Communicating with a Contemplator About Financial Concerns


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Contemplators love to focus on details. If you need perfection, you need a contemplator to complete the task. They’re highly focused, devoted to their work, and feel like their best selves when they’re wrestling with a particularly difficult problem. However, this love of perfection and detail can also be their downfall. If a contemplator gets too focused on specific issues, she may miss larger trends, problems, and opportunities. Contemplators often need prodding to share their thoughts, expectations, and feelings. They tend to internalize, and may not let you into their thought processes until they’re completely overwhelmed. To support a contemplator, you must be a proactive communicator who is willing to focus on the big picture.

Contemplators tend to do well with the details of financial transactions, but may miss larger trends. They enjoy preparing for contingencies, but can sometimes become bogged down by worries about the future. Sometimes, an outside perspective can help them strike a healthier balance between current opportunities and future security.

Communicating with a Contemplator about Financial Issues

Contemplators often enjoy discussing financial issues, but sometimes their approach can lead to conflict with caregivers and other family members. This selection of topics will help you approach discussions with your contemplator in a helpful and supportive manner.

Detail-oriented contemplators are usually highly skilled at paying bills on time, balancing budgets, and sticking to a schedule. That means that problems paying bills can often point to larger issues and worries. When you approach a contemplator about this issue, it’s very important to be sensitive to their worries and emotions, since the act of bill paying is often closely tied to their self-image.

While visiting her mother, Veronica noticed that the once-tidy front hall table had become a heap of bills and past-due notices. This frightened her, since her mother had always been someone who paid bills early and balanced a checkbook with aplomb. She decided to try a direct approach.

“Mom, I noticed you’re falling behind on paying bills. What can I do to help you?” “It’s these stupid companies,” her mother complained. “They just keep using smaller and smaller fonts until you can’t see what they want you to do anymore.” “Mom, the fonts haven’t changed. We need to visit the eye doctor.” An eye exam and a new pair of glasses later, and Veronica’s mother was once again able to pay bills and balance her budget.

Because contemplators care about perfection and planning, they often develop budgets and financial plans far into the future. This means that they’re well-prepared for retirement, but it also means that sudden changes to previously fixed costs can derail their plans and cause stress. In the face of sudden changes, your contemplator may need help seeing the big picture and changing direction.

When Martha’s property taxes went up, she started obsessing over the change to her budget. Now her retirement income wouldn’t last as long. What if other expenses increased, too? She still had a small mortgage on her house, and now the bank would want more money in the escrow. She’d have to cut back on her expenses. But where could she cut back? Taxes had gone up by $100 a month. She’d need to find $100 a month of savings. She couldn’t reduce her medication budget. She’d have to reduce her food budget.

Camilla, her niece, provided perspective and helped shake her loose from this unproductive focus on details. She looked over her aunt’s financial statements and realized that Martha’s future was secure. “Aunty, you have plenty of money in savings. And if you ever can’t afford your expenses, you have family and we will help you because we love you.” This was the reassurance Martha needed to restructure her long-term budget to include the unexpected tax increase.

For a contemplator, a new expense can seem like a burden if it doesn’t fit into his self-image or long-term plans. It’s important to show why the expense is a necessary one, and provide options for how his current plans can change to accommodate new developments, so that your contemplator doesn’t try to continue with a course of action that no longer fits the reality of his present situation.

When Paul scheduled his knee replacement surgery, he planned to attend the number of physical therapy sessions his insurance would cover. However, after he completed those sessions, the doctor wanted him to continue for another six weeks. Paul would have to pay for these sessions out of his own pocket, and he hadn’t planned for the additional expense. “This is ridiculous,” he told Felicity, his daughter, “I know what the therapist does now. I’ll just find some exercises online and do them myself, at home. There’s no sense in paying for more sessions.”

Felicity knew that incorrect, unsupervised exercises might hurt him more than they would help, and that the doctor had good reason for recommending additional sessions, even though they weren’t covered. She called the physician’s office to get a complete list of the reasons for additional therapy, and then called the hospital for information on costs, payment plans, and discounts. After she presented the information to her father, she walked away and let him consider it on his own, in peace and quiet. The next day he called and asked if she could drive him to PT since “This blasted knee won’t heal without help.”

Many communicator types have trouble talking about estate planning and end-of-life finances. However, if you’re dealing with a contemplator, you’re in luck. Contemplators excel at long-term planning, preparing for emergencies, and anticipating potential problems and hurdles. If you start the conversation, you’re likely to find that your contemplator has already given end-of-life situations a lot of thought and may just need some help putting her detailed plans into action.

