There are a lot of decisions to make when you’re raising a kid. Everyone knows about the ones that have been magnified into giant issues (cloth diapering! babywearing!) but it’s the day-to-day decisions that can wear you down: no, you can’t have another piece of candy, you had one at lunch. Yes, you can watch an hour of television. No, a half-hour. No, you can’t have video games but you can play Minecraft because… well, because it seems creative, I guess? No, you can’t have a phone, you’re ten, that’s ridiculous. I know your friends have them, I don’t care. What in the world is a Beyblade? Yes, you can have ice cream, but tomorrow you can’t, we don’t have dessert every night. Go play outside. Fresh air is good for you. Because I said so, that’s why.
When it comes to money, I constantly feel like I’m making these decisions wrong. Should they have an allowance? How much? Should I tie it to chores? How should I talk to them about giving without making them feel guilty? Should I let them buy what they want with their money? What about the tooth fairy? Should they be saving for college at their age? At what age should they have a phone? A car? How much should they pay for those things? What about a job when they’re teenagers — shouldn’t they be doing something more interesting, so they’ll get admitted to college in the first place?
Ron Lieber’s book The Opposite of Spoiled addresses all these questions — and more — in a calm, sensible way that lets me think about them in terms of our family’s values. He points out that kids are curious about everything — that’s their job — and when they’re curious about our jobs, about our money, about whether we are rich or poor or can afford something, we should answer them, and involve them (at their level) in decision-making. He points out that the common approach that keeps kids away from money until they are 18 and then expects them to handle money well (credit cards, student loans, health care plans) is throwing them in a very serious deep end, and it’s not to their benefit.
What should we do, then? Lieber has lots of ideas, and they aren’t one-size-fits-all. Whether your family is middle class (which in the US means an income of $50,000) or well above that, or well below that, you can teach kids about money in a way that aligns with your own values. He tells a story about a wealthy family that sold their 6,000 square foot house, bought a 3,000 square foot house, and gave away the rest of the money. He also tells a story about a first-generation American family that made enough money collecting cans and bottles from the dump and taking them to the recycling center to pay for their daughter to attend community college.
Lieber encourages allowance; he encourages kids to give; he encourages them to save and spend and make mistakes they can learn from while the stakes are low. He wants kids to be inquisitive and generous. I didn’t agree with every approach of every family in this book — of course I didn’t — but I thought this was an extremely useful take on teaching children about money. It was readable, adaptable, and thoughtful about the needs of the world we live in.