The Opposite of Spoiled

by Ron Lieber

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 29, 2024
The Opposite of Spoiled
The Opposite of Spoiled

Discover practical strategies to navigate financial conversations with children and cultivate lifelong money management skills. The "Opposite of Spoiled" book summary offers a comprehensive guide to empowering the next generation's financial literacy.

What are the big ideas?

Navigating Financial Conversations with Children

This book emphasizes the importance of discussing money openly with children to demystify financial topics and prepare them for future challenges. It diverges from usual avoidance tactics by suggesting active engagement and using real-world examples to teach financial literacy.

Parents addressing children’s curiosity about family income or discussing reasons behind financial decisions transparently.

Embracing Emotional Contexts in Money Discussions

The book points out that emotions heavily influence financial decisions. It introduces the concept that understanding and discussing the emotional aspects of money, like pride or shame, can enhance financial conversations between parents and children.

Examples may include parents sharing their own financial fears or successes to guide children’s emotional responses to money.

Three-Jar Allowance System to Teach Financial Discipline

The book suggests a practical approach to allowances with the three-jar system for spending, saving, and giving, which instills basic financial management skills in children from an early age.

Children dividing their allowance into separate jars as a hands-on method of learning to budget and prioritize financial goals.

Counteracting Materialism Through Strategic Parenting Choices

This book tackles the rise in child and teen materialism by recommending specific parenting strategies, such as prioritizing experiences over possessions and encouraging children to earn and manage their own money.

Implementing 'no-spend' periods or encouraging children to use their own money for 'wants' like smartphones or luxury items.

Transgenerational Financial Education as a Manifesto

The book is framed as a generational manifesto, advocating a shift in how financial education is approached. It calls for a culture change where solid financial habits are passed down to empower the next generation.

Parents leading by example with financial transparency and involving children in financial decisions like charitable giving.

The Role of Trade-Offs in Teaching Financial Decisions

Highlighting the concept of trade-offs, the book educates on the importance of making informed choices between various options, teaching children the value of evaluating opportunities and sacrifices.

Parents could narrate their decision-making process when opting between a vacation and home improvements, linking choices to family values and financial priorities.

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The book advocates for open and honest financial conversations with children. Rather than avoiding or lying about money matters, parents should directly address children's curiosity and use real-world examples to teach valuable financial lessons.

This approach aims to demystify financial topics and prepare children for the significant financial challenges they will face as adults. For instance, parents can discuss their income, spending decisions, and reasons behind financial constraints. By doing so, children gain financial literacy and learn to navigate complex money matters with maturity.

The book emphasizes that children's questions about money often drive the learning process. Parents should welcome these inquiries and use them as opportunities to impart important values like patience, thrift, and generosity. Engaging children in thoughtful discussions about money can instill positive financial habits that last into adulthood.

Overall, the book advocates abandoning the typical avoidance tactics and instead embracing open, transparent financial conversations as a means of equipping children with the knowledge and skills to navigate the evolving financial landscape they will inherit.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight of openly discussing money with children:

  • The book emphasizes that "every conversation about money is also about values" and that topics like allowance, giving, and work ethic are opportunities to teach children important character traits.

  • It describes an experiment where researchers used a curriculum called "Share Save Spend" to have older children (ages 10-17) participate in discussions about needs vs. wants, advertising, and how to have ongoing family conversations about money. This intervention led to improved self-esteem in the children.

  • It highlights the story of Bramson Dewey, who is intentional about exposing his children to the fact that other families have more wealth, but also makes sure they understand that he is willing to spend on things that are truly valuable. For example, his older daughter thought a full-size Hershey bar was a sign of wealth.

  • The book suggests establishing a "grace-saying ritual" at mealtimes as a way to foster gratitude and perspective in children about their financial situation.

  • It describes how the author's own family started asking their daughter "Did you ask a good question today?" at dinners, to encourage her curiosity and make their home a "place of intrigue" for discussing important topics.

The key is using real-world examples and transparent discussions to demystify money and prepare children for future financial challenges, rather than avoiding the topic or being dishonest.

Embracing Emotional Contexts in Money Discussions

The key insight is that embracing the emotional context is crucial when discussing money with children. Emotions like pride, shame, and envy heavily influence financial decisions, from governments down to individuals. Learning to recognize and control these emotions is the most important factor in making sound financial choices.

