doing this on a preventative basis, doing this years in advance of things ever becoming fraught and ramped up emotionally. So people are welcome to reach out to me on my website, which is moneymindandmeaning.com. My email is email@example.com if they're interested in my services.
But I would also just encourage them to start with what is it that they can do within their own family and with their own advisors and see what can happen. I love that you've got that resource of the podcast for them to be thinking about those things. Sounds like maybe that one's a bit of a daunting task. Perhaps you could also do some additional ones on easy ways to ease into estate planning and longevity planning.
Taylor Schulte: Well, I appreciate all that. I'll be sure to share everything in the show notes. This is episode number 74, so you can find them by going to youstaywealthy.com/74.
Moira we’ll put your contact information in there, your website, if anybody wants to reach out and just learn more, get some recommendations, they can go ahead and do that. I really appreciate you joining us today. Any parting words, any last things you want to share?
Moira Somers: I think that money is interwoven into pretty much every aspect of life. There isn't a domain that I can think of that it doesn't influence.
So the more that we can become skilled at dealing with it comfortably and competently and increasing our sense that we can get better at all aspects of talking about it and handling it and asking for help when we know that we could be doing better, the more comfortable we can be at that, the more the entire quality of life begins to change because it is so interwoven.
Taylor Schulte: I think that's a fantastic place to end. Thank you again so much for joining us today. Again, we'll put everything in the show notes and I hope to have you back on the show in the near future.
Moira Somers: Thank you so much, Taylor.
Episode Disclaimer: This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. This podcast is not engaged in rendering legal, financial, or other professional services.