When my daughter was born, we were living in a fairly affluent community in an area known for affluent communities. While my husband and I are a hair’s breadth away from being Favored Fifth, our neighbors were almost certainly over the line. In a village of single family homes, we lived in one of the few multi-unit buildings. We worried over whether our daughter would feel the difference between what her classmates would have and what we would have.
Against that backdrop, I found a delightful article somewhere on the internet which suggested a way to handle, of all things, the Tooth Fairy. In lieu of whatever one’s local going rate might be, the article suggested offering foreign currency. A seven year old will readily discern the difference between her $1 per tooth and the $10 her classmate gets. But few, if any, of them grasp exchange rates.
Thus was born our family’s Tooth Fairy, who often forgets which continent she’s on and provides us with an excuse for a quick geography lesson on each visit.
I think Ron Lieber probably wrote that article because the idea appears in the book.
The Opposite of Spoiled is not quite the parenting book I thought it might be when I borrowed it from the library. It’s a personal finance book, which makes sense, given that Lieber writes a personal finance column for the New York Times. It is also a quick, easy, and compulsive read if the topic floats your boat.
Lieber’s thesis is that children are spoiled when their dealings with money are divorced from context and humanity. Families do their children a disservice when they don’t let/make their children work, when they tie allowance to chores (this was a conversation in our house), and when they are shielded from the realities of socioeconomic disparity.
Lieber encourages parents to be more transparent in how and why they spend their money. If you can afford to give your children the VIP experience at Disney, talk to them about why you’ve chosen to spend your money to skip the long lines or get additional access rather than letting them make their own assumptions. If your child asks about the homeless person you pass in the course of running errands, talk about why you do or don’t give money in aid. Without context, children form their own notions of what money can and should buy. If you don’t want spoiled kids, you have to take a firmer hand in shaping those notions.
The Opposite of Spoiled traffics in making common sense explicit. You’re not going to find any ideas that will completely upend your worldview. But it made me think a little harder about how, when, and why we talk to our daughter about money. Hopefully for the better.