Any conversation about money must consider the emotional landscape. Parents often experience a wave of mixed feelings about their own finances and their children's spending. This potent emotional mix makes it incredibly difficult for parents to talk openly and honestly with their kids about money.

By acknowledging and discussing the emotional aspects of money, parents can enhance these critical financial conversations. Sharing personal stories about regretted purchases or cherished items can help reduce the confusion children may feel about how spending reflects values. Embracing the emotional context allows parents to guide their children's financial behaviors and mindsets in a more meaningful way.

Here are key examples from the context that support the insight about embracing emotional contexts in money discussions:

  • The context notes that "feelings, after all, that drive bad behavior and lousy decision making" when it comes to money. This highlights the importance of recognizing and managing the emotional aspects of financial decisions.

  • The book discusses how "affluent parents with more money than they need to live on will, by definition, be setting artificial limits with their children almost every day" and how these decisions are "more emotional than financial." This shows how emotions can influence even wealthy families' money conversations.

  • The book cites the example of "middle-and working-class parents" who "often grapple with the practical challenge of living paycheck to paycheck while trying to provide their children with as much enrichment and fun as possible." In these cases, "emotions come into play too, when children ask questions about why their family doesn't have more money, and the inquiries sound like accusations to their parents." This illustrates how emotions shape money discussions across socioeconomic levels.

  • The book suggests that parents share "their own tales, with real examples, [to] reduce some of the confusion our kids may feel about how our spending reflects our values." This demonstrates how openly discussing the emotional context around money decisions can benefit children's understanding.

  • The book highlights the story of Bramson Dewey, who is conscious of how his family's relative wealth may impact his children's perspectives. This shows how parents can proactively address the emotional aspects of their financial status.

In summary, the context emphasizes that embracing the emotional contexts around money, through open discussions and sharing personal experiences, is key to having productive financial conversations with children.

Three-Jar Allowance System to Teach Financial Discipline

The book advocates a three-jar allowance system to teach children critical financial skills from a young age. The three jars represent:

  1. Spending: This jar holds money for small, immediate purchases. Letting children use this money freely allows them to learn from their spending decisions.

  2. Saving: This jar builds up funds for larger, long-term goals. Watching their savings grow over time instills patience and delayed gratification.

  3. Giving: This jar is for money children choose to donate to causes or people in need. This develops generosity and a sense of social responsibility.

By physically dividing their allowance into these three categories, children gain hands-on experience budgeting, prioritizing goals, and practicing financial discipline. This approach equips them with a strong foundation in money management that will serve them well into adulthood.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about the three-jar allowance system:

  • The Kessel family in Topanga, California pays their kids interest on the money they save, starting at a generous 50% monthly interest rate on balances under $50, and gradually decreasing as the savings grow larger.

  • Financial planner Gifford Lehman gave his kids a choice - they could either earn an allowance or they could collect and redeem cans and bottles for money. This hands-on approach allowed his kids to directly experience earning money through their own work.

  • The context describes how "the Save jar, and we consider it an imperative, a commandment of sorts. Save! But it's also a joyful exclamation, the sort of thing you'd shout before beginning a journey to a fun destination." This highlights how the three-jar system makes saving a positive, rewarding experience for children.

  • The "Give container" is used to teach children about sharing money with those in need, and the importance of charitable giving, even from a young age.

  • The context emphasizes how the three-jar system, with equal amounts in each jar initially, allows children to "practice" budgeting and prioritizing their spending, saving, and giving as they get older and can decide how to divide the money themselves.

The key terms and concepts illustrated here are the three-jar system for allowances, which includes separate jars for spending, saving, and giving. This hands-on approach teaches children basic financial management skills and the value of budgeting, saving, and charitable giving from an early age.

Counteracting Materialism Through Strategic Parenting Choices

The book advocates strategic parenting choices to counteract the rise of materialism in children and teens. A key insight is prioritizing experiences over possessions. This means consciously limiting children's access to material goods and instead encouraging them to earn and manage their own money.

One recommended strategy is implementing 'no-spend' periods, where families abstain from non-essential purchases for a set duration. This teaches children to delay gratification and appreciate the value of money. Another approach is having children use their own money, earned through allowances or part-time jobs, to pay for 'wants' like smartphones or luxury items. This fosters financial responsibility and an understanding that material goods have real costs.

