My grandparents have a caravan at the Baltic see where they basically spend all summer. This, in my view, is good for them. They get to be in nature, which should be good for their health, and they seem to have a more active social life there than at home, which is also good imho. Of course renting the space costs money, and quite a bit at that, but as far as I can tell its totally worth it for them.

In addition, my grandma likes to buy stuff on teleshopping channels - stuff like lotions, jewellery, clothing and candles. And while I don't particularly want to get involved in their choices - its their money - I feel this isn't adding nearly as much value to their lifes.

You can probably see where this is going. Every year, the choice to continue caravanning is in jeopardy because "it's too expensive", while the shopping goes on basically without interruption. When trying to talk to her about it, you'll hear things like "it's just a couple of Euros", apparently not realizing that this adds up if you order every other week. Also, my grandma gets quite defensive and feels being harassed when people disagree with her.

How can I make this a more productive conversation? I don't want to tell her what to do, I just want her to be more deliberate in her spending, and try to convey my sense of how much value both choices add to their lifes. How can I talk to her about it without seeming to intrude into her choices or questioning her judgements? (Of course, to some extend, that is what I'm doing, but with the best intentions.)

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    This isn't worth an answer but I'm not sure this is something you're supposed to talk about. Are you investing money in it? Because otherwise I'm not sure you can critique what your family does with its money. – avazula Apr 19 at 12:14
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    Of course I can't tell her what to do, nor do I want to seem pushy. But at the same time, I would want someone to tell me when they think I'm making a mistake. In particular, there is some faulty reasoning ("it's just a couple of Euros"), regardless of what they spend that on. – Psirus Apr 19 at 12:19
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    Your grandparents may need more guidance as they age. Are their children actively involved in their lives? Are there trusted family members who could help them budget? – cactus_pardner Apr 19 at 18:30
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    Is there any evidence that your grandparents are incapable of managing their money? A few euros frittered away every other week is not evidence of incompetence. – ab2 Apr 20 at 2:59
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    If the discussion about the price of caravanning comes up every year but is never resolved, it sounds like there's more going on than the money issue... Is it possible that grandpa wants to caravan but your grandma really doesn't and she brings up the price as a diversion? In any case, I agree with @peufeu: not answerable without knowing what your grandpa's stance is on all this. – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 20 at 8:48

I don't think your motives are in doubt here. If you were trying to stop them spending their money so you can inherit it at a later date you wouldn't be so keen for them to go caravanning. You have the best of intentions, but as you yourself have pointed out, it is their money.

Rather than criticise her spending directly, you may be able to plant the idea in her mind that she is wasting her money.

If the junk or products she orders are building up in their home, you could remark:

You've got quite a collection of [lotions] here, grandma!

Or, another way would be for you to buy her as a gift a more modestly priced item that she spends too much on from the shopping channel. I'm going to stick with lotions, because I saw recently that one of the well-known German discount supermarkets sells an anti-ageing cream for £3.49 (UK) which allegedly rivals a La Prairie cream that sells for £500. You could say:

I know you like lotions, grandma so I bought you this - people are saying it is as good as an expensive designer lotion but can you believe it only costs €x.xx?

Try and draw her into a discussion on the cost of lotions, and when she mentions how much she spends on the shopping channel, you could add:

Hmm, I hear the prices on the shopping channel are quite inflated.

It might take some time, but hopefully you can gently persuade her to reach her own conclusion about the expense or wastefulness of ordering from these channels.

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    I have cleared up the comments here. Please remember they are supposed to suggest improvements or ask for clarification, not for discussion. – Tinkeringbell Apr 20 at 13:09

For the part where you mention:

you'll hear things like "it's just a couple of Euros", apparently not realizing that this adds up if you order every other week.

The most objective way of showing your grandma that the "little euros" she spends build up, would be to invite her to log her purchases, by either saving the receipts or writing the amount spent on a notebook.

Now for this part:

and try to convey my sense of how much value both choices add to their lifes

This can be a tricky road, so I would advise you to avoid judging value by your perspective and instead understand it from their point of view. Maybe the purchase does have a big emotional value even if it's not good as a material investment.

It's important that you keep in mind that if they are older they might have a different perspective on mid-term investment vs. immediate pleasure.

So, to finally answer your question:

How can I make this a more productive conversation?

The key to keep the conversation productive is to first prioritize you understanding the actual value of their spendings -- from their perspective. After you gathered the real values, then you can try to quantify and write the numbers down in order to make the whole picture more tangible and easier to assess.

  • Bookkeeping is a very good idea to get a better feel for the spending - but I fear it's a sort of chicken/egg problem: how do you convince her that the spending is enough of an issue to go through the hassle of bookkeeping? I feel that adding suggestions on that would improve the answer :-) – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 20 at 8:54
  • @AllTheKingsHorses Thanks for the feedback. I agree and did plan to include that on the first edit, but then realised I didn't have any specific suggestions by then. Still working on it. :) – Paula Hasstenteufel Apr 20 at 11:28

If you really want to make them rethink their spending, try and go through the purchases they have made with them. Get them to see how much they have spent recently and how much they have used the things they have bought. This helps them be able to see the value they are getting out of their money and rethink the choices they have made.

