We Need More Money Nights at Home

At a recent Ivy League School alumnae dinner, the host asked the attendees, to indicate, by a show of hands, if they engaged in financial discussions with their children and/or grandchildren on a monthly or more frequent basis? Of the 100 attendees, how many hands do you think went up?  3 raised their hands.

What did I glean from this? That few families have “money nights” at home. Although 17 states require a “course”, only 5 states require a stand-alone semester in personal finance before graduation from high school. We are not one of them.

It is up to us, the family, to teach kids about money. As Jack Weatherford, former Professor of anthropology at Macalester college in Minnesota, and award the Order of the Polar Star, Mongolia’s highest national honor for foreigners, pointed out: “…money is uniquely human. No version or analog of it exists among any members of the animal kingdom. We have to pass on its meaning to our future money stewards.”

Then how do we talk to our kids about money? Well it depends on their age, inclinations, and maturity. As you introduce money conversations/money nights and money stewardship at home, remember to guide and advise rather than dictate, encourage rather than criticize, be consistent, be flexible, be objective and purposeful about money, keep extended family members in the loop about your financial “rules”, be open to questions, mistakes, and ideas your children might have. Encourage accountability and praise their successes. Money just needs to become another conversation.

When children experience money early they will discover, tweak, and learn from their decisions, mistakes, and challenges. They will become familiar with money and its various facets. They will experience how to use it productively, so they can become stewards of money. This is what we all want.

How is money communicated in your home? Let me know I’d like to know.

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Pass the Chocolate, I’m out of Cash: How the Brain Deals with Fairness

I find money and food to be similar in many ways.  It seems to be difficult for many people to gain control over either and it seems that both topics can become emotionally charged, quickly.

Researchers have studied both, finding that the brain can respond similarly to both money and food behaviors. Surprised? Me neither. But I do find it interesting what the neurosciences have discovered. Let me share a little of that with you.

The brain, you should know, responds to fairness. One study asked their participants if they would agree to someone else’s division of money. If they declined, neither party would receive anything. Offers were made, each amounting to receiving $5 but from different totals. Some were offered $5 out of $10 while others were offered $5 from $20+. And here comes the interesting part: the brain’s reward circuitry was activated only for “fair offers.” In this case receiving $5 out f $10 was registered in the brain as being fairer than receiving $5 out of $23.

This part of the brain, one that reacts to “being fairly treated” is the same part of the brain responding to certain cravings, like for chocolate. Why? It seems to that the brain area that is activated in receiving a fair offer is the same area that is activated when we eat craved foods, like chocolate.

For those who are interested, the regions in the brain that respond to fairness are  the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Two Insightful Money Observations

Money is merely a tool, which means that money itself is not THE culprit. If stays where we leave it, it goes where we move it to. With that as a backdrop, let’s look at two scenarios:

  • More earnings mean more wealth       Y             N

Not necessarily as money is easily spent. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the personal savings rate is at about 3.20% of income with lesser income earners saving more than higher income earners. The data continued to show that we exhibit one of the lowest savings rates of developed countries; only Spain, China, and Australia save less than we do, currently.

  • Money Can Buy Happiness                     Y             N            

Yes, up to a point. Think of what that Powerball lottery could do for you! Science has researched this question and found that how we spend money has an influence on our happiness. Research shows that happiness is increased when we spend money on others more than on ourselves. Does this have to do with experiencing satisfaction? I don’t know, I am merely asking. One study, I remember reading from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, indicated that once people earn more than $200,000, their level of happiness did not increase significantly.

 Money is very personal. Being personal, it is important that you understand what money means to you, so it can be the sharpest tool in your tool chest, doing what you want it to do for you!

 

There is Power in that Talking Stick

 

I was watching a movie the other day, Tanna, set in a remote Pacific Island, and acted by the Yakel Tribe members. In an intense scene between warring parties, I was struck by their communication. Even in the heat of opinions and attacks, they had a natural and respectful ability to let each person speak, fully, before another person got up to speak. They did not interrupt. They did not use escalating threats. They listened to the speaker before making their remarks. It was inspiring to watch.

