The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber

img_9354Talking About Money with Kids

One thing all parents and caregivers can agree to, no matter their socioeconomic level, is they don’t want to raise spoiled children. Ron Lieber discusses all the difficult topics surrounding money and children in his book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.

Lieber explains there is an epidemic of silence around money in American culture. Some parents living paycheck to paycheck discuss money issues and spending with their children out of necessity. But most parents avoid the topic of money altogether. The author urges parents, teachers, and caregivers to talk about money with children.

Lieber points out why it is difficult to discuss money with children. If teachers talk about taxes and the politics of money, kids get bored. If teachers address behavior and the ambition necessary to earn money they sound like they are making moral judgments and parents complain to the school administration. Teachers in private schools certainly don’t want to discuss affluence and education either.

Affluent parents feel demonized and those with less money feel their noses are being rubbed in everyone else’s affluence.

When children ask, “Why don’t we have more money?” it sounds like accusations to their parents rather than a naive question.

All discussions about money are also about values. Talking about allowance is also talking about patience. Talking about giving is also about generosity. Discussions about work are also about perseverance. Discussing the difference between wants and needs is also about thrift and prudence. And discussing all of it is perspective because it doesn’t matter how much you have or don’t have as long as you are grateful.

The book reveals that it doesn’t have to cost much to spoil a child. Many parents of working class and middle class children have the same worries of their children being materialistic and having a sense of entitlement. Given that all kids are exposed to the same culture.

Lieber describes how the culture is so different for kids today than previous generations. For example, social media creates a longing for material possessions and trips that rich friends have. College costs are higher than they were when we were kids.

The biggest cost of their lifetimes is attending a college or university. And most middle class and working class parents leave the decision as to whether to take out student loans to 17-year-olds who has never made a bigger purchase than buying a bicycle. And unlike generations of the past, after college health insurance and retirement savings are now up to individuals rather than their employers. Moving the risk and burden of economic responsibilities to the individual from the employer means saving any money on starting salaries is almost impossible.

My favorite part of Lieber’s book is the discussion of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics is when human quarks and emotions have a profound impact on the decisions we make about how we spend money and how much we earn and don’t have. Pride, joy and excitement and doubt shame embarrassment and envy especially when using credit cards. Learning how to control these emotions is the number one factor in making financial decisions. It is feelings that drives our bad decision making.

What Leiber knows about being spoiled:

1) Money’s not the cause. Sure, it’s a symptom. After all, it’s easier to spoil children if you can afford to give them everything they want. But spoiling happens when we give in, not just when we give.

2) Context matters. Spoiled children don’t know how good they have it. They’re lacking perspective. They don’t know many people who are not like them, and older ones may not want to know them either.

3) Grandparents spoil kids worst of all. Just saying. Our parents know exactly what kind of challenges their loose rules will create when the kids are back home with us again, but it’s not their problem at that point.

4) Don’t use the word as a weapon. Don’t call your kids spoiled to their face, no matter how angry you get. We’re trying to promote confidence here, not shame. And if we can’t quite define it just yet ourselves, how can we expect them to know what we mean if we hurl the word at them?

5) It’s not a synonym for privileged. Plenty of working class people raise spoiled kids, and lots of wealthy people turn out grounded children. Class is not destiny.

Lieber also shows us how to answer uncomfortable questions kids ask about money including:

  • “Are we rich?”
  • “Are we poor?”
  • “Why does she have nicer clothes than me?”
  • “Will we run out of money now that you lost your job?”
  • “Who do we know that is rich?”
  • “Why did you choose this job instead of one that could let us have a bigger house?”

Lieber discusses the issues that surround bringing up grounded, thoughtful, and respectful children who have a perspective on their good fortune and compassion towards others.

Lieber admits we can’t know how much money kids will have when they grow up — their financial status is fluid. But their financial values should not be. We shouldn’t ignore discussions about money with children. Instead, we must answer their questions and teach them financial values so they can properly manage money as they age.

You can purchase your own copy of The Opposite of Spoiled by clicking the links above or below:


The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money

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