When I was a kid, my parents had a very fair way of doling out gifts to me and my brother. If he, the older sibling, got a bike — then so did I. If it was my birthday, I'd get two gifts from Toys "R" Us, and he'd get one, and vice versa.
But by the time our much-younger sister came around, and the two of us were more financially independent, I became a little suspicious about how equitable things were among the three of us. Her allowance seemed bigger (and, well, extant). And all those tech gadgets she accumulated? I developed amnesia about similar ones my parents had gotten for me years before and eyed hers warily.
As part of its Family Wealth Checkup, Ameriprise surveyed 2,700 U.S. adults between ages 25 and 70 with at least $25,000 in assets. They found that nearly two-thirds of people did talk to their siblings about money, with the most common topics being short-and-long term financial goals, day-to-day spending, health-related spending, and the financial situation of someone else in the family. (Sibs gonna gossip.)
Of the siblings who talked about money, only 15% of siblings reported having financial conflicts with each other. However, most of those who did have issues — 68% — said that parents were at the heart of those disagreements. Their main areas of contention were how an inheritance is divided, who provides the most support to parents, and unfair financial support from mom and dad. And things only get more stressful when siblings don't talk about money.
"One of the key lessons from this study is that it is good for families to have conversations about money," says Marcy Keckler, the vice president of Financial Advice Strategy at AmeripriseFinancial." And it’s good for them to start early (perhaps with parents walking through the family's income and expenses when teens start requesting cash), and for siblings to make time to connect.
Starting those conversations before the onset of a life-changing event means that there will already be some foundation for talking about money, roles, and responsibilities among family members. Keckler says sometimes a third party can help: "A financial advisor can get people together to talk about those things. Or, siblings can use their relationship with a financial advisor as a catalyst to start a conversation."
Keckler says that when talking through these topics, it's important to do your best to avoid getting hung up on past conflicts — whether or not they're related to money — and make sure that everyone's voice is heard, all the way from the sibling who tends to talk the most, to the one who shrugs but has something to say once they get warmed up.
As kids, you might have fought about who got a new laptop or a bigger allowance. The stakes are higher as you get older, and equal is not always fair. But communication, even if it's awkward, is often the best solution.