Meagan needed to talk with her mother about caring for Jeremy, an adult brother with Down’s Syndrome. Her mother had cared for him all of his life, and Meagan wanted to make sure that there were financial arrangements in place for his care after her death. Meagan addressed the question head-on. “Mom, what are we going to do about Jeremy when you die?”

Her mother replied with a detailed plan involving a trust, with Meagan as executor. However, while her mother had planned these things out on paper, she hadn’t yet seen a lawyer or an accountant to make sure that she had the proper structures in place. She was still fiddling with the details instead of working on the big picture. Meagan put her in touch with a local lawyer so that she could finish making arrangements to provide for Jeremy.

Contemplators tend to focus on problem solving and details while keeping their worries and struggles locked inside until a crisis forces everything into the open. A large part of a contemplator’s identity is the ability to plan for contingencies and prepare for the worst. That means that if your contemplator is struggling to live within his means, you may not get a warning until disaster looms. Be proactive and ask about your contemplator’s financial situation, expenses, and worries about the future so that you can offer empathy, advice, and support when it’s needed.

Mike’s next door neighbor didn’t have any family close by. As a result, Mike felt responsible for his well-being. He’d look in on Bill from time to time and call his neighbor’s daughters when Bill was struggling with health concerns or other issues. On a visit to Bill’s house, Mike noticed that the door to one of the bathrooms was blocked off. When he asked, Bill explained that the toilet and sink had backed up and the bathroom was unusable.

“Do you want me to find you a plumber?” Mike asked. Panic filled Bill’s eyes. A plumber was too expensive, he explained. He only needed one bathroom anyway. There was no sense in wasting money on unnecessary repairs. After a few more questions, Mike learned that Bill was having trouble making ends meet. He was afraid that if his daughters found out, they’d make him leave his house and move in with them. Mike knew that Bill’s daughters needed to know about the situation, but he also realized that Bill would feel more comfortable if he could make plans before talking to them.

“Bill, I can help you fix the plumbing,” he said. “But you need to talk to your daughters about this. Why don’t you draw up a new budget and figure out exactly how much extra income you need each month? Then you can discuss what needs to happen so you can afford regular expenses and repairs.” Bill came up with a new budget and an outline of what he wanted to discuss with his daughters. He asked Mike to be present for the call, so that he could give an objective overview of Bill’s situation and keep them from panicking.

Because contemplators constantly worry about the future and about possible disasters, they’re especially vulnerable to the sort of scammers who target older adults. People selling ‘surefire investments,’ fake computer maintenance plans, or unnecessary mortgage and title ‘insurance’ will try to convince your contemplator that her savings and personal information are in danger, and that she must take steps immediately to protect herself. Because contemplators function best when they have time to think and plan, scammers will try to force them into a quick, high-pressure decision. You can help your contemplator by communicating with them about the calls and offers they receive, giving them information on identifying scams, and encouraging them to take time to decide and to demand to see everything in writing.

When Wanda was over at her aunt’s house, Aunt Mary answered a call from an unknown number. She could see her aunt’s face fall under the sudden weight of worry. “Who is it?” Wanda mouthed. Aunt Mary covered the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s Visa. They say my account has been hacked and they need me to verify my card number, pin, and personal information.” Aunt Mary began to rummage through her purse, looking for the offending card. “I’m not sure which Visa they mean,” she began. “Do you think they want my bank card, or my gas card?”

“Hang up the phone.” Wanda said. “You can call them back in a minute.” Mary hung up and Wanda helped her find the customer service numbers for each of her cards. It was as Wanda had expected. Neither account was having issues. Mary had nearly fallen for a telephone phishing scam.

Mary was vulnerable to scams because, as a contemplator, she needed time to think through a course of action. The high-pressure tactics employed by scammers left her without the breathing space to think rationally about their demands. Together, she and Wanda came up with a plan for dealing with future callers who made demands. Mary would ask for a call-back number and write down a summary of what they were asking for. Then she could call Wanda and ask her to double-check any suspicious claims. The system worked so well, Mary started recommending it to other friends who’d had trouble with phone scammers.

General Tips for Communicating with a Contemplator

  • Lay out problems in a detailed and orderly manner.
  • Be truthful and forthright in your conversations.
  • Give breathing space before you expect a response.
  • Ask them what they’re thinking and feeling.
  • Show empathy when they share concerns and worries.  
  • Try to bring a big-picture view to the discussion.
  • Use humor to bring them out of themselves and their worries.
  • Speak in ways that show your appreciation and affirmation.

Better Communication Helps Contemplators Avoid Financial Struggles

Contemplators often enjoy discussing finances, but they don’t like to make snap decisions. Instead of waiting for a crisis, remember to communicate with your contemplator on a regular basis about financial plans and worries. When you take the time to listen to a contemplator’s concerns and to appreciate their forethought and focus, you can help them avoid financial struggles.