In the best of times, many American families have a hard time getting on the same page about money. A recent study found that only 28% of parents talk to their kids about money—and “money issues” are cited as the third most common reason for divorce. But the truth is, when every family member has a stronger understanding of shared finances, then we’re all empowered to succeed together, and great results become possible. When properly handled, money can be used for good: getting the things we need, gaining experiences, helping others and expressing our values.
As families now work to recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, working together and achieving a shared understanding of values is more important than ever. Families that work as teams to coordinate their spending and saving efforts can move more easily into a feeling of financial resilience, and a great step toward that goal is the monthly family finance meeting. With many families spending a lot more time at home, it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the moment to talk openly about family finances and build a plan for a successful future.
How to Plan a Successful Family Budget Meeting
It can be tempting for one family member to take on the task of money management, and to simply issue orders for others to follow. But money management is a learned skill. Involving everyone helps members of all ages understand the family’s shared financial picture—and help achieve shared goals. This checklist can help you organize and conduct your monthly family finance meeting and reach your shared money goals together.
- Yes, really—the whole family.
Who attends is up to you, but the earlier you bring kids into the conversation, the greater chance you have to instill good habits—and an empowered outlook on family finances. Even younger children can help brainstorm ways to save—including fun things to do for free. A family budget meeting is a great way to start teaching kids financial literacy from a young age. If you don’t feel prepared to teach them, that’s a good indication you can do more to understand your own finances. Dig in now, and you and your kids can reap the rewards.
- Don’t get lost in the weeds.
Start with basics. You’ll want to be pretty straightforward about income and expenses. No, you don’t need to get into deep detail about 401(k) contributions, taxes, stock purchases or investments, but at least take a family look at monthly take-home pay versus expenses. Everyone should get a clear picture of the costs of housing, food, transportation, medical needs and other necessities. That helps put all the rest—charitable giving, extracurriculars, health club memberships, TV, cell phone plans, streaming services, subscriptions, vacations, dining out and entertainment—into context.
- Commit to a schedule.
Your first few family budget meetings may need to be weekly if times are especially tight and you’re just beginning to track expenses. This can help keep the columns shorter, your meetings briefer, and everyone feeling empowered to solve problems more often. Once your family budget starts taking shape—and you see members on the same page—it might be plenty to meet monthly. But monthly meetings are a minimum, as each month brings its own budget items. In February, you may have high utility bills. In August, you’re school shopping. In November, perhaps holiday spending kicks in. And in between, there are birthdays, vacations, athletic seasons and more. Monthly family budget meetings offer an opportunity for all family members to get an insider view of the fiscal ebbs and flows of your life.
- Next, commit to an agenda.
Try to keep it to 20 to 30 minutes with limited meetings that run up to an hour long. Really, it depends on how deep your family likes to take the subject and what matters you need to discuss that month. Families with younger children might keep things short for the full meeting, with updates on savings goals and progress, what’s working, expectations for next month, and opportunities for kids to contribute their ideas. Parents can meet separately to review details and make tweaks to incrementally increase savings and shave expenses.
- Prepare in advance and use concrete numbers.
A pen-and-paper list that tracks income and expenses is a fine place to start. Present an overview of the month’s income and expenses, helping all family members understand the details of the household budget. From there, make room for everyone to talk about expectations and cost-cutting strategies for the coming month.
- Speak in terms of solutions.
It’s crucial to choose your words wisely and frame the conversation in a way that’s empowering. Instead of, “That’s too expensive,” consider “That’s not the best use of our money.” When times are tight, come to the meeting ready to present a few solutions to help solve shortfalls. It’s a great opportunity to set a positive example, and you can make a game of lowering monthly expenses. Be sure to set expectations on who is responsible for contributing financially—big expenses may seem overwhelming and younger kids may feel obligated to help out (though pitching in for cell phone bills is a great way for teens to learn financial responsibility).
- Seek agreement on big stuff.
A budget is built on values and priorities—the very concepts that make families tick. Talking about which priorities make the cut helps family members see and understand what you stand for, together. Your charitable giving choices, for example, are an expression of your family’s values and your hopes for society at large. The family budget meeting offers a structured space for meaningful conversations that can have impact inside and outside your own home.
- Empower everyone.
It’s up to parents to decide whether and how kids receive allowances or are paid for chores or other work. But it’s a great idea to encourage kids to do the same budgeting exercise with their own income and expenses. Working with a budget not only helps make money a more concrete concept—it also helps each family member articulate the personal values that drive saving and spending choices, to better understand and exercise their own priorities.
- Sweeten the deal with an added payoff.
Schedule a snack and a game or other family-fun activity immediately following the family finance meeting. Welcome the opportunity to set aside the subject once you’ve moved through the agenda, and simply enjoy some time together, focused on the people who make all the planning and effort worthwhile.
It’s Verve’s goal—in line with our guiding seven Cooperative Principles—to help our community stay financially fit. By providing ideas for hosting a family budget meeting, we hope to set families up for financial success now and long into the future. Help your friends and family learn about family budget meetings by sharing this blog post with them.