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

How talking openly to children about money can help parents raise modest, patient, and grounded young adults.

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Karsen: From The Parent's Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. Written by Ron Lieber.

In this title, the New York Times “Your Money” columnist shatters taboos by showing that talking openly to children about money can help parents raise modest, patient, grounded young adults who are financially savvy.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, today’s children have more toys, phones, and designer clothes than someone who grew up a decade ago. Are today’s children more materialistic and spoiled than in the past?

Vincent: That’s all true when you see the young toddler out at a restaurant with their own iPad. But Ron Lieber, who writes for the New York Times, says it comes from parents not talking enough about money with their children. Instead of educating their children on the value of money, as parents, they just buy whatever the children desire.

Karsen: So the author thinks that to be more rounded, and less spoiled, that we need to teach children better financial literacy.

Vincent: That’s right, he says that when you teach your children about money, it helps ensure that they don’t grow up spoiled. The author says that being spoiled doesn’t have much to do with money and that there are four qualities that all spoiled children have in common.

Karsen: So what does he say are those four qualities?

Vincent: Well, the first is that most spoiled children do not have chores, tasks, or responsibilities at home.

Second, they don’t have to follow rules or schedules.

Third, they get too much time and attention from their parents.

And fourth, they have an excess of material possessions.

Karsen: That’s interesting, so what is the relationship between money and being spoiled?

Vincent: Lieber says that being educated about money can actually help prevent your children from growing up spoiled. That’s because kids who learn about money also learn how to be thrifty, generous, and patient.

Karsen: But a lot of parents avoid talking to their children about money.

Vincent: Yea, I thought the reason behind that was interesting. Because most of us are embarrassed to discuss our wealth or how it compares to others, we avoid talking about money. This ends up being one of the topics that mostly becomes off-limits to talk about.

Karsen: And so this doesn’t give kids the opportunity to learn about money?

Vincent: That’s right, and this is one of the factors that may lead to them becoming spoiled.

Karsen: So how can you ensure your kids grow up to be well-rounded?

Vincent: One of the best ways is to talk about money and answer kid’s financial questions honestly while showing them how much things cost.

When a child raises the topic of money, it can be because of a conversation they heard at school or even between you and your partner. If your child asks you uncomfortable questions like “how much money do you make?”, the Lieber says that you shouldn’t avoid the questions.

The best way to respond to the question is by asking them, “why do you want to know?”

The reason is because there may be an underlying reason behind the question. The question about how much money you earn might be because they want to buy their friend a birthday gift.

Or a child who asks, “are we poor?” might be asking because they’re scared of moving houses.

Karsen: And after you ask the “why” question, I assume that the best route is to answer honestly and transparently.

Vincent: Exactly, but Lieber actually takes this one step further by suggesting that you should include your children in financial decisions. For example, you could show them bills to explain how everything costs money.

You can also turn this into a game by asking your child to guess how much something costs, and then helping them if they guess wrong.

The purpose of this is to help kids understand the value of money. By showing them the real costs of things, you can help them understand what money is actually worth.

Karsen: What does Lieber recommend doing for allowances?

Vincent: Many parents give children money, and he supports doing this. He says this helps children practice to learn about money and how to spend it. He says that this can start as early as they can count. You can start by giving them small amounts, like $1 per week.

Karsen: Some parents tie allowances to household chores, is that a good approach?

Vincent: The author says that you shouldn’t base a child’s allowance on chores because you want the kids to know that household responsibilities like taking out the trash are done because they need to be. He says it's best not to have a financial incentive here. If they complain, you can remind them that you don’t get paid for doing dishes either.

Karsen: So once you give your children an allowance that’s separate from their chores, how should they spend the money?

Vincent: Lieber says you should let them spend it how they wish, and it’s okay to let them make mistakes. So even if they purchase useless things like cheap plastic toys, you should let them make these mistakes because it’ll help them learn the importance of budgeting.

You can still talk to them about their spending habits though. You can explain to your child that they have different choices between buying things they want versus things they need. Or how saving up can allow them to buy more expensive things.

Overtime, as they get used to spending their allowance, you should slowly raise it, increasing the amount of responsibility that they’re provided.

Karsen: One of the fears that parents may have is that giving your child too many things can make them spoiled. How do you avoid that?