The book emphasizes that these parenting choices go beyond just money management. They instill important values like patience, thrift, and perspective - traits that help children develop into grounded, financially-savvy young adults. By shifting the focus from accumulating possessions to earning and thoughtfully spending money, parents can cultivate healthier relationships with material goods in their children.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight of counteracting materialism through strategic parenting choices:

  • The study by Tim Kasser and other scholars that implemented a 3-session intervention program for materialistic children aged 10-17. The program focused on values, needs vs. wants, and tracking spending/advertising. This led to improved self-esteem in the intervention group compared to the control group.

  • The story of Bramson Dewey, who grew up wealthy but has instilled in his own children the value of modesty. He consciously exposes them to the fact that other families have more expensive possessions and experiences, while ensuring they have access to "reasonably priced necessities as well as some fun stuff."

  • The recommendation to share personal stories with children about regretted purchases versus cherished items, to help reduce confusion about how spending reflects values.

  • The suggestion to establish a "grace-saying ritual" before meals as a way to foster a culture of gratitude in the family, which research shows is linked to higher well-being in children.

  • The advice to supervise children's social media use, as it can expose them to a "vista of jealousy and one-upmanship" that fuels materialism, and to offer commentary on why their peers may be posting certain content.

The key terms and concepts illustrated here include:

  • Materialism intervention program: A structured curriculum to reduce materialism in older children
  • Modesty: Deliberately exposing children to the fact that others have more, while ensuring their own needs are met
  • Gratitude rituals: Family practices that cultivate thankfulness and appreciation
  • Social media supervision: Monitoring children's online activity and providing guidance on interpreting peer posts

Overall, the context highlights strategic parenting choices, from structured programs to everyday habits, that can counteract the rise of materialism in children.

Transgenerational Financial Education as a Manifesto

The book presents a generational manifesto - a call to action for transforming how we educate the next generation about personal finance. The core idea is to instill solid financial habits and positive values that empower young people to thrive, rather than simply teaching technical money management skills.

At the heart of this approach is financial transparency between parents and children. By openly discussing money, its meaning, and its role in daily life, families can cultivate curiosity, patience, thrift, modesty, generosity, perseverance, and perspective - traits that serve children well regardless of their future wealth. This contrasts with simply telling kids what to do with money.

The book advocates leading by example, with parents modeling the financial behaviors and mindsets they want to pass down. This could involve involving children in decisions about charitable giving, saving, and spending. The goal is to make money a teaching tool for imparting valuable life lessons, not just a practical necessity.

Ultimately, this generational manifesto calls for a cultural shift - moving away from a narrow focus on technical skills, and towards a holistic, values-based approach to financial education. By doing so, families can equip the next generation with the knowledge, habits, and perspective to navigate an increasingly complex financial landscape.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight of transgenerational financial education as a manifesto:

  • The Kessel family in Topanga, California - Their 13-year-old son Kaden researched his father's salary of $700,000 on, demonstrating children's natural curiosity about family finances.

  • The intervention study on materialistic children - Researchers found that a curriculum focused on values and emotions around money improved self-esteem in older children, showing the power of detailed financial conversations.

  • Bramson Dewey's approach with his 6 and 10-year-old daughters - He is intentional about exposing them to wealth differences in their community, to instill perspective on relative wealth.

  • The Yates family - They have family rituals like watching "A Christmas Carol" to discuss money values, and take breaks from material goods during Lent/Advent to reinforce that possessions serve them, not the other way around.

  • Annie Leonard's "counterprogramming" - She turns TV commercials into a game with her daughter to analyze the subliminal messages, empowering her to be a critical consumer.

Key terms:

  • Transgenerational - Passing down knowledge and habits across generations
  • Manifesto - A public declaration of principles, policies, and intentions
  • Financial transparency - Open communication about family finances
  • Financial decisions - Involving children in choices about money, like charitable giving

The context emphasizes the importance of parents modeling healthy financial behaviors and having ongoing discussions with children about money, values, and perspective. This approach aims to empower the next generation with solid financial habits.

