7 Insights From Ron Lieber’s New Book “The Opposite Of Spoiled”

Ron Lieber is the NYT “Your Money” columnist and winner of a 2011 Loeb award.  In his new book “The Opposite of Spoiled” Ron shines light on the culture of money within the family.  I cannot think of a topic more appropriate for the Caregiver Finances audience.

But before we begin I want to share with you how we first crossed paths…

How Ron Lieber Changed My Life

I first met Ron Lieber in 2010 in the NYT building.  I attended a live event he hosted on the Sandwich Generation.  The event was the result of a special section in NYT he and his team had created focused on the challenges of “those stuck financially supporting both aging parents and adult children.”

My friend Peter first introduced me to this special section on “The Sandwich Generation” a few weeks before the event.   Here is the original email from Peter.

7 Insights - Email From Peter v2To put it gently the special section on the Sandwich Generation blew my mind.  I read it 5x in one day.  I felt like Ron was pinpointing a problem in our country that no one was talking about.  And it was a problem that was going to dominate our culture, economy, and society in the years to come.

This was the start of a multi-year journey for me.  That special section on the Sandwich Generation was a major inspiration for this website and a catalyst for my desire to help caregivers.

There are few moments in your life that are literal turning points.  This was one of them for me.

Ron’s New Book

The Opposite Of Spoiled (2)

Today Ron comes out with a new book, ‘The Opposite Of Spoiled”.  Yesterday evening I saw him speak in Brooklyn at Congregation Beth Elohim.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The interview was rich and the community of families and congregation members started an honest and supportive dialogue about money.

Ron Lieber Shot

I have read a plethora of personal finance books.  Most are helpful, some are remarkable.  Nearly all are dry and struggle to hold the reader’s attention.  What makes Ron’s book stand out is its clarity and practical use.  The advice he provides is helpful and immediately actionable.

Below are seven insights I took away from ‘The Opposite Of Spoiled”.

1. Money = Opportunity To Instill Values

If there is one overarching thesis to Ron’s book it is that money provides you the opportunity to teach your children life’s most important values.

We all want our children to have values like grit, modesty, patience, persistence, thrift, and generosity.  Money, Ron argues, is a great medium through which to teach those exact things.

This is a remarkable idea.  Ron inverts America’s cultural view of why we have money.  In today’s culture money is to be feared, discarded, avoided, flaunted, or shown off.  Rarely if ever do we associate money with our better values.

This is an important message for the Caregiver Finances audience to hear.  The next time a crisis comes up think about how you will approach it.  Consider how the opportunity to speak about the costs of a nursing home or estate planning is an opportunity to strengthen the values of your family.

Use a discussion about money as an opportunity to connect.

2. Silence Drives Bad Behavior

When I grew up my parents never spoke about money openly.  Everyone drove around in nice cars and had large homes but money was a forbidden topic.  It was the most visibly displayed behavior in my town that no one ever talked about.

So what did this result in?  I bought a condo when I was 22 directly out of college in 2005.  Three years later I wanted to sell it right in the middle of the financial crisis.  Boy was I in trouble.

I had close to zero savings, an unsure job prospect and I was about to be the owner of real estate in a state in which I didn’t even live.

Then I got a break.  I received an offer.  I was one of the lucky ones.  Many are not so lucky.

Condo Offer Letter


For me silence about money drove two major habits for years.  First, I didn’t focus on the topic at all.  I never put together a budget.  I didn’t monitor my expenses.  Honestly I didn’t think it was important.  “Money will always be there” was my attitude.

So when a bank came along and told me I could afford a new condo my reaction was Wahoo!  I pulled the trigger on a multi-hundred thousand dollar condo with close to no thought.

Second, money became a sign of status (something I learned from where I grew up).  For years I did not develop my own relationship with money.  I didn’t ask myself the question, ‘What does money mean to ME?’  Not what my parents think.  Not what my home town thinks.  What does it mean to me?

Take my example and learn from it.  When in doubt speak up and investigate.

3. Parents Need A Financial Reboot (And That’s Ok)

Ron outlines many fears that drive parents not to speak with their kids about finances.  One of the most prevalent is the fear of honestly looking at their own financial situation.  A wife and husband rarely talk about their own finances so they’re not going to discuss it with their kids, the thinking goes.

I see this same fear on my website often:

IMG_0072.PNGAny time a family discusses money it’s a good opportunity to look at your own financial books.  If you have avoided financial topics for months or even years the discussions will of course be challenging.

4. We Treat Girls & Boys Differently

I was surprised by some of Ron’s insights about how boys and girls are coached differently about money by their parents.  A shocking insight is that parents often subconsciously communicate expectations to their daughters that they should earn less and that they should place more of an emphasis on giving.  Boys on the other hand are encouraged to invest.

Ron appropriately says, “These statistics are disgraceful, and our daughters shouldn’t end up on the wrong side of them.”

5. “Why Do You Ask?”

Questions have great power.  When a child asks a parent about money Ron suggests responding with the phrase “why do you ask?’.

The simple phrase “why do you ask?” presented in a kind open tone provides the child with the opportunity to share what she is thinking about.  It encourages the child’s curiosity and inquisitive mind.

It opens to opportunity for dialogue and discovery.

Atul Gawande, in his remarkable book on end of life care “Being Mortal”, emphasizes the importance of questions as well.

Atul Gawande Picture v2Atul encourages each of us to ask our relatives reaching the end of their lives:

  • What are your fears and worries?
  • What outcomes would you find unacceptable?
  • What tradeoffs are you willing to accept?
  • What tradeoffs are you not willing to accept?

When discussing any difficult topic (health, financial, or otherwise) with family, questions are always a good place to start.

6. Teaching Kids To Give

One of the most powerful parts of Ron’s book is his emphasis on giving.  He even enabled pre-orders of the book to get a $27 free certificate for a donation to Donor’s Choose.

(The book pre-orders for $19 with tax.  So if you think about it, Ron is paying you $8 to buy his book.)

My parents were great at teaching us the fruits of giving.  Often after church we would drive downtown to give groceries to families in need.  Both of my parents were involved in significant multi-year volunteer efforts.

Ron suggests that coaching children to give can begin at a young age.  Ask your children to take a percent of what they earn and allocate it to charity.

Giving is central to the caregiver mission.  It’s great to see that this value can be instilled at a young age.

7. Try Something

For years at the WSJ, the NYT, at startups and in community centers and schools around the country Ron has been an advocate of speaking about what we are all most uncomfortable with: money.

The greatest takeaway from Ron’s book is that we can all try something new to add transparency and honesty into our families about money and the values tied to it.  He provides readers with many great tools and aids to do just that.

In the comments below let me know two new things you will be doing this year to speak more honestly with your family about money.

If you want to continue to learn more tools and strategies to learn how to speak with your family about money sign up for my email list below!

Published: February 3, 2015
By: JP Adams

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