Borrowed Ideas From The Opposite Of Spoiled

It turns out I’m not the only physician to have read The Opposite of Spoiled and implemented some of the ideas from the book to help instill good money habits and attitudes in our children.

One idea that we borrowed from this book, a book that both Crispy Doc and I borrowed from our respective local libraries, was to set up spend, give, and save jars for our kids. We’d like them to find value in saving money, giving away money, and yes, even in spending money.

That’s just one of many thoughtful ideas presented, and my west coast physician friend highlights several others that should work well for his family.

This post originally appeared on Crispy Doc.




This summer, we decided each kid is getting $20 a month to spend on whatever they choose. One kid went to a favorite chain restaurant and ordered a sandwich online in advance using an e-coupon.

Another went to a meal with a friend, did not order online, was unable to use the coupon (it was only available for online orders) and unwittingly ended up spotting a friend (who is not constrained by a similar budget) several of those precious dollars.


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This engendered a thoughtful discussion about how to navigate meals with friends who might order appetizers or drinks we don’t partake in; how to set expectations in advance, or mitigate the damage when circumstances are beyond our control; and what each kid considers the most valuable way to spend.

Does value lie exclusively in the rare treats you can buy yourself? Is there value in spending your money in the company of close friends? Is there value in spending on a friend to show you care?

These thoughts were percolating recently when I was at the local library casually perusing the personal finance section. Mostly, I do this to check if Bill Bernstein has published any new books. He had not, but I spotted a copy of Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled on the shelf.

Lieber is a columnist at the New York Times, and his columns tend to be thoughtful and resonant with the first world problems faced by higher income families.

This book was written when his daughter was 9 years old and he was facing the problem so many physician families struggle with: How do I raise a righteous and responsible kid without creating a brat bred in a bubble?

The question was an interesting one.


Anecdotes from The Opposite of Spoiled


Lieber is a master of the well-deployed anecdote, and this book is full of instructive (occasionally maudlin) tropes, including but not limited to:

  • The immigrant mother who moved to the US to work as a nanny caring for a wealthy family’s daughter, and ultimately sent her own 3 daughters on scholarship to the tony private school where the family she worked for sent their child.
  • The wealthy family who raised such a conscientious child that when the child suggested they downsize their ginormous McMansion, buy a smaller home and donate the difference to charity, the parents did precisely that.
  • The son who survived an austere childhood where dad never told him he loved him, only to discover on his father’s death that dad was secretly a multimillionaire who could have made his upbringing far less Spartan. The son, now a father in his own right, struggles to find the balance between deprivation and comfort for his own kids.


Ideas Worth Pilfering


These stories are both a strength and weakness of Lieber’s writing. They strike a nerve, yet he is quick to avoid passing judgment lest he alienate the wealthy families that are the most likely to buy his books.

Having said that, there’s plenty to learn from his book. A few gems I considered worth plucking for my own parenting arsenal:

  • When your teen is old enough to drive, create a Zipcar style arrangement where they pay an hourly rate whenever they take out the car that factors in the cost of insurance, wear and tear, gas, etc. Have the kid work for the funds to pay for their car use so they learn how to allocate dollars they’ve earned, as opposed to spending birthday gift money that was easy to come by.
  • Giving kids an annual or quarterly budget for certain items (clothes, social events with friends, etc.) allows them to learn about trade-offs. Do they purchase one new pair of designer jeans or five articles of clothing at the thrift store with the same budget?
  • Establishing a routine of giving some of the money you earn or receive on a regular basis.
  • The concept of applying an hours-of-fun per dollar test on spending.
  • The critical difference between gauging literacy and instilling curiosity about money.


The Opposite of Spoiled is a quick read, and while the content seems directed at affluent parents, there’s enough worthwhile moral fiber to help you raise “regular” kids who develop comfort around money.


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