The Role of Trade-Offs in Teaching Financial Decisions

The book emphasizes the critical role of trade-offs in teaching children about financial decision-making. Trade-offs refer to the choices we make between different options, each with their own costs and benefits. By highlighting trade-offs, the book equips parents to guide their children through the process of evaluating alternatives and making informed decisions.

For example, parents can walk their children through the decision-making process when choosing between a family vacation and home improvements. This allows children to understand how values and financial priorities shape real-world choices. By narrating these trade-offs, parents can instill in their children the skills to thoughtfully weigh different options and make responsible financial decisions.

The book recognizes that navigating trade-offs is a fundamental aspect of good living, both for organizations and individuals. Just as successful businesses must choose to focus on certain core competencies, families must make strategic choices about how to allocate their limited time and resources. By teaching children to embrace trade-offs, the book empowers them to develop financial maturity and make wise choices as they grow older.

Here are some examples from the context that illustrate the key insight about the role of trade-offs in teaching financial decisions:

  • The Engelhart family has established a "toy equilibrium" where any new toy that comes in means an older one goes to charity. This teaches their children to think carefully about which toys are most valuable and worth keeping.

  • Yoni Engelhart started a "First Kids Bank of Brookline" at home that pays 20% annual interest. This gives his children the opportunity to experience the trade-off between spending money now versus saving it for the future.

  • The Engelhart children now think carefully about whether to spend birthday money on something new or deposit it in the bank to earn interest. This demonstrates the trade-off between immediate gratification and long-term growth.

  • The family also involves the children in decisions about charitable giving, allowing the two oldest to decide where some of the family's giving budget goes. This teaches them about the trade-off between personal spending and generosity.

  • The author notes that even affluent families with more money than needed must still set "artificial limits" with their children, as their spending decisions are often more emotional than financial. This highlights the trade-offs involved in providing for children's wants versus their needs.

The key is to make these trade-offs explicit and engage children in the decision-making process, so they learn to thoughtfully evaluate different options and their associated costs and benefits. This helps instill valuable financial habits and decision-making skills.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Opposite of Spoiled" that resonated with readers.

Spoiled children tend to have four primary things in common, though they don’t all have to be present at once: They have few chores or other responsibilities, there aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedules, parents and others lavish them with time and assistance, and they have a lot of material possessions.

Children who are overly pampered often lack responsibilities and boundaries, with few rules to guide their behavior. They tend to receive excessive attention and assistance from others, and are frequently showered with material goods. This can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement and a lack of appreciation for the value of hard work and earning things for oneself. As a result, they may struggle with self-discipline and responsibility.

But Matthiesen hit on the concept of return on investment, though she didn’t call it that. Instead, she asked her kids to estimate the hours of fun per dollar that any particular Want of theirs might provide.

A mother encouraged her children to think critically about their spending by asking them to calculate the enjoyment they would get from a particular item in relation to its cost. This helped them understand that the value of something lies not only in its price, but also in the happiness it brings. By doing so, she taught them to make more informed decisions about how to allocate their resources. This approach instilled a sense of responsibility and mindfulness in their spending habits.

every conversation about money is also about values. Allowance is also about patience. Giving is about generosity. Work is about perseverance. Negotiating their wants and needs and the difference between the two has a lot to do with thrift and prudence.

