The Opposite of Spoiled - Critical summary review - Ron Lieber

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The Opposite of Spoiled - critical summary review

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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 9780062247018

Publisher: Harper

Critical summary review

We all want to raise children who will be financially literate in adulthood. However, we often fail to provide basic money lessons that could help them do just that. The problem is that many parents want to teach their children financial responsibility but do not know how, while others avoid talking about money with kids at all. In ‘’The Opposite of Spoiled,’’ Ron Lieber tries to educate parents on how to raise children who are smart about money, while being generous, patient, and perseverant at the same time. So, get ready to learn how to include money lessons into your family life!

The importance of money talks

    Children are naturally curious - they ask questions to acquire more knowledge about the world around them. Unfortunately, parents often fail to respond to their curiosity adequately by choosing to stay silent on some topics: money and financing, for example. When it comes to topics such as money, parents usually avoid them because they think they are too complicated for young ones to grasp. ‘’People are not dispassionate about money, and they’re certainly not calm and rational about their kids. This potent mix, then, often makes it incredibly hard for parents to talk openly and honestly with their children about the topic,’’ says Lieber. However, their silence is not good for their children because they remain deprived of learning the basics of financial literacy.

A parent’s failure to provide money lessons to their children takes its toll first on teenagers. Almost completely inexperienced about money, they sometimes need to make serious financial decisions, such as whether to take out a student loan or how much to pay for their college education. Therefore, what parents teach their kids about money before this age is crucial, says Lieber. 

    There is a common misconception among parents that talking about money with children is not appropriate, or that it sends the wrong message, making them focus more on materialistic values. However, Lieber believes parents can use money as a tool to raise children who are not spoiled, but grateful for their possessions and willing to share them with others.

    A shift from silence about money to open discussion about it begins when parents give up trying to protect their kids from a reality in which money is a source of worries, fights, and fears. Joline Godfrey, a financial educator for children and adults, says that ‘’protect’’ might be a synonym for “pretend” in this context. “Those children are out in the world, seeing things on television and on the iPad,” she says. “So the fantasy that there is any way to protect children from anything ... I mean, you have to arm them. This is human self-defense!”

Responding to children’s questions about money

    Responding to children's questions about money is challenging, as it requires you to give them answers they can understand. According to Lieber, the first thing you can do before coming up with an appropriate response is to find out what triggered their curiosity. So, ask your child the question ‘’Why do you ask?’’ Be careful, though, to ask this in an encouraging tone, rather than a suspicious one, as that alone might end the whole conversation. When you hear their answer, you will know how to form yours, depending on the reason for their question.

    One of the questions preschoolers often ask is ‘’Are we poor?’’ This question usually arises when they notice their friends have more toys or when their parents refuse to buy them something they want. As they do not know any better, they tend to conclude that poverty is the reason for not having everything they desire. This is an opportunity to teach your children about appreciating things they do have. You can tell them that poor people do not have everything they need, like food, clothes, or medicine. Then, lead them to understand that you are not poor because you have all those things.

    When they grow older, children ask more concrete questions, such as ‘’How much money do you earn?” In the case of this question, be honest. Tell them how much you earn, but do not let the conversation end there. Teach them basic lessons about managing finances. Talk about the monthly expenses  and show them the utility bills, for example. Let them know what portion of your salary goes to paying bills, insurance, and other things. Teach them about the importance of saving money. The goal here is to help your kids understand how much things cost and the average amount of money your family spends in a month. 

    ‘’Do we have to move?’’ is a question children might ask if your family experiences a financial setback. In situations like these, young ones think about the tangible things such as whether the family needs a different house, or whether they will have to change schools. Be open with them and address their fears directly. If there is a possibility of moving to a less costly house, tell them it would probably be in a neighborhood close to the school they attend. 

Spend, save and share

‘’Figuring out how to delay gratification is a key part of handling money well, but the world now conspires against waiting in a way that it didn’t when we were children,’’ says Lieber. Nowadays, kids have almost everything available on-demand: they do not have to wait to watch movies, listen to music, or communicate with their friends. Therefore, teaching the children to be patient should be the goal of every parent, and giving them an allowance serves this purpose well. Lieber thinks children should start receiving an allowance as soon as they can learn to count, and when they start asking questions about money and the prices of things. 

The first thing you need to decide is the sum of money your child will receive each week. Lieber says it should be enough for them to buy something they may want, but not so much that they don’t have to make tough choices. Lieber recommends the amounts of about 50 cents to $1 to start. And, because you want your child to experience seeing the money grow, give them an allowance raise once a year - it can be on their birthday, for example. 

