The Opposite of Spoiled

The Opposite of Spoiled

Book review

I’ve been thinking about how to teach my kids some things about money and personal finances for a while. So when I saw “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money” by Ron Lieber cited in a few blogs and articles, I decided to check it out. Here’s my quick book review.

The book has a similar underlying theme as other parenting (or overparenting) books like “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” by Julie Lythcott-Haims. We can’t do everything for our kids and, then, one day when they are 18 years old and going off to college, expect that they suddenly know how to be independent. Instead, we need to talk about some of these issues and involve the kids in making these decisions. “The Opposite of Spoiled” does this in the context of not only the value of money, but also the context of money and values. It’s a good, quick read primarily made up of stories and anecdotes from both experts and regular parents, that might provide you with some ideas to use with your own kids.

In the beginning of the book, Lieber talks about how to start the money conversations with your kids. Maybe it’s not us parents starting the conversation as much as it is the kids asking. I like his tip to always answer a child’s question with, “Why do you ask?”. This gives you time to think about your answer and also tells you what they are really asking. Lieber talks about some common questions kids may ask you about money like, “Are we rich?”, “Are we poor?”, and the like. There is also a particularly entertaining and over-the-top example for how a dad handled the question “How much money do you make?” when asked by his kids. What he did was that he went to the bank and brought back his entire paycheck in $1 bills. He then proceeded to tell his kids about where each of those dollars was spent a dollar at a time (food, mortgage, etc.). His kids never forgot that lesson.

Through the middle section of the book, Lieber tackles the more practical aspects like when, how much, where and how to give them allowances and how do you help them manage saving and spending it. Here he talks about some important concepts to talk to your kids, like wants and needs, saving and having patience, etc. Then he puts them in some real-life context from clothes to iPhones to cars. For instance, clothes are a basic need until they get to the point of a fashion want. So he uses a “Lands’ End Line” to deliberate whether it is a want or need. Good, basic clothing like what you would find in Lands’ End is a “need”. Anything else that’s more expensive and more of a fashion item is considered a “want”.

Lieber talks about how his family manages their allowances by using three jars: one for spending, one for giving, and one for saving. This is not only a practical idea of how to track your kids allowances but it also introduces some issues of human value and charity. He talks about including our kids in how and why we give to what charities and causes and including them in what causes to support to in the future. The book also discusses some more philosophical issues such as materialism, being spoiled, and other issues that kids face. One such issue Lieber terms the “dignity gauntlet” relates to how kids judge each other based on what they have. So, as parents, we struggle between buying them the new item (so they won’t face the dignity gauntlet) and being financially responsible and saying no (and letting it toughen them up).

The book also has some interesting practical tips drawn from some of the stories. For instance, one family uses a “fun ratio” where they estimate how many hours of fun per dollar they are getting from a purchase – a fun version of a return on investment (ROI). A toy that a child play with only once might have a fun ratio of 0.08, whereas a video game that the child plays for hundreds of hours for $60 may be worth the cost since so much fun value is derived from the purchase. Another family uses a More-Good/Less-Harm Rule, like the Golden Rule, whose message is that every dollar we spend is an endorsement of something. This goes into making choices on what to buy and where to buy it. For instance, that family may not buy from a clothier that procures its apparel from sweat shops even though the price might be cheaper.

He concludes his book by talking about how we all want the best for our kids. And it’s written from the perspective that many of us “who grew up with less than we have now may not be able to suppress the desire that our kids should want for nothing. Won’t requires much greater conviction than can’t. And of course we want our kids to have the very best of what we can do get them.” While we want our kids to have the very best, we don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled.

Before I read it, I kind of expected more answers. But, I realized that this is just a difficult topic that does not have a magic bullet. I think the point is that we just need to include our kids in the conversations about money and to teach and guide them with our own values along the way. While this book does not provide a lot of hard and fast answers, what this book does provide is a bunch of entertaining stories and anecdotes that may help you talk about some of the same issues with your kids or give you ideas for addressing them. So, overall, this is a good, quick read with plenty of stories to use and/or think about as the topic of money comes into your own conversations with your kids. It’s quick and worth a read, so I’d give it 3.5 stars.


Chapters in the book:

  1. Why We Need to Talk About Money
  2. How to Start the Money Conversations
  3. The Allowance Debates
  4. The Smartest Ways for Kids to Spend
  5. Are We Raising Materialistic Kids?
  6. How to Talk About Giving
  7. Why Kids Should Work
  8. The Luckiest
  9. How Much Is Enough?

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