When discussing money with children, it's not just about the numbers, but about the values and principles behind those financial decisions. For instance, teaching kids about saving and budgeting is also about instilling patience and prudence. Similarly, conversations about charitable giving can foster a sense of generosity, while discussions about work ethic can promote perseverance.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "The Opposite of Spoiled"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the benefit of having open and honest financial conversations with children?
2. How should parents respond to their children’s curiosity about financial matters?
3. Why is it important for children to understand the difference between needs and wants?
4. What kind of impact does discussing financial constraints and decisions openly with children have?
5. What values can be taught through discussions about allowance and savings?
6. Why is it important to consider emotions when discussing finances with children?
7. How can parents use personal stories in financial discussions with their children?
8. What role do emotions play in the financial decisions of wealthy and middle-class families?
9. What are the three categories in the three-jar allowance system for teaching children how to manage money?
10. Why is it beneficial for children to have a jar dedicated to spending?
11. What lessons do children learn by maintaining a saving jar?
12. How does the giving jar contribute to a child's social development?
13. What is the significance of prioritizing experiences over possessions in children’s upbringing?
14. How do 'no-spend' periods benefit children's understanding of money and gratification?
15. Why is it advisable for children to use their own money for personal wants?
16. How can gratitude rituals positively impact children's perception of materialism?
17. What role does supervising children’s social media use play in curbing their materialism?
18. What is the primary aim of involving children in financial conversations and decisions in the family?
19. Why is financial transparency important in family settings according to the generational manifesto?
20. How does leading by example affect children's financial education?
21. What cultural shift does the generational manifesto advocate for in terms of financial education?
22. What are the potential long-term benefits for children who grow up with a values-based approach to financial education?
23. What does the concept of trade-offs refer to in the context of financial decision-making?
24. How can highlighting trade-offs help children in their financial decision-making?
25. What is one method by which parents can teach children about the impact of trade-offs on financial decisions?
26. Why is teaching children about trade-offs considered important for their future financial decisions?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Opposite of Spoiled". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you start incorporating financial education into your daily discussions with your children using routine activities?
2. How can parents integrate emotional awareness into conversations about money management with their children?
3. What daily practices can parents use to demonstrate the importance of emotions in financial decisions to children?
4. How can you implement the three-jar system in your family to promote financial literacy among your children?
5. How can you implement 'no-spend' periods within your family to teach children the value of money and self-restraint?
6. How can you foster an environment of financial transparency in your family to instill positive financial values in the next generation?
7. What steps can you take to demonstrate the application of solid financial habits through your own behavior as a model for your children?
8. How can you implement the concept of trade-offs in your family budgeting to teach your children about financial prioritization?
9. What methods can you use to show children the importance of balancing short-term desires with long-term benefits in everyday spending?

Chapter Notes

The responsibilities we never faced at their age and the power of real conversations

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Importance of Talking About Money with Children: The chapter emphasizes the importance of having open and honest conversations with children about money, as children are increasingly curious about issues of inequality, wealth, and social class. However, many parents and schools struggle with how to address these sensitive topics.

  • The Emotional Context of Money Decisions: The chapter highlights how money decisions are often driven by complex emotions like pride, shame, envy, and fear, rather than being purely rational. This emotional context makes it challenging for parents to have productive conversations with their children about money.

  • Emerging Financial Challenges Facing the Next Generation: The chapter outlines several new financial challenges that today's children will face, including the high cost of college, the shift of financial risk from employers to employees, and the need to make complex financial decisions at a young age. This creates an urgency for parents to prepare their children with strong financial habits and decision-making skills.

  • The Dangers of Silence Around Money: The chapter argues that avoiding conversations about money with children can be counterproductive, as it can lead to children becoming obsessed with or feeling ashamed about money. Instead, the chapter advocates for embracing money conversations as a way to instill important values and character traits.

  • Defining the "Opposite of Spoiled": The chapter provides a definition of the "opposite of spoiled" children, which includes having chores and responsibilities, clear rules and boundaries, limited material possessions, and a focus on developing virtues like generosity, curiosity, and perseverance. The chapter suggests that money can be a useful tool for cultivating these desirable traits in children.

  • A Generational Manifesto for Raising Financially Responsible Children: The chapter presents the book as a "generational manifesto" for teaching children strong financial habits and values, with the goal of empowering the next generation to avoid the financial pitfalls that have ensnared many adults.

Curiosity, lies, and the single best reply to every hard question about money (and sex and drugs)

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Curiosity about Money is Natural for Children: Children are naturally curious about money and will seek out information about it, even if the information is inaccurate. This curiosity should be encouraged rather than avoided.

  • Silence and Lying about Money are Problematic: Avoiding questions about money or lying to children about financial matters can create more problems than it solves. Children will often find ways to uncover financial information on their own, and this can lead to anxiety and mistrust.

  • Asking "Why Do You Ask?" is a Useful Tactic: When children ask about money, responding with "Why do you ask?" can buy time to understand the motivation behind the question and provide a more thoughtful, age-appropriate response.

  • Avoid Gender Bias in Financial Education: Parents tend to provide more financial education to sons than daughters, which can perpetuate gender disparities in financial literacy and outcomes. Daughters should receive the same level of financial education as sons.

