Book Review
Title: "The M Word: The Money Talk Every Family Needs to Have About Wealth and Their Financial Future"
Author: Lori Sackler
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013; 224 pages; $30

Whether (or not) and how we talk with our families about money is telling. It shows how we think, feel, act and engage with money matters, and whether we see money as good, desirable and healthy (something necessary and abundant that requires some maintenance and tending) or view it as a necessary evil, the route of all evil, something dirty and undesirable (as in stinking, filthy rich).

Some families avoid financial conversations out of the dread and fear that the mere planning for potential money transitions like divorce or death will make them happen. But in a highly predictable manifestation of the old self-help saying that "what we fear, we create," families that avoid talking about money often end up broken up — and hard up, financially speaking — when inevitable life changes like aging and death do occur.

To address this issue and guide families though what she calls "the money talk," financial adviser Lori Sackler has penned "The M Word: The Money Talk Every Family Needs to Have About Wealth and Their Financial Future."

Sackler starts "The M Word" with a couple of compelling case studies, relating both the happy and sad endings of two families’ life stories, in which divorces, remarriages, deaths and the money transitions they represent alternately preserved and imperiled family legacies, individuals’ well-being and even relationships between parents and adult children (not to mention between the adult siblings and their offspring).

The difference between happy and sad endings, in Sackler’s stories, hinged on whether and how the families had talked about and planned for these contingencies.

From there, Sackler vividly demonstrates her belief that "every life transition is a money transition," showing precisely how every twist and turn in life gives rise to new personal finance issues, whether that transition be as exciting as having kids or making a geographic move to something as challenging as a divorce or having your adult kids move back home.

Having made a vivid case for the need for every family to have a series of money talks, including and especially the spiking numbers of single-parent and same-sex-couple households, Sackler treats in detail a list of seven life transitions and gives specific guidance on how to talk about money in preparation for any of these possibilities or inevitabilities:

  • Financial disasters.
  • Financial windfalls.
  • Divorce.
  • Remarriage and blending families.
  • Retirement.
  • Caring for an aging parent.
  • Death.

Once she’s covered these life transitions and their corresponding money issues, Sackler does an in-depth prep session of sorts for the larger context of money conversations.

First, she helps readers understand the psychological forces at play, like power, control, trust and gender issues. Then, in the last section of the book, she covers the logistical prep steps that can set money talks up for success, from a firm agenda, involving the appropriate professionals and having a long-term action plan for money talks over time.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen dozens of books come out briefing parents on how to teach young children to be smart about money. Others, like "Financially Naked: How to Talk About Money with Your Honey," propose a vision for financial transparency in a romantic relationship.

"The M Word" belongs on every smart family’s shelf or e-reader alongside these other titles, as it provides a guidebook for the healthy, clear, productive and wise communications about money that are a virtual prerequisite for multigenerational prosperity.

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