This view into this tribe’s ability to communicate with an opposing tribe, when stakes and tension were high reminded me of an incident that occurred earlier this year. In a U.S. Senator’s office, during the stopgap spending bill talks were held. Senator Susan Collins used her “talking stick” as a tool to let others in the meeting know that the person holding the stick had the authority to speak. Everyone else had to wait until that person was done speaking and the talking stick was released before one of them could have their turn.

In this scenario, the “Talking Stick” has several key purposes. The first is to allow the speaker the platform to speak sans interruption. Second, the stick reminds others that they are to listen as their time to talk has not yet come. Third, the sticks passed from one speaker to the next. But at this meeting, an interruption did occur. Instead of holding on to the stick, the speaker hurled it towards the interrupter and missed, chipping a glass sculpture instead.

Much can be learned from the power in the “Talking Stick”. It has been used for centuries as a tool in negotiations, mediations, family meetings and sensitive facilitated discussions.  It is a powerful reminder to where the room’s attendees’ attention should be centered as well as a reminder that the person with the stick has control of the message until the stick is relinquished.

If you have not used a talking stick in a meeting, give it a shot. It is amazing how it can keep meetings on track, viewpoints respected, and keep tempers from flaring and accusations from hurling.

The Hero’s Story is Significant

 

Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.

Quotes about Money to Start the Year

• The habit of saving is itself an education; it fosters every virtue, teaches self-denial, cultivates the sense of order, trains to forethought, and so broadens the mind. -T.T. Munger
Saving is a beneficial life-long exercise.

• You can’t manage what you don’t measure. -Bhaj Townsend
It is important to know what your money is for, so you can determine how to manage it.

• Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. -Epictetus.
This still rings true centuries after this Turkish slave, who grew up to be a formidable Greek philosopher, said it.

• Money without meaning is like candy without a wrapper. It’s too easy to devour without restraint-Bhaj Townsend
Now that rings true!

• If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. –Edmund Burke.
How true this can be.

• This year, money and I will be friends, and not part company as easily and as often as last year. -Bhaj Townsend
An excellent decision to follow through on.

• It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you keep, how hard it works for you, and how many generations you keep it for. Robert Kiyosaki.
Yes, indeed.

• Money is gone, for most families, by the end of the third generation because the system for understanding its purpose wasn’t built, or communicated or sustained. -Bhaj Townsend
This is so sad because it is avoidable.

Holiday Family Giving Conversations Can Reap Great Benefits

At a recent University alumnae dinner, the host asked the attendees, to indicate, by a show of hands,
who engaged in family philanthropy. Nearly the entire room or about 150 guests raised their hands. But when the host followed up by asking who engaged the family in a conversation about the meaning of philanthropy and the impact they want their donations to have both for the organization (s) and the family, only 2 raised their hand.

With the holidays providing a favored setting for family conversations, perhaps this can be an appropriate setting to start a conversation about the impact of giving for the family.

Remember these 3 tips to make your conversation more engaging, should you choose to initiate a family conversation on charitable giving. Know and communicate the intention of the conversation and its intended outcome. Keep the conversation friendly and inviting rather than judgmental and limiting. Have an inclusive conversation by ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to say what is on their minds and in their hearts, without interruption.

When each member feels heard, understood and included, they feel connected. This connection can reap great benefits for families as they initiate or develop their family giving.

Holidays and giving, bring it home for deeper cheer.

2 Steps to Take Now to Reframe Unproductive Money Behaviors

According to a survey by Wells Fargo, nearly half (44%) of those surveyed said that money conversations were the toughest to have, more difficult even than religion, politics or death. If you find that you are one of those who find it difficult to initiate or be in important conversations, you will want to read further. Money holds a lot of judgmental emotions and tension as inappropriate behaviors can usurp the initial intention of the money topic.

Let’s examine the following situations: You are at a dinner with friends and the bill comes. What happens next? Do you grab the bill? Do you wait for someone else to make a move? Do you talk about splitting it in half or per everyone’s individual order?