  • Address Fears about Financial Setbacks Directly: When families experience job loss or other financial difficulties, it's important to address children's fears about having to move or make other changes directly, rather than avoiding the topic.

  • Defining "Rich" is Complex: Determining whether a family is "rich" is not straightforward, as wealth can be defined in various ways beyond just income and possessions. Discussing this concept with children can help them develop a more nuanced understanding of wealth and value.

  • Explain Spending Decisions Transparently: When children question why they can't have certain items or experiences, parents should aim to explain their spending decisions transparently, focusing on their values and priorities rather than just affordability.

  • Reveal Income Information Gradually: Sharing specific income information with children can be done gradually, by first explaining the various expenses and financial obligations a family has before revealing the overall income level.

  • Acknowledge that Children May Uncover Financial Information: With the prevalence of online information, children may be able to discover details about their family's finances, such as home values or parental salaries, on their own. Being prepared to have open discussions about this information can help maintain trust.

  • Promote Financial Literacy and Transparency: Actively engaging children in discussions about family finances, rather than avoiding the topic, can help promote financial literacy and a sense of transparency within the household.

Three jars, unpaid chores, and a whole lot of patience

  • Allowance as a Teaching Tool: The primary purpose of an allowance is not to compensate for chores, but to teach children important financial skills, such as saving, spending, and delayed gratification.

  • Patience and Self-Control: Receiving an allowance helps children develop patience and self-control, which are associated with positive financial outcomes in adulthood, such as saving money, owning homes and stocks, and avoiding credit problems.

  • Dividing the Allowance: The author recommends dividing the allowance into three clear containers: one for spending, one for giving, and one for saving. This introduces children to the concept of budgeting and the idea that money has different purposes.

  • Wants vs. Needs: Helping children understand the difference between wants and needs is an important part of the allowance process. The author suggests using a "Lands' End Line" to define the boundary between what the parents will pay for (needs) and what the child must pay for (wants).

  • Clothing Budgets: As children get older, the author suggests giving them a lump sum clothing budget and allowing them to make their own decisions, even if they make mistakes. This teaches them valuable shopping skills.

  • Banned Items: Parents should establish a list of banned items that children cannot purchase, even with their own money, to prevent them from making unwise or inappropriate purchases.

  • Smartphones and Cars: Smartphones and cars are generally considered wants, not needs, and children should be responsible for paying for them, either through their allowance or earnings from a part-time job.

  • Chores and Allowance: The author argues that children should not be paid for basic chores, as these are simply part of being a member of the household. Instead, children can be paid for larger, one-time tasks or for demonstrating entrepreneurial thinking and problem-solving skills.

The hours-of-fun-per-dollar test, Grandma Dana’s shopping ritual, and the importance of record-store pit stops

  • The Fun Ratio: This is a concept where kids are encouraged to estimate the hours of fun per dollar that a particular "Want" item might provide. The idea is to help kids think critically about the value and longevity of their purchases, rather than just impulse buying. For example, a $2 deck of cards that can provide hours of entertainment is a better deal than a $50 toy that quickly loses its appeal.

  • The More-Good/Less-Harm Rule: This is a flexible test that encourages kids to consider which purchase does the most good and the least harm, whether to themselves, their community, or the environment. It's an extension of the Golden Rule and helps kids think about the broader impact of their spending.

  • Thrift Store Shopping: Visiting thrift stores can be a great way to instill values about spending and saving. Kids can learn to find unique, affordable items and take pride in outsmarting the commercial marketplace.

  • Family Spending Rituals: Establishing family rituals around spending, such as Grandma Dana's annual dollar-store trips or record store visits, can help teach kids important lessons about money, supporting local businesses, and appreciating art and music.

  • Temporary Restraint: Occasionally giving up certain material goods or experiences as a family, such as during Lent or Advent, can reinforce the idea that these things are wants, not needs, and that it's possible to take a break from them.

  • Countering Vertical Reference Groups: With the rise of social media and celebrity culture, kids' reference groups have expanded vertically, leading to increased pressure to consume. Parents can create their own "counterprogramming" by discussing the messages behind media and advertising, and reinforcing their family's values around spending.

  • Sharing and Borrowing: Embracing the idea of sharing resources within a community, such as borrowing sports gear or using a shared pool, can free up money for more meaningful purchases and experiences.

