Communicating with a Narrator About Financial Concerns


icon Narrator

Narrators tend to be fairly thrifty people. They don’t tend to embrace conspicuous consumption, they plan ahead, and they research purchases exhaustively. They prize security, predictability, and stability when it comes to their financial arrangements. Paradoxically, this can make it more difficult to communicate about financial concerns and aging, because narrators haven’t needed to communicate about financial concerns in the past. Using a communication style suited to their personality type can make it easier.

Narrators often face two sorts of broad crises when dealing with finances and aging. On one hand, their desire to plan ahead and create predictability means that they’ll sometimes slip into the role of a miser, afraid to make even necessary expenditures as they prepare for a future of uncertain length with unknown expenses. On the other hand, if a crisis hits and they don’t have the means to tackle it, it can be very difficult to find places where they can trim their budget. Chances are your narrator is already living a thrifty lifestyle focused on necessities rather than luxuries.

Because narrators are very sensitive to nagging and criticism, it’s important to start these conversations by praising their hard work, thrift, and planning. Your narrator needs to know that your concerns aren’t accusations, but a desire to provide support and encouragement. Narrators also avoid snap decisions, so do not expect quick resolutions. You’ll often need several ‘meetings’ before you’re all on the same page. And finally, narrators seek to reach a consensus that will meet everyone’s needs. Don’t railroad them or try to play the martyr. One of their goals in communication is diplomacy, not conquest.

General Tips for Communicating with a Narrator

  • Show appreciation before difficult discussions.
  • Let them take charge of planning.
  • Put discussions on the calendar.
  • Combine facts and feelings.
  • Give them space to express their opinions before you give your read on the situation.
  • Avoid criticism and nagging.
  • State the rules for the conversation at the outset.
  • Be prepared to take your time.

Discussing Financial Concerns with a Narrator

Narrators hate feeling uncertain, ambushed by events, or compelled. They seek consensus and can’t stand thinking that they’ve let someone down. Communicating well can help you play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. While every person’s finances are different, the following situations offer tools to help in many financial discussions with a narrator.

Narrators are careful, detail-oriented, and future-oriented. Usually, paying bills on time is second nature to them. They enjoy having access to auto-payment systems, scheduling withdrawals, and budgeting. This means that if a narrator is having trouble paying bills, the underlying issue is usually much larger than mere forgetfulness. If your loved one is a narrator, any conversation about unpaid bills is likely to be difficult and emotionally fraught. Try to begin with praise and encouragement so that you can reach a satisfying resolution.

Noor helped Rashid, her father, manage his accounts. Usually, deposits and withdrawals happened like clockwork, so she had very little to worry about. That made it especially shocking when she received a cell phone alert about a low balance and an overdrawn check. When she called Rasheed, he was embarrassed. “It’s my fault,” he said. “I made one mistake, and now there are late fees on everything.” Noor took a deep breath. “I’ll be over in an hour to help you deal with it,” she said. “Can you get me all your bills and deposits from the last month? We can figure out what happened and how to fix it.”

By the time Noor got to Rasheed’s house, he’d put together a complete timeline of what had happened and when. A resident of a rental property had been a day late with his check. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but Rasheed had made a fairly large donation to a local children’s cancer charity. This, in turn, resulted in a missed withdrawal for a utility bill. Fees and bounced checks cascaded quickly, so that by the time the renter deposited his check, Rasheed was in deep water.

Rasheed, wanting to avoid conflict, offered to make an extra withdrawal from his IRA to cover the fees. “No, dad,” Noor said. “That’s not fair to you. We need to talk to the bank, the utilities, and the tenant, and get them to cover or waive these fees. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to you. We’ll be able to work things out.” Together, they made a list of who they needed to call and what they needed to say to each person, to help Rasheed work through the stress-filled process.

Narrators are usually pretty easy-going, but one thing they hate is unexpected changes. This personality type likes to plan, and they like to make long-range plans. Changes to fixed costs throw their plans into chaos and force them to start over. If your loved one is a narrator, you can help them navigate changes without stress as they make new plans.

William’s homeowner’s insurance rates had been the same for years. He had a high deductible and rarely made claims, his house was in good repair, and he felt like he had a good relationship with his insurance agent. Then his neighborhood was hit by a freak storm. High straight-line winds toppled several mature trees onto his house, destroying his roof, the entire back wall, and his garage. William was looking at tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and months in a hotel, as well as storage fees for his belongings. He told his nephew, Donald, that he was thankful he had such great coverage. On a fixed income, he’d never have been able to weather this disaster on his own.

When Donald came to visit his uncle at the hotel next week, William was morosely staring at his bank account statements. “They’re raising my rates, Donald. They’re raising everyone’s rates. And living in a hotel is going to be expensive, since I can’t cook here. I can’t figure out how to move money around to cover this. I’d planned on stable rates!” “You did a great job planning and this is not your fault,” Donald reassured. “The insurance company is acting like a predator. How do you want to handle it? Do you want to shop for a better company, complain to their advocates, or take it to the media? I’ll support you in whatever path you take, but they shouldn’t do this to you. And if it’s hurting you this much, imagine how difficult it is for some of your less financially stable neighbors!” William agreed to take some time to think about his response, and to let Donald help him deal with the insurance company.

Narrators hate unnecessary expense. If your loved one would happily eat lentils and broccoli every day even though she can afford steak and lobster, she’s probably a narrator. While some people see this as a miserly trait, narrators can be astoundingly generous when it comes to other people. They just don’t see the point of spending money unnecessarily on themselves, especially when they’re trying to plan for the future. Problems can occur when a narrator’s misreading of a situation leads them to classify a necessary expense as an unnecessary one.

