New York Times: 7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation

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Jonathan, the blogger from My Money Blog posted an article from the New York Times entitled 7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation and answered the questions on his blog. Ron Lieber, who wrote that New York Times article said that he found these seven queries tended “to stop people cold and get them to open up about whatever money they have and the emotions that wrap themselves around their personal finances.” I found the questions intriguing and wanted to answer them myself.

What lessons about money did you learn from your parents?

Lieber uses this question to determine if there is self-imposed guilt and whether your parents were role models. Some of the questions within that question he asks are:

Are you determined to maintain a certain social class or climb a rung up the ladder because you’ll feel less successful in your parents’ eyes if you don’t?

Are you unhappy in a white-collar career because your parents worked so hard to send you to college and you can’t bring yourself to quit?

If your children don’t go to a school as good as yours was, do you worry that you’re failing them somehow?

What specifically did your parents teach you that has helped? And how, in their silence about some aspects of money, could they have failed you?

As a child of immigrant parents, I do feel like I need to climb a rung up the ladder because I had so many more advantages. Like many immigrant parents, they sacrifice so that their children could have a better life. So, yes, there is pressure to advance to a higher social class. I went to a state university so I wouldn’t feel that I’m failing my child if they went to a school which wasn’t as “good as” mine, whatever that means. I don’t think the prestige of the school necessarily matters. As for what my parents taught me about money: frugality, saving, and investing. Growing up, my parents were always frugal with their money and those values were ingrained in my head. My parents opened up a savings account for me and encouraged me to put some of my birthday and Christmas money into it. Luckily, I was a good little saver even as a youngster. I would look at the passbook, see the balance increase and the interest accumulate (back in the day when interest rates were much higher) and get excited about saving. My father also opened a mutual fund for me and that’s how I got interested in investing in the stock market. It didn’t hurt that this was in the 90’s and the stock market returns were excellent. I would learn some tough lessons when the tech bubble burst.

What does the word “money” conjure up for you?

Lieber said that one financial planner told him a client answered, “food.” The client’s mother was an alcoholic and their food stamps would run out before the month was over. This client did not spend money even though she could afford it.

Growing up, my parents were always frugal. I thought I was deprived because we didn’t have cable television or cool sneakers like the other kids. So when I was younger, the word “money” meant the ability to buy things. Fortunately, I was still frugal, but I always thought that once I have saved enough money or made a certain income, I could splurge. I would have a luxury vehicle, nice house, and take exotic vacations. Nowadays, money to me means freedom. I want to buy Time with my money I want to buy my freedom from having to work for money. That is much more important to me.

How many children would you like to have when you retire?

The article says that one financial planner encouraged parents “to more carefully consider their future selves, the ones who will want to improve the odds of being surrounded by grandchildren — and having adult children who may be able to help in their old age.”

This is a bit of an odd question compared to the others. I wouldn’t expect my adult children to help me out financially in my old age, but yes, it would be nice to have them around. I’d also love to be surrounded by grandchildren. Currently, we have a 3 year old and a newborn, so that’s two. Will we go for number three?? I don’t know. We’ll have to think about that in the future. It’s a little hard to make a rational life-changing decision when you’re still sleep deprived!

How do you think your children feel about that?

Lieber says that a financial planner told him that she asks her clients this question, “knowing full well that parental anxiety has almost certainly rubbed off on the children as well,” and that by invoking “the little people, she finds, often gets adults to be more honest and vulnerable.”

I will take the question to mean, how will my children feel about our spending habits. My kids are still young but I think this will be a tough struggle. It is tough when you live in such a materialistic world where everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses. How do I explain to my kids why they don’t have the latest video games and the flashiest clothes? How do I teach them to value money and to not be materialistic?

Tell me about your financial situation when you first met.

Lieber says that this question is used by a financial planner when he senses tension between a couple relating to financial issues.

When I first met my wife, I was going to law school part-time in the evenings and working full-time during the day at a government job. I was already contributing to my retirement accounts, though I wish I had contributed more. I lived below my means and had some savings, but was in the midst of accumulating a lot of student loan debt. My wife had graduated college and started working for about a year. Neither of us made a lot of money and were both relatively frugal. I guess that’s one reason we hit it off. Just like we do now, we lived below our means.

What are the most important things in your life?

How would you live your life differently if you were completely secure financially? What would you change if you knew you only had five to 10 years left to live? And what would you regret if you knew you would die tomorrow?

“[I]f you get to the why and what motivates someone, everything else just fills in from there,” says Kevin Reardon, a financial planner. That means using the answer and working backward to set financial goals around these matters of great importance.

Family and friends are most important to me. I’m not sure how the writer defines “completely secure financially.” If he means financially independent, then I’d probably stop working, spend more time with family and friends, travel, volunteer, and hopefully find my passion! I would regret the time I didn’t spend with my close ones and the time I didn’t spend pursuing my interests. I would regret being too fearful to take the leap and do things outside of my comfort zone.

What does the prospect of retirement look like to you?

Rick Kahler, another financial planner said, “Retirement means doing what I want, when I want, with whom I want. Once we figure that out, a successful retirement is just a matter of filling in the activity calendar and inviting others along.”

I’m with Rick! I would love the freedom to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want!

What are your answers to some of these questions? Any questions in particular that you found intriguing?

26 thoughts on “New York Times: 7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation

  1. Brian @ Debt Discipline

    Some thought provoking questions. When my wife and I first met we didn’t have a plan for our money and didn’t communicate often about it. I with you on those important things family, friends, travel, and volunteering. With a better financial plan you can spend less time working and more time doing those things your enjoy.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Interview Series: Free to PursueMy Profile

    1. Post author

      Yea my wife I had a brief conversation about money…I think there was a list of questions that we had to go through during pre-marital counseling. It was good that we had that conversation. However, we probably could have done a better job to continue having those discussions.