  • Allowing Autonomy: While parents can guide their children's spending habits, it's important to allow kids to develop their own sense of values and make their own decisions, even if those decisions don't perfectly align with the parents' views.

The tooth fairy, the travel-team dilemma, and the making of a more modest school

  • Materialism and Overindulgence: The chapter explores the phenomenon of "full provisioning" - the tendency of parents to provide their children with an abundance of material goods and experiences, often driven by a desire to maintain their child's social status and sense of inclusion among their peers. This can lead to children becoming materialistic, focusing more on possessions than relationships.

  • Negative Impacts of Materialism: Research has shown that materialism is correlated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other negative outcomes. Children who are exposed to more commercials and advertising tend to value material possessions over social relationships.

  • Parenting Strategies to Reduce Materialism: The chapter discusses various strategies parents can use to reduce materialism in their children, such as limiting screen time and exposure to advertising, engaging in creative gift-giving (e.g., custom coupons, animal teeth), and focusing on experiences over material goods.

  • The "Tooth Fairy Dilemma": The chapter explores the rising cost of the "tooth fairy" tradition, with some parents spending exorbitant amounts of money on the first lost tooth. The author suggests more modest and creative approaches, such as using different currencies or animal teeth, to maintain the magic of the tradition while avoiding excessive materialism.

  • The "Travel Team Dilemma": The chapter discusses the growing trend of parents spending large sums of money on their children's participation in youth sports, particularly travel teams. Research has shown that the more families spend on sports as a percentage of their income, the more likely children are to perceive pressure from their parents and enjoy the sport less.

  • The "Dewey Rule": The author proposes the "Dewey Rule," which suggests that parents should aim to have their children's possessions and experiences fall within the 30th to 50th percentile of their peers, to avoid both deprivation and excessive materialism.

  • Shady Hill School's Approach: The chapter highlights the efforts of Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to address the growing divide between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and to promote a more modest and inclusive school culture.

Narrating your way through gifts of $1, $1,000, and $1 million

  • Importance of Talking to Kids About Giving: Parents should have regular conversations with their children about why giving money to help others is important. This can be framed as a duty, a way to increase happiness, or a means of strengthening community bonds.

  • Toddlers' Natural Inclination Towards Generosity: Studies have shown that even 20-month-old toddlers exhibit a natural tendency to be happier when giving away treats than when receiving them, suggesting an innate human drive for generosity.

  • Handling Questions About Homelessness: When children ask about homelessness, parents should avoid criticizing the individuals and instead focus on explaining the complex societal issues that contribute to the problem and how they try to help, even if they can't take someone in.

  • The "Giving Bag" Project: Families can create "giving bags" filled with supplies to distribute to homeless individuals, which allows children to actively participate in the process of helping others.

  • Incorporating Giving into Allowance and Gift-Giving: Storing a portion of a child's allowance in a "Give" jar and giving blank checks as gifts can encourage regular conversations about charitable giving.

  • Involving Children in Household Giving Decisions: Families can involve children in the process of deciding how to allocate their charitable giving budget, using visual aids like beans and labels to represent different organizations.

  • The Salwen Family's Transformative Giving Experience: The Salwen family's decision to sell their large home and donate a significant portion of the proceeds to charity had a profound impact on their family dynamics and sense of purpose.

  • The Brandeis Hillel Day School's Giving Fund: The school's program where seventh-grade students collectively manage a fund to donate to local organizations has become a core part of the curriculum, teaching students about the systemic causes of poverty and the importance of giving.

  • Adapting Giving Initiatives to Your Family's Circumstances: Families can find ways to incorporate giving into their lives that align with their values and resources, whether it's adjusting their dining-out or vacation budgets or involving their children in the decision-making process.

Lessons from farm work, mandatory tuition payments, and a unified theory of tin can redemption

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Children are naturally industrious and enjoy earning money: Kids are drawn to tasks like redeeming cans and bottles for money because it allows them to work and earn, which they find gratifying. However, many parents are reluctant to recognize and cultivate this natural work ethic in their children.

  • Part-time jobs can teach valuable skills like "grit": Contrary to common concerns, part-time jobs during high school are correlated with high college expectations and good grades, as long as the student doesn't work more than 15 hours per week. Jobs can teach essential skills like the ability to listen, exert effort, cooperate with others, and see tasks through to completion - qualities known as "grit" that are highly predictive of success.