And how about this situation: You are invited to join an “By Invitation Only” group on a long weekend retreat. The group really wants you to join them but you know you do not have the extra money put aside for this. What do you tell them? Do you make up another “reason” for not being able to join them? Do you tell them you will think about it as a way to avoid talking about it? Do you put it on a credit card knowing it will take you eighteen months to pay it off as well as the other items on your credit card accruing interest each month?

It is so easy in these situations, and many others, to keep your thoughts to yourself; those thoughts like: “Let’s split the bill per each individual’s order.” “I can’t come this year, but let me know the cost for next year, so I can save up for it.” You do not want to appear different, inadequate, or bothersome. You want to do what everyone else is so seemingly agreeable to doing.

Unresolved money conversations create tension because you add a perspective of shame, guilt or judgment about you and money. But when you start talking about money openly and without the shame, guilt, or judgment built into the conversation, you can develop respect and understand around money and your role with it. But how do you do this?

There are two steps you can take immediately to begin to reframe your behaviors with money. The first is to understand what money was like growing up for you. I call this understanding your money stories. Begin by asking yourself: “How was money talked about when I was little?” “What did I do with allowances or financial gifts that I received when I was growing up? How did I talk with my friends about money when I was a teenager?” These and many other questions will give you insight into your own early views on money. You will probably recognize patterns you use today due to your early associations with money.

The second step you can take is to determine how you are going to handle money situations when others are involved, before the event happens. If you are going out for dinner with others, you can send a quick text to share your idea of splitting the bill. Prepare a response when you are asked to join events you cannot afford. Letting people know you have not allocated an amount for a particular “retreat” or other event to your budget presents a sense of responsibility with your money.

I know this just scratches the surface of changing money behaviors and habits but I thought it was important to talk about this.

Let me know how you handle money so money is an ally to you and your goals in life. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Key Strategies to Keep Money Intact Across Generations

When the subject of passing money to the next generation is broached, a question that is often asked is: “What are you going to do with the money?” Although this is a great question, I think there is a farther-reaching question to ask as well: “How is the recipient being prepared to receive their inheritance?” What make this question so compelling? Because it redirects the subject from being about the money to being about preparing the inheritors. And this is so important yet often omitted.

There is a common phenomenon taking place around the world. This phenomenon even has a phrase associated with it. It has to do with the common consequence to inherited money: inherited wealth does not tend to survive beyond 3 or 4 generations. Independent studies have found that 70% of families lose their wealth by the end of the second generation while 90% of families lose their wealth by the end of the third generation. The common phrase that accompanies this horrible unintended consequence is: in the U.S., shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations; in China, rice paddies to rice paddies in 3 generations; in Italy, barn stall to stars to barn stalls in 3 generations. Although this may be a common consequence to wealth, thankfully, today, this common phenomenon is being addressed head on. Families are looking to change the statistical probability to their accumulated wealth.

Let’s look at two strategies families are using to keep their wealth intact as it moves across the generations.

The first strategy is the passing down of the story, the one that describes how challenges ere overcome, how successes were dealt with, and what it meant for the creators of the wealth to build that which they can pass on. This is important for a family to have because each generation is farther removed from the wealth and having the story reminds them of their roots and of the principles it took to accumulate the wealth future generations have become accustomed to having. When succeeding generations understand what it took to build the wealth in an experiential rather than in a didactic fashion, there is a much greater chance for financial stewardship across generations.

The second strategy is to pierce the veil of sheltered silence, that silence protecting the status quo and instead, talk about the purpose of the money and supporting money stewardship in the family. Teaching money skills, like the 5 S.I.D.E.S. (Save, Invest, Donate, Earn and Spend)© of Money, help family members feel more confident with money conversations. Developing family philanthropic initiatives give families a formal method to talk about how their money impacts their community. Holding Money Nights, where one topic about money is discussed without judgment or interruption, develops deeper trust and more engaging conversations around money.

Find tools to use with your family so that the money you accumulate can stay intact across generations.

How do you view money as a family? Let me know your thoughts.