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Talking Money a First Step to Financial Fitness

A couple calculating home finances

Money may talk, but it’s often a one-sided conversation.

That’s the upshot of a recent survey by the financial services company Empower, which found that 62 percent of adults in the United States do not discuss money. They’d prefer to chat about politics — or death — over finances, it found.

“Attitudes about money are shaped in childhood,” says Renee W. Senes, 70, a certified divorce financial analyst in Concord. “Most of us grew up with parents who didn’t talk about money.”

Avoiding the subject, however, comes with a price — something AARP Massachusetts is seeking to overcome with a series of webinars in Thursdays in October. Among the speakers will be Senes, who says a lack of understanding about Social Security, consumer debt, investments and budgeting can cause long-term financial damage and derail retirement dreams.

“Most people have a fair idea of how much they bring home,” she says. “However, they really don’t have a grasp on what they spend or what it takes to maintain the lifestyle they want.”

The AARP series aims to jump-start conversations about finances. Topics will include Social Security, debt management, retirement planning and fraud prevention. And although retirement will be a big focus of discussion, people who have years before they call it quits at work may join in as well.

“It’s so important to think about retirement well before you are of retirement age,” says Kara Cohen, manager of community outreach and volunteer engagement for AARP Massachusetts.

Retirees face high costs

For people planning to spend their retirement years in the Bay State, budgeting is more important than ever. According to a March study by Seniorly, a company that provides information on senior living, Massachusetts is the most expensive state in the country for retirees. The analysis looked at the cost of living, the poverty rate among seniors, health care spending, income, taxes and other factors.

Senes says the coronavirus pandemic led some clients to reassess their retirement plans.

“All of the jobs that are face-to-face — hospitality, nursing, teaching — were very stressful during the pandemic,” she says. “I’m seeing clients who are teachers that want to retire sooner. But people who can work remotely are saying, ‘I can do this forever.’ ”

Charles McKenzie, 65, has spent 40 years in financial services. He says that even if you have saved for retirement, it’s smart to periodically review your assets, debt, spending and income. Rebalancing your investments is especially important as your income and lifestyle shift in retirement, he says.

“Without a strategy, you are basically reacting to events,” says McKenzie, who is from Cotuit on Cape Cod and is on the AARP Massachusetts Executive Council.

He says there’s a misperception that financial planning services are only for multimillionaires. But financial advisers who serve clients on an hourly basis and don’t sell products can review investment portfolios and advise on investments, annuities, tax strategies and Social Security. Some banks and mutual fund companies offer financial and estate planning services at no cost to customers; webinars like AARP’s are also a good source of information, he says.

For free AARP resources, go to and The October webinars will be held from 6–7:30 p.m. They’re free, but registration is required, at

Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury.

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