Planning a Family Financial Retreat

Chances are you're long overdue for a money meeting—so make it a vacation with a mission

In our "Cash Conversation of the Month" series, we're highlighting big-picture discussions you should consider having with the key people in your life to help keep your money goals on track.

This week we're looking ahead to summer travel season and offering up a novel getaway idea: a family financial retreat.

You probably attended your fair share of family meetings growing up, where matters like report cards, negligent chores and maybe even a new addition to the household were on the docket.

But what about a money meeting to hash out topics integral to maintaining a high level of family financial literacy?

Given that just 37% of adults say they talk openly with loved ones about money, chances are you're long overdue for a financial pow-wow of your own.

Introducing the family financial retreat—a vacation with a mission.

Why This Convo Is So Important Being on the same financial page as a family is key if you want to achieve such goals as saving for college or fairly distributing an inheritance—yet money check-ins often land on the back burner.

"Most families live such harried lives that they don't take time to work on themselves as a family," says Courtney Pullen, a counselor who's facilitated hundreds of family financial gatherings and trains advisers to do the same. "The advantage of a retreat is that a family can step back—invest in themselves."

Whether you're aiming to plot out an estate plan or discuss your dream home wish list and budget, a family financial retreat is your golden opportunity to create a money game plan for the upcoming year.

How to Jump-start It The first step is to pick a locale. It can be anywhere—a cabin in the mountains, lake house or beach condo—as long as it's not your own couch.

"Choosing a neutral place can reduce the emotional charge that can exist in a home," says Pullen, author of "Intentional Wealth: How Families Build Legacies of Stewardship and Financial Health." "Plus, you want it to be something family members will look forward to."

Next, decide if you'll run the retreat or hire a professional. While facilitating the meeting yourself is clearly more economical, a third party—like a Certified Financial Planner™, financial therapist or estate planner—can lead with more authority, especially if children are involved. (Depending on the financial professional you choose, the per-day rate can start at a few hundred dollars and go higher.)

"Most kids hear something from a financial adviser and think it sounds credible," he says. "But if their mom says the same thing, they're like, 'Oh, it's just Mom,' and may not take it as seriously."

Speaking of kids, it's O.K. to include children of all ages, but be mindful about talking points. While plenty of topics—like budgeting and allowance—are universally appropriate, discussions about drawing up your will may scare younger kids.

As for how to structure your retreat time, Pullen says there's no one-size-fits-all approach. While some people prefer to get tough talks—like how to eliminate a mound of debt—out of the way, others may want to ease into it by tackling lighter topics first, such as the family's budget for after-school activities.

Regardless of how you choose to plan your time, there are two topics that should top every family's agenda: communication and values. According to Pullen, they're not only great icebreakers, but they naturally lead to other eye-opening conversations.

For instance, when it comes to combating communication issues, ask everyone to evaluate how effectively the family discusses money matters—such as why you're sacrificing certain non-necessities in order to one day be debt-free—on a scale of 1 to 7.

"If the average score is 4.5, then ask, 'What are the things we don't do well? What would elevate that number to a 6?' " Pullen says.

To kick-start the values chat, Pullen suggests researching and printing a list of common values. Then ask each family member to read aloud their top five—and make it a point to further discuss the ones mentioned most.

A common value of "sharing," for example, can segue into a conversation about charitable donations, while a value related to "new experiences" could spark a conversation about travel planning and budgeting for it as a family.

Your last assignment? Goof off a little!

"Spend half of each day having a meeting, and the other half having fun," Pullen says.

Whether it's bike riding or river rafting, happy family bonding will bring you closer together—and make the retreat more memorable.


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Tags: investing