In The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, a personal finance columnist and father, says that good parenting means talking about money with our kids. Children are hyper-aware of money, and they have scores of questions about its nuances. But when parents shy away from the topic, they lose a tremendous opportunity—not just to model the basic financial behaviors that are increasingly important for young adults but also to imprint lessons about what the family truly values.
Talking about money–and values
The Opposite of Spoiled is a generational manifesto first and foremost–a promise to our kids that we will make them better at managing money than we are and give them the tools they need to avoid the financial traps that still ensnare so many adults.
Money is central, but it is also a teaching tool that uses the vaule of a dollar to instill in our children the values we want them to embrace. These traits–curiosity, patience, thrift, modesty, generosity, perseverance, and perspective–don’t belong to any one religion, region, or race. A few of our kids are already set for life financially, but most of them have no clue how much money they’ll have when they grow up. Their financial status is fluid but their financial values should not be.
Why the silence
Changing the subject to avoid answering any of the big money questions is totally understandable, and it happens for any number of reasons. We don’t know where to start. We’re intimidated by the enormity of the topic.
Many parents also believe that talking about money with children isn’t age-appropriate. Their kids don’t know enough math to add up bigger numbers, the argument goes, so it’s best to just brush the questions off rather than trying to meet kids on their level. ‘None of your business’ is a typical reply, which isn’t particularly nice, nor is it particularly true. It is, after all, their business to be curious.
Because money is so fraught, it may feel right to lie sometimes, particularly when children persist unreasonable demands or ask the wrong questions at the wrong time. Perhaps the most common fib is ‘We can’t afford it.’ Another untruth is ‘I don’t have any money’, though it’s becomeing slightly less common as kids get wise to the purchasing power of the debit and credit cards in our wallets. ‘Not now’ is the most common brush-off from parents who don’t want to bother explaining why they prioritize some types of spending over others.
Did you ask a good question today?
One way to make sure children know that questions are welcome is to praise their asking them so routinely that posing good ones becomes a habit.
Why do you ask?
Having sworn off silence and embraced tough questions, we can all but guarantee taht our kids are going to ask a lot about money. We’re going to try to answer honestly. But what’s the best way to begin, once we get over the joy and delight in being asked?
In my years of research on the topic, I’ve determined that there is one answer that works best for any and every money question. The response is itself a question: Why do you ask?
This response is useful for many reasons. The first is a practical one. By training myself to respond this way, I’ve guaranteed one thing for certain: that I will ahve at least 10 seconds to think through potential responses,d depending on the reason for the question. But be careful. I always try to say it in the most encouraging tone possible. If your tone sounds suspicious, like an accusation or an expression of disapproval, it may shut down the whole conversation.
As we move from why they’re asking to how we’re going to answer, there’s one other overarching issue to keep in mind: gender. A number of polls and studies lay out disturbing parental tendencies. Parents are much more likely to talk to boys than girls about investing, protecting their personal information online, how credit card interest and fees work, whether it’s wise to use check-cashing services and what a 401(k) is.
The Big Questions
So now we’re ready. No silence. No lying. No gender preferences. A homes as a place of intrigue. And asking why they’re asking, every time.
Here’s a list of the questions that many parents will hear at least once:
- Are we poor?
- Are we going to have to move?
- Are we rich?
- Why can’t I have it if I’m going to pay for it with my own money?
- Why don’t you send me to private school?
- How much money do you make?…