Thanksgiving is a time when families get together for a special meal. Often, several generations eat together. The meal is delicious, and we tend to overeat.
I encourage you to focus on starting an important conversation this Thanksgiving with your kids or grandkids. The objective is to pass down family stories from past generations, discuss financial topics and relay your values to the younger generation. If you do not have kids or grandkids, have the discussion with any family members or friends.
Family stories are rarely discussed, and our kids and grandkids need to hear them. For example, are there stories about your relatives who lived through the Great Depression? Can you share stories about smart money decisions and bad money decisions? (We all make financial mistakes, and it is fine to admit it.) Are there stories about relatives who went to college or others who could not afford it?
Can you share some of the funny sayings your parents used to say, such as “save for a rainy day” or “money doesn’t grow on trees”? You could talk about how hard it is to save, but also how important it is. Or how many people live in debt due to trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”
These stories also convey your values, and it is important to discuss these with your kids or grandkids. For example, do you value education, hard work and teaching your kids and grandkids by example? Do you value honesty and integrity?
I recently decided to start a conversation with my two adult daughters and several of their friends. (I felt that if I am going to recommend you do this with your family, I should try it first with mine.) They were in town in October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. They are in their mid-20s, and they live in different cities, so we are rarely all together. It felt like a Thanksgiving dinner.
I decided to tell them how my grandmother had saved money so my sister and I could attend college. She and my grandfather started saving when we were very young. He died at the age of 62, and my grandmother kept saving. She was not wealthy, and I realize now that she lived a frugal lifestyle so we could be the first in our family to attend college.
About a week before I left for Indiana University (I was born and raised in southern Indiana), she put $20,000 in a checking account in my name, and I was told to “stretch it” through four years of college and hopefully longer. The $20,000 was to pay tuition and room and board.
One of my daughter’s friends asked if I was successful at stretching $20,000 through four years of college. I said I was, and I even had some left over that allowed me to move to Albuquerque as soon as I finished my undergraduate degree. I explained that in the late ’70s state colleges and universities were very affordable.
She then asked if having to stick to a strict budget during my college years taught me to be financially responsible. I said “yes,” I’m certain it did.
I now realize that my grandmother was my inspiration (for many reasons), and I wish I had realized this while she was living. I would have loved to emphatically thank her for her kindness and generosity. Perhaps I am honoring her by sharing my story with you.
Several of the people around our table then volunteered to tell a story about their families. Stories included how family members had handled money (wisely or poorly) and the values their parents had instilled in them. I was impressed that this group of young adults was very responsive to this conversation. They were eager to talk, and it was a healthy conversation.
Before Thanksgiving dinner, I encourage you to think of a story you would like to tell your kids or grandkids. I suggest you just dive into your story, even though it may feel uncomfortable.
Another approach is to say, “In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s go around the table and say something for which we are thankful.” After all, Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and showing gratitude. Consider making this exercise a ritual for Thanksgiving as well as other holidays.
Using humor always works well, so having parents or grandparents laugh about family stories in front of the kids and grandkids is very healthy. These discussions open up the communication between the generations, so the next time you think of a family story, it will be easier to share.
I truly believe that parents and grandparents can have a positive impact on our kids and grandkids, even though it may not be apparent for many years. Family stories need to be passed down to the younger generations. We can also become financial role models for our kids and grandkids, and that is a situation where everyone wins! Happy Thanksgiving!