Once you decide on the amount, you will need to develop a money tracking and storing system. Lieber says he splits his daughter’s allowance into three jars - for spending, saving, and sharing. By dividing money in this manner, children will learn to set priorities for their money - they will first spend money on things they need the most, and save the rest of the money in case unexpected costs arise. 

In the beginning, keep things simple by putting the same amount of money in each jar. As the children grow older, you can introduce some extra incentives for saving. This way, you give them their first lessons on banking. For example, financial planner Brent Kessel and his wife pay monthly interest on the money their kids save, and that which they set aside for charity. 

    The sharing jar teaches your children about the importance of charity. Keep in mind that it is best to wait until this jar is full before giving the money away - it will give kids a real sense of accomplishment. 

Raising kids who are not materialistic 

    Parents who are negligent of their children’s financial habits can raise children who become materialistic - focused more on stuff than on people and relationships. Multiple studies have shown that materialism correlates with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Therefore, think twice before deciding to buy something for your child, as you might make them identify values, such as love or happiness, with money.

The person who can offer useful tips on keeping materialism at a proper distance is Tim Kasser. Kasser is a psychology professor and an author famous for the book ‘’The High Price of Materialism,’’ which explores how materialism and consumerism affect our quality of life. Kasser is also a father of two teenage sons, and he tries to raise them not to be materialistic as much as he can. For example, when they were younger than 10 years old, he would limit their time watching television to half an hour. However, when they started playing video games, the boys insisted their parents let them spend more time in front of screens. So, Kasser and his wife decided to conduct an experiment. They wanted to see whether the boys were good at managing themselves, and therefore, removed all the limits they imposed on them. After living with no rules for a while, the boys eventually realized that their parents’ way suited them better. “One of the best moments of my life as a parent was when my older son ... thanked me for putting limits on his playing because so many of his friends were addicted to video games,” Kasser says. His family also tries to spend more money on traveling and other experiences rather than accumulating possessions. 

    It is hard to raise children to be isolated from the culture of consumerism. What parents can do, however, is restrict their children’s exposure to it as much as possible. However, they should not be strict about it - children should know about other options so that they can learn how to make the right decisions for themselves one day. “If my kids want to choose a career that is relatively ambitious in terms of the amount of work it will take and money they will make, well, it’s not my life,” Kasser says.

Birthdays and tooth fairies 

    Children love special events such as birthdays, Christmas, or the occasion when they lose their first tooth. They anticipate them long before they happen, and look forward to the presents they will get. Parents should try not to make these events incredibly extravagant, because children then associate them solely with spending money. Lieber says you should show your children you honor the rituals the same as other parents do. However, rather than doing it like most parents, you can make them memorable without putting an emphasis on the amount of money you spend.

For example, when his daughter lost her first tooth, The New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler saw it as an opportunity to teach her about life in other cultures. He bought his daughter a book called ‘’Throw Your Tooth on the Roof’’ which showcases how children in other cultures celebrate losing their first tooth. To reinforce the idea of imagining life in other places, Feiler and his wife also gave their daughter coins in foreign currencies. 

On the other hand, Lieber’s friends Pam and Randy Weiner decided to give their daughters glass jars filled with teeth from different animals to mark the occasion for their children. They filled jars with pink water and glitter. Then, they wrote on each tooth the name of the animal species it belonged to (in case you want to use their idea, there is a store called Bone Room in Albany, California, which sells animal teeth.) 

For birthdays, Lieber suggests using the online birthday planning website, called ECHOage. It works like this: when children receive the birthday invitation, their parents pay to the ECHOage the amount of money they would otherwise spend on a present. Half of the amount received goes to the child celebrating, while the other half goes to the charity organization chosen by the child. Lieber says this approach can have undesirable outcomes, however. Parents tend to give more money than they usually would, so that neither the child nor the charity gets insulted. 

Final Notes

Teaching children to be wise regarding spending money requires a lot of time - the thing parents, in most cases, lack the most. With a plethora of practical tips, Lieber’s book gives parents the time they would otherwise spend coming up with creative ways to teach their children about money. More importantly, it allows them to fulfill what they desire the most -  to teach their children to lead happy and meaningful lives. 

12min Tip

    Commercials increase children’s desire to buy and possess things. Instead of letting your child watch regular TV, download some commercial-free entertainment.

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Who wrote the book?

Ron Lieber is an author and columnist. He has been writing the column ‘’Your Money’’ for The New York Times since 2008. He is the author of two bestsellers: ‘’The Opposite of Spoiled’’ and ‘’T... (Read more)

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