While flipping channels (does anyone do that anymore, or do we just fast forward the commercials?!?) we stumble upon Keeping up with the Kardashians and mercilessly judge the extent of privilege with a shrug and an eye roll...meh. But in a world of excess, how would we stack up as parents if we were judged by our children's abilities and tendencies towards money as they enter adulthood. Are we unknowingly raising our kids to be spoiled? What's the opposite of a spoiled kid, anyway?
Ron Leiber did us all a huge favor and answers this question in his new book aptly titled, The Opposite Of Spoiled.
Kids ask a lot of questions...
"Mommy how did that baby get in your tummy?" is a common one outside the realm of family finance and it may even seem that money questions would be much easier to answer, but how would handle the following question....with a 4 year old?
"Why did you choose your job when you could have chosen something else that would have let us have a nicer home and go on better vacations?"
Or what about:
"Are we rich?" "Who do we know who is rich?" "Are we poor?" "Why is that person asking us for money at the red light? "Shouldn't we give our second home to someone who doesn't have one?" "Do you make less money than Daddy?" "Are people without clothes lazy?"
This can often be a heavy burden but all to familiar situation for parents of curious children. And let's be honest, the words child and curiosity go hand in hand.
A Universal Problem, Rich or Poor
The central theme of the book is to show us that imparting financial wisdom is interlinked with that of teaching moral character. The way parents approach the subject and consistency with which they do so, irregardless of their socioeconomic background, carries a ton of weight.
Lieber talks about the fact that conversations (or lack thereof) about money with children can run the gamut. At one extreme you have children who are totally aware of money and the day to day decisions as their family is living paycheck to paycheck. At the other end of the spectrum, you have children of affluence whose reality of financial constraints is merely (artificially) imposed by their parents to prevent "spoiled" behavior. Both situations prove to be extremely complex and impactful on a developing child.
Kids are growing up in a NEW worlD
Lieber goes on to discuss that the world our children are growing up in is drastically different than what their parents knew in the 70s and 80s. For one thing, employers no longer provide what they used to. Two main examples revolve around the fact that the burden of health insurance and retirement savings have shifted from the employer to the employee. Pension, what???
The job market has gotten increasingly challenging and then when they do finally land a job, hundreds of dollars are being pulled from their paycheck from day one. Not to mention the cost of living going up year after year, it makes it nearly impossible to begin saving early on.
And we've yet to discuss the surmounting costs of secondary education which are soaring into the six figures for a reputable institution (and god forbid they don't choose a reputable institution, their job prospects plummet). Most parents with or without the wherewithal are leaving the decision of how to finance their education to a 17 year-old who "has never purchased anything more expensive than a bicycle". Lieber calls it "lunacy" and we agree.
THE LIGHT at the end of the tunnel
It's not a lost cause. There's plenty we can do as parents to help provide our children with the know-how to operate in this complex new world. A lot of it has to do with not treating the topic of finance in your house as though we were addressing a taboo subject like sex or alcohol. Do not shelter children from the money conversation, instead equip them with sound information. Also, do not gender bias your conversations, girls need to be included just as much as boys. Lastly, remember that in this day and age kids have access to everything. A simple Google search of Zillow can give a curious child access to the value of your home. Help provide them the context of how to interpret that information.
The book gives an example of a young man named Jacob who speak at a conference of educators and students outside of Seattle. Even though just a high school Sophomore, Jacob calls it completely irresponsible, an act of "institutional adultism" that on the one hand we tell our kids that they are the future of this country but on the other hand we don't teach them about money, which is there future. He goes on to say, let's "make money a focus, not a fetish".