  2. Mrs Groovy

    I’m thinking back to my own childhood. My mom used the envelope system long before Dave Ramsey. And she hid them in between her baking pans in the cupboard. There was one marked “extra” and my brother and I always knew there was a five or ten dollar bill there if we needed it. Most often, we didn’t. We didn’t have much money but my parents were smart to treat us as trustworthy because we lived up to their expectations.

  3. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Interestingly, the thing that stuck out to me the most about this post was when you wondered how would you explain to your kids why they didn’t have the latest fashions or tech gadgets. We talk about this a fair amount in our house, especially with two of our kids being teenagers. We’ve talked a lot to them about valuing freedom over stuff, and about not idolizing stuff because it won’t ever bring true happiness. I think all four of our kids have a pretty good handle in this area because we’ve kept the conversation open about it. They’re free to talk about how they’re jealous of friends at times because their friends have all the latest/greatest. We then remind them that those friends are deeply in debt or that they make much more money than us or that they avoided debt or whatever. We encourage them to envision not having to support us in old age because we are focusing on financial freedom now. We talk about benefits that are far above the short term happiness of gadgets/clothes, and I think (and hope and pray :-) ) that it’s working.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…What You Should Consider Before You Buy a FarmMy Profile

  4. Apathy Ends

    Interesting string of questions, the “what do your children think” throws me a bit as well.

    The prospect of Retirement or FI is a great question – my usual answer is “My decisions will not be dictated by work or money” which aligns with the answer from the post “Retirement means doing what I want, when I want, with whom I want.”
    Apathy Ends recently posted…Dealing With Spending Outside Your ControlMy Profile

    1. Post author

      I guess that question is used to disarm parents about a certain financial situation. I guess if there is a lot of tension over debt and the family is cutting back, you can ask what the children think? Maybe for the early retirement folks, you can ask what the children think about their parents not working?

  5. Finance Solver

    Great questions to consider. My first idea of frugality stemmed from my parents but what put the nail in the coffin and where I was really convinced was when I read a Business Insider’s article on Warren Buffett’s guide to being rich. Being a billionaire, I expected him to advocate making a lot of money to support a spendy lifestyle. However, he stressed the importance of frugality and living below your means. That cemented the lesson that my parents taught me and I always looked for ways to save.

    1. Post author

      Yea, Buffet is awesome. Love that he still lives in a modest house and drives his old car. He is the millionaire..I mean Billionaire next door. Too many people watch reality tv and think rich people have flashy cars, big mansions and travel to exotic tropical islands on the weekends.

  6. Lila

    I am also a child of immigrants. My parents also sacrificed a lot so there are a lot of expectations not only from myself but from their end. I also plan on pursuing my own version of a debt-free American Dream, but I’m following the advice “follow your heart but don’t leave your brain behind. ” 😀
    Lila recently posted…Frugal Meals to Make When You’re BrokeMy Profile

    1. Post author

      Love that advice Lila! And also love that you’re pursuing YOUR version of the American Dream.

    1. Post author

      Great lesson from your parents. It’s a lot easier when you can start saving and investing at a young age because compounding really works its magic.

  7. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Oh the “financial situation when you met” is a good one! It definitely will have an impact on your relationship long-term. I met my wife early in college so any debt we built up through student loans was while we were dating, but I think if you meet after college student loans – or other debt – may have a big impact on your relationship (for better or worse).
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…5 Specific Situations Where Planning Ahead Saves You MoneyMy Profile

  8. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    The question that really got me is to think about how many children you want to have when you retire. This never would have occurred to me. Like you, I don’t really expect my children to care for me when I’m older. But I do plan to have enough money for them to arrange care, if needed.

    My son recently pointed out that he has the worst car (oldest and least fancy) car among his group of friends. And, when questioned, it came out that his friends’ parents largely financed the cars. We then proceeded to have a conversation about what we are able to do since we don’t have consumer debt – we travel and have great experiences that many of his friends have never had. Hopefully he sees the difference.

    1. Post author

      That’s great that you had a conversation with your son about consumer debt and explained to him why you guys do what you do. I think he sees the difference. Kids are smarter than we think and it also helps when they have good role models.

    1. Post author

      Haha, yea I know right! I guess talking about finances can be pretty personal for some people and emotions also come into play when you talk about money.

  9. Derek @ MoneyAhoy

    I guess my wife and I are lucky in that we are both naturally frugal and savers. We didn’t really discuss that much before getting married, so it kinda just worked out. We both came from families with very frugal parents as well, so that helped quite a bit! Very interesting questions – it really makes you stop and think. As one commentor mentioned above, we can learn so much from Warren Buffet :-)
    Derek @ MoneyAhoy recently posted…How to Start a Website on BluehostMy Profile

  10. Erin @ Journey to Saving

    Interesting article, I love these types of questions! I completely agree with your answer to the last question. Family, friends, volunteering, traveling, and continuing to learn new skills and knowledge are at the top of my list for retirement/financial freedom.

    I like the couple one, too. My boyfriend already knew I was a personal finance blogger so he kind of knew what he was getting into, haha. We earn about the same, and although I have more saved, he paid off his student loans and car loan while I still have student loans, and he owns a house (while I have no mortgage). So overall, we’re on fairly equal footing, but what’s most important to me is that we share the exact same values (as referenced above). He’s not a frivolous spender and he’s clear on what matters, which is great.
    Erin @ Journey to Saving recently posted…Don’t Make the Same Networking Mistake I DidMy Profile

    1. Post author

      Yep, continuing to learn new skills and to increase my knowledge are also on my list. And you’re right that sharing the same values is very important since finances are often the biggest conflict between couples.


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