Culture clash: Reconciling your family's different attitudes about money

Mixed cultural backgrounds can lead to some challenging family finance discussions

It's easier to bring up difficult topics in conversation if the person you're talking to shares your same views. But we wondered how conversations about money play out in multicultural families. Can varied cultural upbringings cause financial conflict? Or is it possible to adopt better attitudes about money by learning from loved ones with different perspectives?

We asked our Facebook friends to tell us about their experiences making financial decisions with people of a different ethnic or religious background. Elizabeth in Philadelphia responded: Thirteen years ago, she married her husband, Misha, who grew up in Soviet Russia. Their views on money have led to more than a few difficult conversations in their home.

"He doesn't seem to want to sit down with me and come up with a budget," says Elizabeth. "When one person is thinking about a budget and the other person is not, it doesn't work very well."

Elizabeth says she thinks her husband's financial attitudes come from his family and upbringing in Soviet Russia.

"He said that life was sort of very dream-like there," she says. "It was very stress-free when it came to thinking about finances and mortgages -- well there weren't any mortgages."

Elizabeth says she grew up watching her parents manage and argue about finances, Misha grew up with money all taken care of -- either by the state or his mother.

Meg Favreau, the senior editor of the personal finance site Wisebread, offered her thoughts as on how Elizabeth could get Misha to collaborate a bit more on household finances.

The first step, she says, is just sitting down and talking seriously about money.

"It should be a conversation that's about your life goals and your values and what you want to be doing with that sort of stuff," Favreau says. "Once you've had that overarching conversation, then you can get down more into the nitty-gritty stuff."

Favreau says the process should be aimed at coming to a mutual understanding of each other's attitudes and finding places for common ground.

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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