The economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis had tested our financial strength.
More than 1.44 million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment since mid-March, and many are still waiting to receive unemployment benefits. As Congress debates the future of unemployment benefits and the expanded $600 benefit comes to an end, workers don’t know how they will afford the rent or buy food for their families.
Businesses are shutting down — some temporarily, some permanently — and the future of our local economy remains unknown.
But these aren’t just numbers.
In the best of times, conversations about money are tricky and sensitive. So how should you handle it now?
Here are four questions to consider before you talk about money with your loved ones.
1. Should I bring it up? Should I just mind my business?
You might think it’s your responsibility to be a support system for a friend or loved one facing challenging times.
Indeed, it may seem that these days, everyone can use a friendly shoulder to lean on, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.
Simply asking a friend or family member how they’re doing gives them the opportunity to lead the discussion, she said.
For some, the loss of a job can be an incredibly emotionally fraught and sensitive issue. For others, it may be a much less devastating event.
Marnie Hards, a certified financial planner with Aznar Financial Advisors in Morris Plains, said you should make a serious effort to gauge the impact of the job loss before you make a decision.
“If you bring it up gently, you should get a fairly good sense of how open she is to discuss the issue,” Hards said. “If she makes it clear it is not something she wants to discuss, let it go,” Hards said. “It may be the wrong time or simply not something she wants to discuss with you.”
2. Is listening enough? Should I give advice?
If you’ve gone through a job loss, it may be tempting to explain what you experienced and how you through it. But if you’re not careful, you could sound preachy.
Now is probably the wrong time, for example, to explain the benefits of an emergency fund.
Listening is an important part of being a supportive friend or family member, especially for those facing the challenges brought on by job loss, financial insecurity or the pandemic in general, Mott said.
Everyone needs an outlet to vent their emotions, she said, but when it comes to giving advice, you need to feel the person out.
“At the risk of meddling, it may be best to hold off offering an opinion, advice or guidance until it is asked for,” Mott said, noting that if you do give advice, make sure you know what you’re talking about. “Despite your desire to be helpful and provide suggestions that could be useful, this unprecedented time has many people on edge and you’ll need to tread lightly and feel out the individuals’ interest in receiving advice.”
Hards said it’s common for someone who is struggling to just want to be heard.
“Many of us have a tendency to want to fix problems, to suggest changes, make suggestions, but sometimes, all someone wants is open ears, an open heart and a shoulder to cry on,” she said.
She said you can probably gauge the needs of that individual based on the flow of the conversation. If they want advice, they will ask. If they don’t ask, it may be best to keep your mouth shut, she said.
3. My adult kids are having trouble. Should I stay out of it?
Family dynamics often make it hard to have difficult conversations about money, but life experiences can be incredibly useful to share with adult children.
But it’s all about choosing the right time and place, Mott said.
“Open-ended questions can help get the ball rolling and allow you to feel out the situation before determining what kind of assistance might be willingly accepted,” she said.
But don’t force it.
If your kids ask your opinion, offer ideas that are constructive and can help them get a better handle on their financial situation, she said.
“Understanding the family cash flow, the difference between income and expenses, is the first step that needs to be taken to assess the current picture,” she said, noting you could suggest an app to help them keep track of their budget.
This suggestion is not meant to be judgmental or critical, but rather, to provide them with data that they can use to make more informed financial decisions.
4. What if they ask to borrow money?
Lending money to friends and family is fraught with danger.
Hards said money issues can create serious rifts in a family, and it is simply not worth ruining a relationship with a family member or close friend.
But there’s another option.
“If a family member needs money and you can afford to help them — and want to — then by all means, give it to them, but I think the key is to go into it with zero expectations,” Hards said. “Do not expect to be repaid and then you will not be disappointed, and your relationship can remain intact.”
If the person decides to pay you back, then you will be pleasantly surprised, she said.
You might be comfortable lending a smaller amount that wouldn’t significantly impact your cash flow if it’s never repaid, Mott said.
But if you consider a larger sum, putting a formal loan agreement in place may increase the likelihood that you get repaid, she said.
“Under no circumstances should you put your own financial future in jeopardy to help out someone else and never take money from a retirement account to provide the loan,” she said. “You will be on the hook for income taxes and possibly penalties as a result of the withdrawal.”