  • Assign more chores and responsibilities at home: Parents should give children more substantial household responsibilities, like preparing meals, at younger ages. This not only teaches valuable skills but also conveys the expectation that children are capable of contributing meaningfully to the family.

  • Farm families provide a model for cultivating a strong work ethic: Children growing up on farms, like the Smith family, are expected to contribute significant labor from a young age. This instills a strong work ethic and the confidence that they can succeed through hard work, even if they don't end up working in the family business.

  • Facilitate paid work opportunities for teenagers: When families don't have a built-in business to employ their children, parents can get creative by providing paid work opportunities, like home renovation projects or seasonal jobs. This teaches valuable skills and a work ethic.

  • Have children contribute to college costs: Requiring teenagers to pay for at least their first semester of college tuition themselves, as the Winerip family did, can instill a strong work ethic and sense of investment in their education.

  • Children from low-income families can be inspiring role models: Stories like that of Lucerito Gutierrez, who collected cans and bottles with her family to make ends meet but went on to win a prestigious scholarship, can help wealthier children appreciate the value of hard work.

Instilling gratitude, grace, and perspective in our sons and daughters

  • Gratitude and Grace: Establishing a family ritual of saying grace or expressing gratitude before meals can help foster a culture of gratitude and perspective in children. This can be as simple as saying a single word like "gracias" or taking turns sharing something they are grateful for.

  • Gaining Perspective through Cross-Class Friendships: Seeking out cross-class friendships, both for parents and children, can help expose kids to different socioeconomic backgrounds and gain a better understanding of the privileges they have. This can be done through team sports, community groups, or even school-organized home visits.

  • Avoiding the Pitfalls of "Voluntourism": While volunteer trips abroad may seem like a way to instill gratitude and perspective in children, they often do more harm than good. Parents should carefully evaluate the purpose and impact of such trips, ensuring they leverage the skills of the participants and support the needs of the local community.

  • The Value of Overnight Camp: Sending children to overnight camps that lack modern amenities can provide a "symbolic deprivation" experience, reminding them that they don't need material possessions to enjoy themselves and be happy.

  • Mindful Vacationing: When taking family vacations, parents should balance luxury experiences with opportunities to engage with the local community and understand different ways of living. This can include activities like visiting local markets, attending sporting events, or staying in more modest accommodations.

  • Navigating Socioeconomic Differences in School Settings: Schools with limited socioeconomic diversity can present challenges for families with less financial means, such as the ability to afford off-campus meals or participate in extracurricular activities. Parents should be mindful of these differences and work to create a more inclusive environment for all students.

  • The Importance of Empathy and Understanding: Ultimately, the goal is to instill in children a sense of empathy and understanding for those from different socioeconomic backgrounds, without making them feel ashamed of their own privileges. This requires a delicate balance of acknowledging advantages while also fostering gratitude and perspective.

All about trade-offs

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Defining "Enough": The chapter emphasizes the importance of parents defining what "enough" means for their family, in terms of spending, saving, and giving. This involves reflecting on their own values and priorities, and being able to articulate these to their children.

  • Narrating Spending Decisions: Parents should be intentional about narrating their spending decisions to their children, explaining the reasoning behind them. This helps children understand the trade-offs and values that guide the family's financial choices.

  • Introducing Trade-Offs: Parents should actively introduce the concept of trade-offs to their children, such as the trade-off between spending now and saving for the future. This helps children develop financial decision-making skills and an understanding of opportunity costs.

  • Extending Trade-Offs Beyond Finances: The chapter suggests that the trade-off framework can be applied to various aspects of life, such as choosing between material possessions and experiences, or between personal convenience and helping others.

  • Developing Financial Perspective: The goal is to help children develop a healthy, personalized definition of "enough" that is not based on comparison to others. Parents should aim to foster financial perspective in their children, rather than obsession.

  • Ongoing Conversations: The chapter emphasizes that these conversations about money, values, and trade-offs should be an ongoing part of parenting, as children's needs and perspectives evolve over time.

  • Leaving a Legacy: Ultimately, these discussions about money and values are seen as an important legacy that parents can leave for their children, to help them become successful and contented adults.


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