I feel kind of bad for my kids that I just read The Opposite of Spoiled. Have you guys heard about this book? It’s written by Ron Lieber, New York Times personal finance columnist (and onetime DALS contributor, you may recall) and I fear it’s going to be one of those books that informs every conversation I have with them, around the dinner table and otherwise. Like yesterday, when I was in the car discussing whether the upcoming birthday girl wanted an experience (dinner at a local restaurant, say) versus a thing (Battlestar Gallactica Boxed Set, maybe) for a gift this year. And when dinner was ready but the table was decidedly not set, even though it has been very clearly communicated that the administering of allowance is in direct correlation to the regular completion of this task. Or when I went on and on about why I was shelling out the extra bucks for the organic chicken versus the non-organic one, even though I’m not entirely sure they were paying attention in the first place.
They were. Those rascally kids. They see everything! Once you start to look, money-related teaching moments abound and, according to Lieber, should be mindfully embraced. Not only because, yes, they’re watching our every move, modeling their financial behavior off ours, but because they are growing up in more challenging conditions than any generation before us. Among other things, at seemingly every turn, our children are relentlessly bombarded by marketers (not only at the grocery store!) telling them to Buy! Buy! Buy! They are surrounded by social media that reinforces this acquisitive culture, creating a “vast vista of jealousy and one-upmanship;” And, most important, many will be facing astronomical college bills (read: debts) that they’ll likely carry into adulthood.
It’s not all scary though. I think Lieber’s book has been following me around all week because at its heart, it’s not alarmist. And it’s not about how much allowance to give your kids, or what the going rate for the tooth fairy is, or parsing out “wants” versus “needs” – though all of those fundamentals are certainly addressed. What I liked most was how it frames money as a tool to enrich parenting — and, by extension childhoods. In this context, teaching kids about saving is really teaching them about delayed gratification (a dying phenomenon, and a topic you know I’m obsessed with); a visit from the tooth fairy is not just another mindless wallet dive, it’s an opportunity to implement a meaningful ritual, like one family Lieber profiles, who leave an international coin under their kids’ pillows, to reinforce the family’s commitment to “imagining other places.” There’s also the family that gives their kids “skip-the-vegetable” and “drop-everything-and-play-
Lieber has collected many stories like these from communities and families across the country and across all income brackets. All of them are addressing the same questions parents the world over ask themselves every day: What do our choices say about our priorities as a family? What do we value most as a family? Are we raising children who are grateful for what they have? Not just the piano lessons and the Nike Free Runs, but their family, friends, and communities? In my book, that’s the biggest one. In fact, I’m thinking of adding another little reminder card to my bulletin board up there, one I also stole from a family in Spoiled: “If you want to feel rich, just count all the gifts you have that money can’t buy.”
What are your most persistent conundrums about kids and money? Lieber said he’d be happy to answer any questions posed in the comment field below.