Book Review – The Opposite of Spoiled

I recently read The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Leiber and found it to be a thought-provoking read on ways to focus on raising kids that are ‘the opposite of spoiled’. Similar to the author, I find it hard to come up with a good adjective that adequately describes this behavior, but you probably know exactly what I mean. I give the book 4/5 stars and would suggest you read it if the topic is one of interest to you.

I’m glad I came across this book, because I really didn’t care for the last book I read on the topic (Piggybanking). Although the overall topic of teaching kids about money is similar, the approach and advice between the two books is very different. While Piggybanking seemed to focus more on tactics and mechanics, The Opposite of Spoiled focuses more on the general topics of teaching principles that are applicable at any level of income or wealth.

I think for me one of the big takeaways is to teach contentment. Like many others, we are blessed to the point where we are able to provide our children with most things they want. But just because we can doesn’t mean that we should, so we don’t. We try to live a simple life relative to our surroundings, and teaching our children contentment will continue to be more and more difficult as they begin to be invited to over-the-top birthday parties, start wanting their own electronic gadgets, or notice all the luxury cars in the high-school parking lot. I’m not going to say that people should deprive themselves of things they want to buy, especially if they’ve worked hard and can afford it. What I will say though is to stop and think about the messages we send to our children with our purchases. If one friend has a huge birthday party, then the next friends parents throw an even more extravagant party, you may feel pressured to splurge on your own child’s next birthday. The only way to win the keeping up with the Joneses’ race is to make the conscious decision to not play at all. They say ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’, but in this case what we see is ‘Mo Money, Different Problems’.

When kids ask for something and you can’t afford it, it’s easier to say no. But if you can afford something your kids ask for, the answer doesn’t automatically need to be yes. It can actually be harder to say no, but I believe we miss out on a teaching opportunity if we don’t have a further conversation on why we said no. Our kids are young enough that we are able to afford anything they ask for, but we have already had several conversations with our 5-year-old about why we decided not to buy something even though we have the money to do so. Don’t get the wrong idea, our children are not deprived, but we do say no more than we say yes to things. I hope and believe that these lessons will be impactful and that over time our children will be able to remember these lessons and make similar decisions to practice self-control and restraint in their spending.

If we don’t teach our kids about sex and drugs they will eventually learn about them on their own, and maybe not the way we would want them to learn. Money is very similar. If we don’t talk about money with our children, they run the risk of learning money lessons the hard way. Just like you wouldn’t want your kids to learn about sex and drugs from a loser friend at school, you wouldn’t want them to learn about money from a broke friend or someone selling financial products. I believe that home is a testing ground for decision making, and that learning money lessons at home is critical so that the right decisions are made after kids leave the house when the stakes are higher.

One last point I wanted to make actually comes from the authors note preceding the actual book. In the preface, the author points out that this book is written with the assumption that readers have a household income greater than $50,000 but that the principles can be applied at lower income levels or for the extremely wealthy. The message overall is one of optimism and hope, and perhaps this is why I liked the book so much. As I read the book thinking about the intended audience, it got me thinking about who the intended audience may be for other books. I now believe that one of the reasons I didn’t like the last book I read (Piggybanking) was because the author may have intended the audience to be less affluent or lower income earners. If this is true, I like that book even less. I agree with Ron Lieber that sound money principles can apply at any income level. Borrowing money for things you can’t afford is a bad idea whether you make $30,000 or $300,000 per year.

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