What to Say to Your In-Laws About Money Matters

Let me get this out now: I am extremely fortunate. My in-laws are lovely people and though I’m sure they have many strong opinions about how their son and I are spending and saving our money, overall they are pretty tight-lipped. This is not the case for every couple. “How do I get them off my back?,” is something I hear a lot. “It’s our lives, not theirs!”

If your in-laws are encroaching on your financial privacy, don’t smolder or fight, take action. It’s up to you to get the point across that neither of you are children anymore and–wow!–can make your own economic decisions. Here’s how to cope with invasive, but well-meaning, moms and dads.

Listen Respectfully

Because the generation that raised us lived though their own tough times, they’ve probably learned a few things that we haven’t yet absorbed. Why not listen to what they’ve got to say? You aren’t required to take all or even any of their financial advice, but hear them out. Listen attentively and ask questions. You just may learn something. Once they’ve said their peace, they may be ready to move on to another subject.

Make Sure the Right Person is Talking

Yes, you’re a duo, but if your husband’s parents are needling you, he needs to jump in and take over–not slink away. And vice versa, of course. Never accept a disrespectful or abusive attitude. In general, it’s more appropriate for the adult child of the parents to assume the primary money discourse role, with the other spouse acting as back-up.

Explain Clearly and Concisely

While they may believe it’s best for you to stop renting in the city and should instead buy in the suburbs (or the opposite), you have your reasons for not doing so. Speak up. Don’t reveal your private accounting details, but do tell them about your values and how they drive your spending choices. Say something like, “We love the neighborhood and are happy with Ben’s school. We’re staying put.” Avoid over-explaining.

Stay Calm and Be Firm

They won’t let the matter drop and are wearing you down? Stay strong. If you know what your plans are, don’t be wishy-washy. “We’ve decided to get a nanny so I can return to work when Kate is three month’s old,” is fine. Weakly saying, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll quit and be a stay-at-home-mom…” just to appease them for the moment is not. While their approval would be nice to have, ultimately you don’t need it.

End the Conversation Before It Turns Ugly

It’s easy to descend into heated arguments, especially if you’re being chided. However, do whatever it takes to remain reasonable. As long as you’re standing on your own two (er, four) feet, you don’t have to justify your job, college funding, living situation, IRA balance or any other personal monetary choice. If they really won’t let it go, a straightforward, “Our financial affairs are our concern. I’m (we’re) not going to keep talking about this,” then change the topic.

Act Like the Adult You Really Are

Many times parents treat their kids like small children because we act immaturely. The in-laws may feel they have a right to tell you both what to do if you borrowed money from them that you didn’t repay, or your obviously bad decisions put your family in jeopardy. Own up to mistakes, live responsibly and make your happiness apparent. It’s pretty tough to criticize people who are beaming. Give them a break too–you may be overly sensitive to their comments. Sometimes a suggestion is just conversation. Nothing more.