Money wisdom: How to pass it on

Key Points

  • Communication across generations can help build financial confidence among family members
  • Estate planning conversations may be particularly difficult to initiate, but the effort pays off
  • A financial advisor can help facilitate family financial conversations and establish common goals

Have you ever felt uncomfortable discussing money with your children? If so, you’re not alone. According to an Ameriprise Financial study, the majority of Americans approach family financial talks with a similar sense of apprehension.1 Yet many of them forge ahead and talk things out anyway.

The result? Increased financial confidence and improved family relationships. 


Respondents reported high confidence when it came to their own finances, but the confidence level was lower when it came to their children. This isn’t surprising, given some of the well-known struggles millennials have faced: a tough job market after leaving college and record-high levels of debt.

How do you talk to your family about finances?

Balancing spending and saving

According to our survey, managing or controlling debt is among the top three topics parents have discussed with adult children. Talking to your children about long-term financial goals can help them see the repercussions of taking on debt and the advantages of living within their means.

Rather than giving them direct advice or unlimited financial support, consider sharing some of the financial struggles you encountered at their age, how you saved for the future and actions you took to create financial stability. Since no one wants a lecture, it can be more effective to discuss aspects of your own financial journey with adult children instead of focusing on their specific situations.

Investing and retirement planning

It’s never too early to talk to your children about retirement savings, even if it seems a long way off for someone in their 20s. Though they may not feel like they can set aside much in their early earning years, smaller amounts saved in an employer retirement plan over decades can help them achieve a comfortable retirement. Visualizing the power of compound interest and the benefit of increasing 401(k) contributions as their income grows over time may be an impactful way to start a discussion.

A total of 1 in 5 of parents with adult children who participated in our survey said their child works with an advisor and half of those use the same advisor as their parent(s). Bringing an adult child along to a meeting with your advisor could be a helpful and positive learning experience for them. It could be inspiring for them to gain insight into various aspects of your financial journey, from how you began saving at their age to how you are planning for retirement — as well as tradeoffs you made along the way.

Giving back to the next generation

Having an estate plan in place can alleviate worry — for parents and children alike. It can be an awkward or uncomfortable topic to bring up, which explains why 33% of adult children haven’t discussed inheritance or estate issues with their parents.

However, respondents who have discussed estate planning overwhelmingly report the experience was a positive one. Here’s how parents and their adult children described the conversation:

  • Straightforward (adult children 71%, parents 87%)
  • Comfortable (adult children 69%, parents 86%)
  • Easy (adult children 69%, parents 84%)

We can help

Wondering how to talk about money with your adult children? Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to share the value of your accounts to show how you’ve invested assets and saved for retirement. To get the conversation started, consider bringing them along to your next meeting with your financial advisor.