Ron Lieber, personal finance columnist for the New York Times, creates a how-to guide for raising financially fit kids in his book, The Opposite of Spoiled. Lieber tackles the difficulties of broaching the subject of money with our kids, outlines a different purpose for allowances, and recognizes the difficulties of raising grounded, generous, and fiscally responsible children in a culture that values materialism. Lieber lays out all of these difficult parenting challenges, discusses our fears and how our own money mindset affects how we parent our children, and guides us toward raising responsible kids through his extensive research and interviews.

Through citing research and anecdotes, Lieber makes the argument that not discussing finances with kids makes kids more obsessed with money and less apt to manage it well in adulthood. Rather than avoidance, an honest conversation about family finances should be encouraged.

Lieber asks parents to look at allowance in a new way. Traditionally, many parents tie allowances to completing chores. Lieber argues that by providing an allowance on the basis of completing chores puts the focus on the work, not the money. He argues that allowance should be given so children can learn to save and spend money. Rather than completing chores, there are many privileges that can be taken away.

By first grade, children should receive a monthly allowance at a rate of $0.50 to $1 per year of age. They should divide
the allowance into three categories: 10 percent to share, or donate, 20 percent for savings, and the rest for spending. Lieber also discourages putting all the money into the bank. He argues that seeing the money grow in a container, like a jar, is more concrete and meaningful to children. Lieber also makes suggestions for handling issues like brand-name clothing, cell phones, and cars.

Personally, I have tried many allowance systems with my own four children. They all tied chores to payment, and each one failed after a time period. I instituted Lieber’s system after reading the book, and it has been a great success. It has opened up a lot of dialogue as I watch my children choose to buy ice cream or toys, choose to drop their own coins in the offering plate, or watch the money grow in their “save” bags. It has been a much more effective way to accomplish the goal of teaching financial responsibility to my kids.

The book also suggests a method to teach children so they can make good spending decisions. The fun ratio is a simple return on investment idea by calculating the number of hours of fun per dollar of investment. The fun ratio works particularly well on the wants in life. The more-good/ less-harm ratio teaches that every dollar spent is an endorsement of something. The ratio encourages children to look at the companies or businesses that benefit from a purchase, and ask if the message the company sends is a good one.

Lieber recommends having open conversations with children about what may influence them. For example, discuss television commercials and talk about the goals of the company who produced it and what influence the commercial is trying to accomplish. Another idea was to create custom coupons for gifts rather than spend money.
Finally, Lieber makes a strong argument for having teenagers work. With competition increasing for admissions spots in colleges, many parents are hesitant to insist that students work and focus on other volunteer work so that may build a student portfolio. However, Lieber discusses the many lessons teens learn from working and points out that with fewer and fewer teens taking jobs, holding down a job while in school can actually make a student stand out from the crowd. He also encourages parents to give more chores to children and start at a young age. Children in other cultures do regular chores and start earlier. American parents need to take the time and patience to invest in teaching children to do chores.

The Opposite of Spoiled is a great book for all parents. Ron Lieber encourages parents to raise financially aware children through allowances, open discussions about family finances, and open communication. This book is a great resource for parents and financial counselors alike.

Mary Crawley can be reached at

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