BLENDING DEBT: How to Communicate Better About Money

Yours, mine and ours – kids, debt and money, that is. Blended families account for almost 13 per cent of Canadian households, and 2.2 million Canadians live in a multigenerational household.  In fact, multigenerational families are the fastest growing family type in Canada. Often overlooked are the financial challenges these families go through to make it work. Combining two households with kids, debt and belongings can be a messy process. The good news is that it can go smoothly. Communication is key!

When worlds collide

Expanding your family typically happens in stages, giving you time to adjust financially. However, combining two households into one can double your financial responsibilities overnight.

A TD Bank survey found that prior to moving in together, 40 per cent of blended families didn’t discuss finances, although most wished they had. If you each come from different backgrounds, parenting styles or money habits, there’s bound to be some conflict.

The same can be said for multigenerational families who may be unprepared to take in adult children or elderly parents. CIBC found that 65 per cent of Canadian parents would rather give their adult kids money to help them move out or prevent them from moving back home. For those who aren’t in a position to give money, living together may be inevitable. In that scenario, divvying up financial responsibilities among your family members is crucial.

How to strike a financial balance in your home

 Whether you’re getting re-married, moving in with parents or bringing your parents to live with you, it’s essential to get all household members on the same page, at least financially. Instead of butting heads, take some time to improve your family’s financial health by using some of these strategies:

  •  Talk about finances early and often. TD Bank found that 66 per cent of blended families face financial challenges. Being on the same page as your partner or other family members can help avoid conflict. Set a time each month to check in with each other and hold one another accountable. Track your progress to stay motivated.
  • Set a budget. If there are kids involved, you may need to work out child care expenses or child support payments, along with all the other financial needs for your new family. If you’re accommodating adult children or parents, lay all cards on the table and discuss combined incomes. Decide which family member will pay for what.

 

Use a budget worksheet like this one from Squawkfox to predict your family’s monthly expenses, and keep it visible for everyone to see.

  • Reduce debt. If you’re re-married, chances are you’re both carrying debt from your previous lives. You may also already have joint debt. Now is the time to figure out whether you’ll combine debts or keep them separate. Take time to go over all your consumer debt numbers and make a plan to pay it off. Debt can seriously hinder your savings efforts and derail your financial goals. If you’re paying down debt and making little progress, compare your options or speak to a professional for advice.
  • Save more, spend less. More people in the house means more groceries, electricity, hydro and transportation costs. Speak together about strategies that will help cut costs such as shorter showers, shopping smarter, carpooling, etc. This is also a good time for spouses to talk about long, medium and short-term savings goals as well as setting up an emergency fund.
  • Balance wants and needs. A change in family situation is a good opportunity to go over some financial basics with the kids. And, sometimes it’s a good refresher for parents too. Before making mindless purchases, ask kids to think about whether it’s a necessary expense or a want. Teach them the importance of saving up for wants with allowance and birthday money and finding the best value for things they need.

 
How does your family handle money and debt conflicts? Share your thoughts with us or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #DebtSolutions, #PersonalFinance, #BlendedFamily, #CoParenting