Fauzi’s older sister, Nabila, had never married. In their youth, she’d seemed like a second mother to him. Now, as she aged, he liked to keep an eye on her and to make sure she had the retirement she deserved. He could tell she needed a change and some adventure, but was unsure how to broach the subject. When he found an advertisement in the paper for an Alaskan Cruise, he pointed it out to her. “You’ve always wanted to go to Alaska, and now’s your chance! Sharon and I can come along. The kids will be back in college, and it will be a great family vacation.” Nabila shook her head. It was too much money. She wanted to make sure she had plenty to leave to her niece and nephew. She didn’t want to spend their inheritance on a frivolous trip.

“Nabila, the children love you and they appreciate all that you do for them,” Fauzi said. “But they also want you to enjoy life and get to see beautiful things. You haven’t had a vacation in years. You should go!” “It’s so much money!” “You have plenty of money. Think about it. We don’t need to turn in deposits for a few weeks, and it could be a great opportunity for you.” After considering carefully, Nabila decided that she could justify her first vacation in 20 years. She agreed to go, and returned refreshed, happier, and overjoyed at what she had seen.

On the plus side, your narrator has probably been planning his estate since he was about twenty-five. Narrators tend to know how much they have, how long it has to last, how to maintain safe and stable investments, and how to make a will. On the other hand, just because a narrator has planned for the end of his life doesn’t mean that he’s talked to anyone about it. The key to a fruitful conversation is to approach the topic from the perspective of information seeking rather than from the perspective of confrontation.

Quynh knew her grandmother’s heart had been giving her problems. As Thuy’s geographically closest relative, the cousins had given Quynh the job of sitting down with the family matriarch to discuss her end-of-life arrangements. Quynh was a little apprehensive. Her grandmother was a busy, content woman, yet they had to have this discussion now, before it was too late.

Quynh arranged a date and time to discuss the issues—she met her grandmother at Thuy’s favorite buffet, expecting to have to conduct an interview. Instead, Thuy arrived with a notepad filled with her neat, compact handwriting.

“The first page is a list of every important document and where in my house it’s kept. A few are also in the safety deposit box at the bank,” Thuy began. “The next page is a list of my outstanding debts as of today, though I suspect many of them will be resolved before you need this. The other pages all have headings with a description of the information in them. Make copies for your sister and all your cousins. I’m not writing this out again, it gave me a hand cramp.” She laughed at the expression on Quynh’s face. “Don’t gawk. You gave me time to plan, and I just saved you a lot of time. Let’s eat!”

Narrators plan carefully and live thrifty lives. If they’re having trouble making ends meet, there’s a good chance that there is no way to make the ends meet. That makes conversations about living within their means one of the most difficult financial conversations to have with a narrator. Be gentle and compassionate, and don’t accuse. Help them come up with a solution that respects their autonomy and their need for stability.

Erica and Joe had lived in the same house since their marriage, 65 years before. They’d raised their children in it. They’d nursed their parents through their final illnesses in it. They’d babysat grandchildren and great grandchildren in that house, and survived cancer and heart disease in that house. The walls were crammed with photos, the basement and attic with mementos. It was their home, and they loved it. It also needed a new roof, a new HVAC system, and new wiring. That didn’t even take into account the fact that the bathroom was inaccessible to a walker or wheelchair, and that the couple was sleeping in the dining room because they could no longer make it upstairs to their bedroom. When Mark, their son, added up the estimates, his heart sank. No one in the family had the money to repair the house.

“Mom, Dad, we all love how you’ve made this house a home for four generations of our family,” he said. “You’re what’s let us all succeed and we love coming home to be with you. But we can’t afford to fix this house to make it safe for you. We need to come up with a plan to give you a safe place to live.” Erica and Joe, both narrators, agreed to think the problem over for about a month. They asked Mark to be their ‘research assistant’ since he could hear well enough to use the phone and could find them information on the internet. Before the month was over, they’d made plans to enter assisted living, sell the house, and disperse their belongings among their many descendants.

Narrators are reliable, trustworthy, kind, and helpful. These traits can make it hard for them to spot a scammer, because their personable, people-loving nature leads them to assume the best of everyone they meet. Since narrators also perform poorly when they feel pressured, they’re especially vulnerable to high-pressure scams that prey on fear.

Reina checked her cellphone when she got out of the pool. She was shocked to find about 50 panicked texts from Lupe, her mother. “I saw online that you were robbed.” One said. “Do you still have your phone? Why won’t you answer?” By the time Reina called her mother, it was too late. She’d already wired $500 to some scammer who’d created a fake social media profile and pretended that she was Reina, lost in a far-off city and in need of cash.

Reina wanted to yell at her mother. How could she be so naïve? But she knew that yelling would only make her mother withdraw and feel terrible. She stayed calm and positive. “I appreciate how much you loved me, that you were willing to jump to my defense like that!” Reina said. “But I would never use social media to ask for help. I’d call you. And I’d tell you if I was traveling. I was at the gym, like I always am on Thursday.” Lupe admitted that Reina made sense, but she was still upset. “Who would do this sort of thing? People used to be better than this.” Now that she’d experienced the reality of fraud, she eagerly agreed to avoid wiring money unless she checked with her family first.

Financial Discussions with a Narrator Start with Praising and Planning

Narrators thrive on praise, planning, and companionship. When you need to discuss financial concerns with your loved one, remember that they’re a companion on the journey. Include them respectfully in the process, and let them guide the planning. You’ll find yourself having fruitful conversations and reaching a mutually agreeable consensus.