Vincent: It’s always fun to see the smile and joy that children get when getting new toys. Parents may even feel pressured to give children more things so they can fit in with their friends. So for instance, if everyone at school as an iPhone, is your child entitled to one? If you don’t buy one for them, will they be made fun of at school?

Karsen: I could see how that pressure could build on the parents, what does the author suggest doing instead?

Vincent: The biggest takeaway for me was that you should avoid showing your children that their self-worth is tied to their material possessions. Also, children who don’t get everything they want right away learn patience while waiting.

There was a concept in the book called the Dewey rule, which said that your child should be in the 30th percentile of things. So they won’t be the first of their friends to get new things, and so they won’t get things right away when they ask. With the 30th percentile rule, they’ll be the 7th of 10 people to get that toy.

When you apply this rule, it’ll help them think more about what they ask for and enjoy those items more when they do finally get them.

Karsen: That seems like a good way to balance between giving them what they want, but also teaching them the importance of being able to wait for things as well. What about getting a job as a teenager?

Vincent: Yes, two hundred years ago, young children worked long shifts in really physical jobs, but luckily many countries now have child labor laws. But the author says that perhaps we went too far in the other direction.

Lieber says that by not having your kids work, they miss out on beneficial learning opportunities. He says if you can find safe and comfortable work, this can teach children skills that will help them later in life.

So for instance, you can pick up communication skills talking with customers or coworkers. And having a job teaches you how to show up on time. Learning these skills early can give you an advantage later on in life.

Karsen: Do these have to be at a formal job, or can they be around the house?

Vincent: He says that they can be additional household chores. I know I’ve seen teenagers who even start their own businesses doing yard work for neighbors.

Karsen: Oh, that’s a great idea. And this will give them the ability to make money that’s their own.

Vincent: Yes, that’s another benefit, is that having a regular income can let your child buy their own things, which takes some pressure off of you to buy them more stuff. But even more than that, it helps them understand the value of money because they’re less likely to waste money that they earned themselves.

If they save up enough money, they may even be able to help with larger purchases like college tuition or a car.

Karsen: It sounds like getting a job as a teenager is a great way to experience what it’s like to earn money while keeping your child modest.

Vincent: And it’s great to teach them how to be independent too.

Karsen: What’s the best way to help your children become generous? If you’re more willing to give to others, then it’s harder to become spoiled, right?

Vincent: Absolutely, Lieber says that you can nudge your child in the right direction by encouraging them to be generous.

The author shared an example of a mom whose children were asking about the homeless people in their city. And so she used this as an opportunity to teach generosity. Instead of giving the kids money to hand out, they put together “giving bags” and the children were involved in planning what to put in the bag. The whole family then assembled the bags and handed them out.

Karsen: So the goal here is to help the kids understand their privilege?

Vincent: That’s a part of it for sure. You want your children to understand that there are others with much less than what they have. And teaching children this perspective is important. When kids have an understanding of how much wealth your family has and they volunteer to help the less fortunate, this can help them build perspective.

And volunteering doesn’t have to be something grand. Even working in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter can accomplish this goal.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that financial literacy can start a young age, and it has an impact on the person. In order to be generous and avoid being spoiled, it’s best to be open about money. When children have hands-on education and understand the value of the money, they’ll be better prepared later in life.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki. See you next time.


New York Times “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber delivers a taboo-shattering manifesto that explains how talking openly to children about money can help parents raise modest, patient, grounded young adults who are financially wise beyond their years.

For Ron Lieber, a personal finance columnist, and father, 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.

Written in a warm, accessible voice, grounded in real-world experience and stories from families with a range of incomes, The Opposite of Spoiled is both a practical guidebook and a values-based philosophy. The foundation of the book is a detailed blueprint for the best ways to handle the basics: the tooth fairy, allowance, chores, charity, saving, birthdays, holidays, cell phones, checking accounts, clothing, cars, part-time jobs, and college tuition. It identifies a set of traits and virtues that embody the opposite of spoiled, and shares how to embrace the topic of money to help parents raise kids who are more generous and less materialistic.

But The Opposite of Spoiled is also a promise to our kids that we will make them better with money than we are. It is for all of the parents who know that honest conversations about money with their curious children can help them become more patient and prudent, but who don’t know how and when to start.

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