However, do not tell them what you think has value when talking to them about this. It would end up being manipulative and could cause them make decisions that they don't actually want which would end up with them being unhappy in the end.

It all adds up, but you can't control what people do. There has to be a will to change in order to change.

First, you can come at it sideways. Talk to grandpa instead.

Second, you're all up in their business. You're worried, and you want to make your grandma change her behavior. You can see the cost of it, and she can't.

How would you feel if someone started questioning your spending habits? Maybe you'd be ok with it, but the majority of people, whoever it comes from, would not respond at all well. Even if it's helpful, even if, in the end it does make their life better.

It's their life. Not yours.

You're asking how to have a conversation that is, in fact, rude, even if you do have the best of intentions.

There's no way to do that AND get the result you want.

But you might want to have a conversation about your OWN spending habits instead. Talk about the "latte factor" and about how when you did a spread sheet of your own spending habits, you found out how much YOU actually spend in a year or a month on trifles. And talk about whatever positive result you got from tracking that spending, being aware of it, and curtailing. Be enthusiastic about whatever programs, software or method you used. And be specific about the positive result--taking a vacation or whatever as a result.

Then, if they do need the help, you can be there for them. But if it's not something you directly experienced and put in the work to do in your own life, and you're just being critical of them, it's not going to be helpful.

First, though, get your own house completely in order, and use that to help them.

While I am sure you have their best interests in mind, they have been around a little longer than you, and should therefore be justified in spending their money on whatever they want.

It is fully possible that they end up spending all their money on things that you deem not worthy of spending money on, and they later regret doing so. However, it is their money, and it is their prerogative to make their own mistakes.

If their decisions are hurting you, or your way of life, it is a different story. Otherwise, I would suggest not worrying about it, and letting them enjoy their money in whatever way they choose to.

EDIT

To address the comments (@avazula) that my answer is off-target, I would like to add that one doesn't go around giving unsolicited advice to family members (especially those who are older), unless there is a compelling reason.

There is no such reason noted in the question, but rather that the purpose is to impress upon the grandparents that they don't know what is best for them.

Having said that, if you have a good relationship with your grandparents, and this is really bothering you, why don't you approach the issue with them, from the point of view of this being your problem?

It really concerns me that you are not spending your money the way I think you ought to spend it. I fully understand that you can do whatever you want with your money, and that technically this is none of my business, but I wanted to let you know that your current spending patterns are bothering me.

This way, you are opening up the topic for discussion. Your grandparents may not be interested in continuing this particular conversation, but at least you have put your cards on the table.

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    Hi! Could you please explain why you think not telling them your feelings is a good idea? For as it is right now, it's not answering OP's question? – avazula Apr 19 at 13:43
  • 'There is no such reason noted in the question' Yes, there is - 'Every year, the choice to continue caravanning is in jeopardy because "it's too expensive"'. The OP fears that the grandparents will be missing out on something that seems to be a very important part of their lives right now. You seem very certain and offended that the OP only wants to impose their will on their grandparents without good evidence for that from the question. – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 20 at 9:06
  • @AllTheKingsHorses I am not offended. A compelling reason would be one which specifically affected the OP. And, unless you know something I don't, I can't see any impact on the OP from their grandparents' choices. – Peter Abolins Apr 20 at 9:11
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    (Potential) overspending by a blood-relative is something to keep an eye on in Germany, where you're liable to pay for their care if they can't afford it themselves... – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 20 at 9:54
  • @AllTheKingsHorses Really? Well, I guess that changes the situation somewhat. – Peter Abolins Apr 20 at 10:25

Ask them if they have set aside money for their trip

Spending is not inherently bad. It is only bad if it gets in the way of things they really want to do.

Hence: ensure that their spending cannot get in the way of the caravan trip.

Ask your folks...

Have you set aside enough money for this year's caravan trip?

Offer to help them to set up a separate account just for this purpose. Help them them set a goal for how much money should be in there to cover the upcoming trip.

Once they have reached that goal, they can freely spend the rest of their money on things without worrying you.

And always be upfront and clear about why you are "pestering" them about this. For example:

I am worried that you might not have enough when the time for the trip comes, so I am just helping you making sure that you will have the money that you need.

Also: second hand peer-to-peer shopping is thriving these days. You may want to introduce your folks to the concept of earning extra money by selling stuff they do not need. To mitigate risk of unscrupulous buyers that withhold payment, you can offer to do it for your folks and manage that bit.

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    I have cleared up the comments here. Please remember they are supposed to suggest improvements or ask for clarification, not for discussion. – Tinkeringbell Apr 20 at 13:08

Talk about yourself or someone else you know or have heard of who stopped or cut back on frequent small spends to save lots of money. I always see news stories and tips on social media about people who stopped buying coffee at a cafe every day and were able to save loads of money (I don't know anyone who buys coffee every day, but it must be fairly common for people to keep giving this tip!)

Then you can remind her about this - not teach her, because I'm sure she already knows it - and it will be less likely to offend her because you're not talking about her but merely about the concept, and if you are able to talk about yourself or someone you know it makes it seem more real and relevant too.

You can be sneaky too but it's more likely to backfire, you could do things like ask how much her recent purchase was, then act like you're changing the subject and ask if she's thought about staying another week on holiday, how much would it cost - but I think she will see through you and get upset!

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