It's as hard to talk your 20-somethings about money as it is talk to them about sex. Maybe harder.
"They are probably having the sex," said Eleanor Blayney, a certified financial planner who often talks to the young adult children of her clients. She was laughing. "But they don't have the money."
Our 20-somethings — perhaps starting out in their first real jobs — don't want to hear us say they are spending too much on the clothes and the car and not saving enough.
And they'd rather live on Ramen noodles Monday through Friday than give up going out on weekends with friends.
They may have gone to college, but there is a good chance they are financially illiterate.
It might make sense, said Ms. Blayney, a consumer advocate on the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, to pay for an hour of time with a financial planner with whom your child will feel like an adult instead of a kid being lectured, again, by mom and dad.
What would she say to them with us out of the room?
"First and foremost," she said. "Your job is not just a job. You are human capital. The sum of what you can do in the work place to make money. Finding that job and keeping that job are key."
Easier said than done in today's economy. That's why her next piece of advice is critical.
Credit scores are not just about being eligible for loans when you need them. More and more young people are in significant credit card debt — credit card companies consider them the sweet spot — and employers are looking at credit ratings when hiring.
"There are more kids than jobs," she said. "If you have a candidate who can't handle credit, it tells you a lot about financial integrity, impulse control and management skills."
Under federal law, everybody is entitled to a free credit report every year from annualcreditreport.com. Three credit agencies participate, so, in effect, you can check your credit record every four months.
"You need to check it often to correct any problems," she said. "Young people move a lot. Bills don't follow them and don't get paid. A credit report will show you that."
Fight the "urge to splurge," she also says. "Young people are the target of marketing and consumerism. I try to tell them that every time they make a money decision to do one thing, they have precluded doing something else."
That goes for impulse shopping at the mall as well as big ticket purchases, like a car.
"I tell them to take a look at their budget and see how much they can afford monthly for a car. Then do the math and figure out the price of the car they can afford," said Ms. Blayney.
If a $300 car payment is as much as you can handle and you don't want to be paying for it for more than three years, that gives you roughly $10,000 to spend.
That doesn't sound like much fun for a young person buying their first car. Too often, they go for the lure of a low finance rate on a new car. "But," said Ms Blayney, "what good is 1 percent financing on a car you can't afford?"
A lease agreement is tempting, too. A lower monthly payment for a fancier car. It is a favorite way for dealerships to land a young person with a limited car budget. "But you aren't purchasing the same asset. You have to be on top of this before you go into the showroom," she said.
Rent or buy? Even the next generation is wedded to the notion that owning a home is a rite of passage into true adulthood. Ms. Blayney doesn't agree.
"The focus for a young person has to be developing a career. That is formative work and they have to do it. Right now, it is tempting to buy a home. The prices are low and the rates are low.
"But buying a home before you have figured out where you are going to work and for how long is just crazy. You have to be flexible. Don't let a house keep you from being able to compete and go elsewhere for the right job."
Clearly, these are not fun conversations. You are telling your adult children the same thing you told them as toddlers: No, you can't have ice cream for dinner.
Talking to them about saving — and that far-off thing called retirement — is even more difficult. I'll talk about that Thursday.