It’s Time for Parents and Their Adult Children To Start Having Better Financial Discussions

TIAA survey reveals both parents and adult children feel discussing money is very important, but few are having the conversation

While emotional barriers exist, families who frequently talk about finances are happier and have better understanding of financial plans and goals

New resources are available to guide the conversation

NEW YORK--()--Many families find it tough to start conversations about money, but parents and adult children who talk about finances feel more positive about them than families who don’t, according to a new survey by TIAA. To help more families start talking, TIAA has developed a toolkit and other resources informed by the new findings.

Today, few families are talking about finances, even though most parents and adult children agree that having detailed financial conversations as a family is important. These conversations illuminate what’s most important to the family, financially and otherwise, and help establish a shared plan of success.

These insights and others were revealed in the TIAA Family Money Matters Survey, which gauges emotions and behaviors related to financial topics among American parents and their adult children.

To help families start the conversation, TIAA worked with people around the country to document their own financial discussions. The resulting video, “Family Money Matters,” depicting real families talking about their finances, shows that these conversations don’t have to be uncomfortable. Instead, they can be highly valuable when planning for future financial goals and obligations, and for managing the transfer of family wealth between generations – now and in the future.

“There's a huge benefit to parents and adult children who engage in conversations about finances,” said Kathie Andrade, chief executive officer of TIAA’s Retail Financial Services business. “In fact, talking openly about money is often easier than expected, and can even help bring families closer together. Ultimately, these discussions help everyone make more informed decisions and facilitate the support parents and children already provide for each other."

An Important Conversation That Isn’t Happening

While both parents and adult children consider financial conversations to be very important (74 percent and 87 percent, respectively), surprisingly few people surveyed in either generation are very likely to start a conversation about any financial topic (just 11 percent of parents and 37 percent of adult children).

But while neither party seems willing to initiate the conversation, both parents and their children are open to having them:

  • 81 percent of both parents and adult children surveyed perceive the other as at least somewhat open to having a conversation about parents’ personal finances.
  • When it came to adult children’s personal finances, 64 percent of parents perceive their children as at least somewhat open to the conversation. Similarly, 87 percent of children feel their parents would be at least somewhat open to a conversation about their children’s personal finances.

While the two generations agree they should be talking, they disagree about when to get started. For example, about one-fourth of parents surveyed say they are content to wait until their age or health becomes an issue before having financial conversations. One in five say they are content to not have the discussion at all. But one-fourth of children surveyed, however, think the conversation should happen well before their parents’ retirement. Only one in seven say they are content to have the conversation when their parents get closer to retirement.

When families do talk about money matters, the survey finds that only 9 percent of parents felt the conversation was very detailed. One possible reason: Nearly all of parents (89 percent) and most children (70 percent) say conversations about parents’ finances and future plans happened spontaneously.

These findings suggest that making a plan for a financial conversation in advance – choosing a specific time, date and place – might result in a more helpful, detailed discussion.

Without Family Financial Conversations, Significant Disconnects Exist

The survey finds that the lack of conversations between parents and their adult children lead to a number of misconceptions around the state of their families’ financial health.

Although many family members believe wealth is shared only as an inheritance, the survey shows that nearly all parents and children are already currently providing some form of material financial assistance to one another. Yet parents and adult children often don’t perceive themselves as receiving significant amounts of money from the other generation during their lifetime.

In fact, one-third of children say they have received money from their parents for things like childcare, student loans, rent/mortgages or cell phone bills.

Parents are benefitting, too: About 40 percent of adult children say they provide money to their parents for things like transportation, housing and other living expenses. But parents see things differently, with only 6 percent saying they get financial assistance from their children for general living expenses.

Another disconnect: Adult children say they are more willing to help out their parents than parents think. Only one in four parents believe that their children are obligated to help them financially, but about three in four children said they would feel obligated to help their parents.

Misconceptions were also found surrounding inheritance. Twenty percent of children don’t expect to inherit anything at all from their parents – however, just 7 percent of parents say they plan to leave no inheritance for their children.

Obstacles to Getting Started

One of the main reasons that families aren’t talking about finances is that both parents and adult children believe that these discussions would be awkward or that the topics discussed would bring up uncomfortable emotions.

Roughly one-third of parents and children alike (29 percent and 37 percent, respectively) say that considering having these conversations makes them feel uncomfortable. Parents and their children are less likely to say that financial conversations would bring up positive emotions like happiness or optimism. Just 16 percent of parents and 26 percent of children say the conversation brings to mind happy thoughts, with fewer – 11 percent for both parents and children – saying the conversation would be uplifting.

Have the Conversation with your Family Now

There are new ways to overcome these communication gaps. Being prepared with the right questions and tools can help families feel more positive about these discussions. For example, nearly half of parents (45 percent) who frequently talk to their children about their future financial plans feel proud about how those conversations went.

“We know our Gen Y customers trust financial advice from their families above all others,” said Andrade. “Open family dialogue can help our younger customers learn from their parents’ experiences, ask for support with first-home down payments or education expenses, and help them understand what’s most important to their parents as they grow older. Every family is different, but there are definite benefits to approaching financial goals together.”

In addition to the video featuring families talking about their own finances, TIAA created conversation starters that any family can use to jumpstart and guide these financial conversations. With questions designed for parents and children to ask one another, TIAA hopes families will engage in more planned, thoughtful conversations.

For additional information on the importance of family conversations, TIAA has resources at, and educational materials and articles, such as “Five Reasons To Hold A Family Meeting Now,” “Family Meetings: Start The Conversation” and Living In The Sandwich Generation.”

For more information on the Family Money Matters Survey, refer to TIAA’s executive summary and online experience.

The TIAA 2017 Family Money Matters Survey was conducted by KRC Research for the purpose of understanding thoughts, emotions and behaviors around the transfer of assets from parents to adult children. The online survey consisted of 1,000 Americans age 60 to 70 with adult children age 30 to 45 and 1,000 Americans age 30 to 45 with at least one living parent age 60 to 70.

Questions spanned a variety of topics from their approach to discussing future financial plans, emotions about these conversations, barriers that inhibit these conversations, and financial obligations and expectations.

About TIAA

TIAA ( is a unique financial partner. TIAA is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields. TIAA has $907 billion in assets under management (as of 12/31/2016) and offers a wide range of financial solutions, including investing, banking, advice and guidance, and retirement services.

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Elizabeth Anderson, 888-200-4062

Release Summary

A new TIAA survey shows that both parents and adult children feel discussing money is very important, but few are talking about it. TIAA has helpful resources available to guide the conversations.


Elizabeth Anderson, 888-200-4062