Money is complicated. It’s a trigger for emotions like fear and doubt. As wealth management advisors, it’s our job to help our clients develop and maintain a healthy view of their money. By doing so, we can transform their idea of what wealth is and allow them to focus on what really matters in their lives.
To do that, we need to get to the root of each client’s relationship with money. Opinions about finances are often passed down from generation to generation starting as early as childhood. Because money tends to be an emotional subject, these attitudes become deeply rooted in a client’s mind.
We refer to such attitudes as “money messages.” Money messages involve several elements of financial health, from income to debt to behavior and more. Money messages aren’t inherently good or bad; it depends on how clients use them to drive their behavior. And while most money messages have some truth to them, it’s important to evaluate them in adulthood to ensure they’re working in a client’s favor.
Getting the Conversation Started
Working through a discussion about money messages might seem daunting if it’s not something you do regularly. Consider the following road map as a starting point for adding these conversations to your repertoire:
Step 1: Identify existing money messages.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a stand-alone discussion. Money messages come through in most conversations that involve values, decisions or planning—you just need to watch for them. As you hear these money messages, ask clarifying questions to understand exactly where your clients’ fears are coming from. Your role as an outside third party is invaluable in this step. Money messages are so ingrained in your clients’ psyches that it’s often hard for them to recognize these beliefs on their own.
Step 2: Discuss whether the message is useful.
Next, ask clients to consider whether their messages have helped them in the past—and how the messages are affecting them now. If a message is no longer helping a client make smart, confident decisions, it’s important to guide the client toward understanding that. This process looks different for every client, but it typically includes highlighting ways in which the message is limiting them or nudging them toward unproductive decisions.
Step 3: Reframe the message.
The reframing process takes place in exploratory conversations with each client about his or her situation. For example, one client might be carrying the message that money needs to be saved, not spent. A simple reframing could be that it’s OK to spend money on things he and his family need. Another client might wish to change careers because she dislikes what she does every day—but she’s held back by the overarching message that she’s a fighter who knows how to live with the pain for the good of her family. Reframing that message could look something like, “I need to provide for my family emotionally as well as financially, and both responsibilities should drive my decisions.”
Once the message has been reframed, work with your clients to view their current financial dilemmas or decisions in that new light. Chances are good that they’ll feel better about the choices they make with knowledge of their updated messages.
The Process in Action
We recently had a couple come in for financial planning, already in disagreement about how much they should set aside for their grown children. As a result, we conducted an exercise to help each partner understand the messages they held regarding the issue.
It quickly became apparent that, as a child, the husband learned that life is uncertain, so parents should leave money for their children to ease the struggle. His wife, on the other hand, grew up with the belief that one should enjoy life to its fullest, and if the worst happens, children owe it to their parents to help out.
Next, we encouraged each person to share the ways their money messages had served them well and set them back over the years. With the truth on the table, the two were able to find a middle ground that included some part-time work, pared-down spending plans and a realistic legacy discussion with their children. Both walked away from the discussion feeling confident about their decisions.
At the end of the day, reframing the clients’ beliefs in this situation not only helped the couple, but it also helped them pass on healthier money messages to their children. Through discussions like these using the road map above, you can start to help your clients experience similar benefits. Encouraging clients to identify, understand and reframe their emotional relationships with money can be transformational, both for themselves and the next generation.