Forget politics and sports, talk about this on Thanksgiving

This year, try talking about money around the Thanksgiving table.

Discussing finances with family and friends is rarely easy, but it can be refreshing to set expectations, understand each others’ perspectives and find middle ground when there are so many financial goals and obligations in mind.

Americans are hoping to steer clear of political conversations this Thanksgiving, a CBS poll of more than 1,100 adults found. About 40% of people said they are hoping to avoid the topic altogether, compared with 15% who said they look forward to it (and 45% who said they don’t care either way).

But parents don’t usually want to have conversations with their children about their assets (or debts) either. More than a third of parents haven’t had a detailed discussion about their living expenses in retirement and another 43% said they haven’t talked about their long-term care plans, according to a Fidelity Investments survey of more than 200 parents 55 years and older.

See: For richer or poorer — how ‘the money talk’ really means ‘I love you’

In fact, talking about retirement, or any money matters really, could set up parents and their children for success. And opening up lines of communication could really help: Americans are underprepared for retirement, and many don’t think they’ll be comfortable in their older years. About 60% of people feel less confident about their retirement prospects than they did five years ago, and two-thirds of households have less than $100,000 saved for retirement, according to a CFP Board survey of 1,000 American voters.

“People clearly find saving for retirement to be a difficult issue for them to navigate,” said Maureen Thompson, vice president of public policy at the CFP Board.

Want to fix that? Talk about it.

And if some of these topics feel too heavy for a holiday dinner, you can remove some of the taboo of talking about money by getting the conversation started in a comfortable way. Here are a few ways to discuss money this Thanksgiving:

Should you cut off adult kids?

Parents spend $500 billion on adult children every year, which is twice as much as they contribute to retirement accounts, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave survey. They pay for living expenses, as well as weddings and phone bills, the survey found, and parents said they felt they made trade-offs between their own financial security and their child. Almost three out of four parents put their child’s interests ahead of their own retirement needs.

Choosing between your child’s education or well-being and your own retirement is never easy, but it doesn’t mean parents should pick up the tab for everything. In fact, doing so can put parents and the family’s financial security at risk. Parents’ remaining earnings timeline is shorter than their children’s, and their peak earning years are ending while their children’s haven’t yet begun.

If your kids really need help though, and they may, talk about realistic ways you can help them, such as paying for the “extras,” not the basics, (such as footing the grocery bill once in a while instead of paying rent) or taking care of car or health insurance premiums.

Also see: 10 inspiring TED talks to boost your money goals

What happens in case of illness or death?

Discussing eventualities, such as sickness or death, is hardly a heartwarming conversation to have during the holidays. Still, families should make plans for what to do in the event of an emergency.

While family members are gathered together, try talking about expectations — how do parents plan to fund their retirement, and who will take care of them when they’re old? How will siblings split up the responsibilities of caring for a parent when the time comes? Will anybody be expected to pay for medications or services if parents don’t have the means to do so? More than 55% of parents expect their children will care for them, physically or financially, in their old age, according to a Bay Alarm Medical survey, but not all children agreed or even knew that’s what they had in mind.

What kind of retirement do you envision — and what’s possible?

Talk openly about your plans for retirement and include your children in those plans. Adult children can help put plans in place, such as researching places to live in retirement and helping with the decluttering and move thereafter. They can also assist with networking if parents decide to transition to another job or take up a hobby as a “side hustle.”

The families who were most confident about their finances were the ones who talked about estate plans, as well as retirement and long-term financial goals, an Ameriprise Financial survey found. Just starting the conversation will help, though parents and children may want to plan a meeting with loved ones to communicate their concerns or desires.

What are you grateful for?

Some clients share memories about their first big purchase, or their first earnings, said Danielle Howard, a financial adviser and founder of financial advisory firm Wealth by Design in Basalt, Colo. “Sharing money histories, memories and the mind-sets that come out of those conversations open us up for building on wins and growing both our character and financial assets,” she said.

Also share how other family members and friends have helped you or loved ones accomplish goals. “Families often make many sacrifices in order to reach what they have achieved financially,” said Sean Williams, a financial adviser at Sojourn Wealth in Timonium, Md. “Spending time focusing on what we are grateful for can often easily lead into conversations about family values and legacy wishes or time with family and living situations.”

Alessandra Malito is a personal finance reporter based in New York. You can follow her on Twitter @malito_ali.

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