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Money disputes hurt families

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  • Money can be difficult subject for family members
  • Couples who share assets should plan and budget
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By Demir Barlas
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(LifeWire) -- Marcel Holmstrom didn't talk to his father for six months because of money. When his dad sold the family home for a tidy sum, Holmstrom thought part of the windfall would come to him.

"I don't make a lot of money, and I don't have savings or a retirement plan," says the 56-year-old property-maintenance specialist, who lives in Los Angeles. "I was expecting my dad to give me some of the money. He made a lot from that house."

But his dad never brought up the subject. Half a year later, Holmstrom had to pay for a medical procedure out of his own pocket. He took the opportunity to ask for a substantial part of the house money, which his father had planned to leave Holmstrom in his will. "It was nothing doing," he recalls.

Handling financial matters with family especially with a recession looming can be fraught with anxiety, tension and sometimes outright conflict as strong emotions compete with sound decision making. But there are ways to negotiate these difficulties and emerge with your relationship intact.

"Money is one of those hard, hard subjects," says Jean Chatzky, author of "Make Money Not Excuses," "Talking Money" and other books on personal finance. Honest communication is the best policy, she says. "Once you open your mouth and admit that you're not perfect in this part of your life, the person you're talking to will do the same thing."

Keep it in perspective

Hakan and Hatice Can, both 41, were on the verge of a divorce after constant arguments over money. The couple, who immigrated from Turkey, found that they couldn't maintain their old lifestyle in America.

"My wife and I were eating out three times a week, going to musicals, traveling to Europe," Hakan Can says. "That's because, in Turkey, both our families helped us out with money and we had a lot of resources. But in America we were on our own. Here, we started arguing about money shortages and separated."

After a lot of soul searching, the Cans decided that they didn't want finances to end their marriage. Now they take preemptive steps to defuse disagreements over money, setting boundaries ("We don't let the kids hear it," Hakan Can says) and keeping things in perspective.

"You can lose your money, but if you lose the person you love, that costs a lot more," says Hakan Can, a college professor in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania.

Budget time to talk

Chatzky recommends that couples set "money dates" to discuss their finances. "Talk about money at a scheduled time, like after your favorite television show, when you're in a decent mood," she says. "Make it a limited time period. It's a planned discussion, not a fight."

Setting aside time to talk about money can help family members air their concerns and establish financial priorities. Those priorities can then be measured by maintaining a household budget, which serves as the basis for such discussions.

Tammo and Acalya Heeren say that's how they do it.

"We talk about the family budget every week," says Tammo Heeren, 36, a research engineer from Aliso Viejo, California. "Our number one priority is our baby son, Dante, and that determines how my wife and I spend money."

Still, the discussions can make Acalya, 36, nervous. "When he looks at receipts and talks to me about them, I feel nervous," says the stay-at-home mom. "I feel like I'm his daughter and he's thinking, 'What did she do now?'"

Although it may feel awkward, talking about money is important, Chatzky says. "I'm a big fan of airing the laundry," she says. "Fortunately, like we've gotten better at talking about sex, we've gotten better at talking about money."

The bottom line

Chatzky offers the following tips for maintaining a healthy financial and emotional relationship:

• Plan. If you share assets, as many couples do, budget together so as to minimize surprises.

• Prioritize. Make sure you have shared goals for spending and saving.

• Put it in writing. Whether it's the family budget or a loan between relatives, it's a good idea to lay out the ground rules, such as recording every purchase or outlining a schedule for repayment.

• Talk about it. Disputes often arise when one person nurses a grudge about money, so don't keep your feelings bottled up. When you do talk, keep comments neutral; starting off by criticizing your partner is sure to lead to an argument.

Over time, Marcel Holmstrom came to realize he'd made a mistake with his father. He saw his own shortcomings in the situation. "He helped me open a painting business, and I wasted what I made," Holmstrom says. "Also, since my dad paid for that house, he has a right to the money."

When his father learned how Holmstrom felt, he compromised by giving his son half of the money that was set aside in the will. That patched things up.

"I'm an old man," says Frank Holmstrom, 90, a retired house painter. "I'm in the hospital a lot now. I didn't want this quarrel to be the last memory I had of my son." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Demir Barlas has nearly a decade of experience in business writing and editing, marketing communications, and online community building.

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